On “What Women See When They See Hillary”

I recommend the July 2, 2007, Nation cover story on “What Women See When They See Hillary” by Lakshmi Chaudhry. In this analysis, Chaudhry says much of the “Hillary-bashing” currently being done is coming not from “conservatives,” who still rankle at the “two for one” deal slick Willy proposed from the back of an Arkansas car-lot; nor from stay-at-home moms threatened by her unfortunate quote on “60 Minutes” explaining why she was staying with Clinton after allegations of infidelity (gasp!) surfaced (probably truthfully) by Gennifer Flowers: “I’m not some little housewife standing by her man.”

No, the current bashing is coming from many feminists who have their own bone (no pun intended) to pick with Hillary.

Some say she is pro-war, that she voted to invade Iraq, even though the senator has since said (along with dozens of others) that she authorized war based on post-9/11 information and assessments provided by the POTUS; but if she (and others) knew then what she knows now, she would not do so.

Others criticize Hillary for not being liberal enough, despite a consistently high voting record on bills that support programs for infants, toddlers and children. They claim she is a “centrist,” which must be the American political equivalent of a eunuch . . . someone who is neither liberal nor conservative and is therefore suspect. After all, if we can’t brand you, what are you?

And, finally, others criticize her for not being feminist enough, this despite the fact that when Bill and Hill met at Yale Law (the best law school in the nation) she was the brains of the outfit. Her entire adult life has been spent living out the feminist ideal of “choice” — wife, mother, daughter, professional. Finally, she is the first woman truly to have the support of her party in her presidential quest (with nods to the breakthrough candidacy of Shirley Chisholm and then Pat Schroeder).

So allow me to tell you what I see when I look at Hillary…

It was the Friday night before the presidential election of 1992, and the Democratic challenger’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton (as she then called herself), was standing in front of a SRO crowd at Myers Field House on the campus at Mankato State University in Minnesota. It was very late in the day; the governor’s wife was running behind after three previous stops with one more to follow. The gym became stuffy and over baked.

But when Hillary began speaking, something magical happened. She spoke for around 45 minutes straight, without notes, just looking up into the stands into the faces of people and wowing everyone in the place. She had conviction; she had humor; she knew when to tell it soft and when to sell it hard.

“Wow,” I thought to myself. “I wish this lady were running for president.”

And so, I’ll answer the Nation’s question for you. What do I see when I see Hillary?

Hilary is the number one contender for the office of the presidency. None of the other candidates come close to her in terms of experience, intelligence, dedication, political savvy. (Senator McCain, a true war hero, does on three out of four.) And even after being buffeted around for16 years-plus of what she sees as “a right wing conspiracy” against Bill and herself, Hillary remains standing. Another mark of a contender.

Two new best-sellers are out there, one by Carl Bernstein and the other by Don Van Atta. I’ve merely skimmed them both but, with all due respect, found nothing “new” in either of them. No new bombshells, no new revelations.

Perhaps, just perhaps, being a centrist means you’ve learned the art of compromise, the best ability a legislator can possess to be truly effective. Perhaps authorizing war means you’re a defender of your nation’s security and not afraid to show it (Golda Meier, anyone?) Perhaps staying with your wandering husband of 30 years means you believe marriage is a lifetime commitment.

Or perhaps the latter is none of my business.

So what do I see when I look at Hillary?

I see the next President of the United States of America.

— Ellen Mrja

12 thoughts on “On “What Women See When They See Hillary”

  1. Welcome aboard, Ellen, we’re glad to have you, yadda yadda yadda, and I just don’t see what you see on this. Or feel what you feel.

    I’ve watched and listened closely to Hillary, trying to analyze why she doesn’t move me. It’s her speaking style — she sounds anaesthetized and condescending.

    She’s sing-song, her tone riding up and down like waves in the kiddies’ tub, talking to us all as if to third-graders. She doesn’t communicate passion to me. She seems too calculated. As you can see from my post yesterday, I believe passion is a big deal for a candidate — I want to know what blows Hillary’s skirts up, as the saying goes. I want to see and hear and feel who she is, not who her advisors and the pollreaders say she should be.

    When she’s just talking, as you get to see her sometimes on C-SPAN or even in an interview, she feels less condescending and lifeless to me. So maybe she should stop speaking and start talking.

    But I haven’t seen her in person, as you have. (Lisa and I did see Bill in person a couple of weeks ago as he gave a speech — Lisa was riveted, I nearly fell asleep.) You’re making me take another look, and I’d love to see her close-up.

  2. jl says:

    Welcome Professor. Is that going to be on the test?

    I don’t think Senator Clinton’s biggest problem is about her issue positions, connection to Bubba or level of experience. Her biggest problem is about communications, a happy coincidence in the land of rumination and fulmination.

    When Senator Clinton takes a soft tone – copyright Libby Dole – a big hunk of the country rolls its eyes and says she is putting on a lame act and/or selling out feminism. When she takes a hard tone – the kind of demeanor greatly admired in her male opponents, and expected of Presidents – another big hunk of the country purses its lips and says she’s an arrogant, caustic, unlikeable b word.

    I agree she often feels stilted and pre-fabricated in speeches. But striking a tone that a nation deeply conflicted about gender can accept seems a more daunting challenge.

    It aint easy being Hillary Clinton in 2007 America. But I blame us more than I blame her. She’s not my first choice, but I’m hoping she can crack the code.

  3. Becky says:

    This is a two-for-one reply, addressing Bruce’s comment about McCain and Ellen’s post about Round Three of the Clintons.

    Is it 2012, yet?

    The thing is, (again) none of the candidates have “it.” What “it” is, arguably, is difficult to define and subject to interpretation. But “it” isn’t about gender or or charisma or race or money or power or who you’ve been married to or lunched with or what war you supported or avoided. Heaven knows we’ve got all those on the field, and I’m about as disinterested as possible. I vacillate among being terrified, bored and embarrassed by candidates on both sides. A quick, informal poll of some of my social circle finds similar reactions: There’s no one who’s risen to the top–since 1992–for the right reasons. Maybe it’s GenX apathy, but I’d like to think not.

    Though I didn’t always agree with Wellstone, at least you knew where he stood and knew he was committed. Same thing with Reagan. Maybe it’s time to quit playing it safe in the middle and find someone with some fire in his/her gut about ANY issue instead of this milktoast on-the-one-hand-this I-voted-that-way-but-now-I’d-do-it-differently-because-the-polls-tell-me-so soundbite campaigns.

    To borrow a quote from don’t-we-wish-he-were-part-of-a-real-administration Leo McGarry: “…I’m tired of it! Year after year after year after year, having to choose between the lesser of ‘who cares?’ Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences! Of setting the bar so low I can hardly look at it. “

  4. Lisa DJ says:

    Yay! The Same Rowdy Crowd isn’t the same any more–a woman’s on the roster. I think I was in attendance at that same Hillary speech in Mankato four days before election day in 1992 and it was quite thrilling. Hillary’s competence and poise are undeniable and, with her Scorpio sun, she knows all about power–where it resides and how to wield it. But, as I live in another dimension and have only a summer home in reality, I’m tuned into off-planetary frequencies as well as planetary vibes and my radar says Barack Obama’s the one. I just don’t think there’s any way Hillary will wind up with the nomination.

  5. dailytri says:

    Kudos to Becky for a great post. I can admire HRC for her efforts. What I can’t appreciate though is her riding the coat tails of Bill into office; moving to NY in order to “win” votes through a trip to D.C. as a senator; and her Kerry-like ability to side step or change her mind on issues like the war in Iraq and the morality of homosexuality. In addition, let’s not forget her inept ability when it came to devising a coherent plan for healthcare reform back when she was first lady. She’s not my next choice for president. As stated previously, we need someone who is real and raw…and able to raise the bar on the office not do the limbo with it.

  6. Ellen Mrja says:

    President Clinton. Madame President. They have a ring to them, don’t they?

    Hillary is a polarizing figure; there’s no doubt about it. For years I’ve been telling people she could never be elected president because her negatives are too high (Can you tell I was an avid viewer of “The West Wing?) and too many people “hated” her. But you know what? She has survived, thrived and grown.

    Yes, she badly botched her health care initiative. But let me ask you: what was so wrong in an intelligent lawyer at least trying to fix health care for us…and she was doing it for free. (Thank you, Bubba.) Hubris. She learned that word in a hurry, I’m sure.

    But since then (and this is the part I believe many people overlook) she’s become a remarkable senator in her ability to woo, work with and win over Democrat and –even more importantly — Republican counterparts. If she tried that health care initiative today, knowing who/what/where/when/how, who knows what she could do with it? All we have instead in 2007 is a health care crisis that’s 13 years more screwed up. And, with the surplus Bill’s administration left behind, we might have been able to do it.

    Passion…a lovely thing in the bedroom but it does not get you elected President of the United States. There are too many Scandinavians who vote.

    I admit, Hilary is highly scripted now. Every word is calculated. Every answer vetted with the speed of light through her Hilary-mind. And I don’t enjoy watching her speak anymore because of it. She does not “turn me on,” politically speaking. Barak Obama does. (N.B. I think that’s why he’s so popular with college students. He’s their John F. Kennedy. It’s quite extraordinary how many of them have already said that they’d not only vote for Obama, they’d be PROUD to vote for Obama.)

    But, mark my words. Obama will stumble and fall. I don’t wish this on him or anyone, actually. But he will. He’s too “young,” not seasoned. And we don’t “know” him. Who is he? Where did he come from? What does he stand for? What was his darkest moment? He, too, is scripted. It’s just that his script writers are younger and more talented than Hilary’s.

    Check out the money Hilary continues to rake in. In our political nation, money IS speech. And hers will continue to be heard. Even Democrats who don’t like her will join her instead of voting for The Other Side.

    On the Republican side, I don’t see anyone I’d campaign for. Once upon a time it could have been McCain, but that was before he began his Kerry-ing. Rudy? Puleeze. There’s a story there that will unfold and he won’t be America’s mayor anymore after it does. We will never vote a Mormon into office (Do you all watch BIG LOVE on HBO? You really must.)

    There are others who are running on both sides, but I can’t recall their names without expending a little effort this morning and I’m not going to do that because it proves my point if I don’t: NO ONE ELSE IS MEMORABLE. I wish we did have a Kennedy. Or a Jeb Bartlett (Did you see the episode where he tells God off in the National Cathedral and then lights a cigarette?! I thought I’d die. Oops. Sorry. I’m confusing life with TV again.)

    Question for everyone: do men find the possibility of a “woman president” threatening? Be honest now because I thought I might have heard just a tiny bit of, well, masculine hysteria in some of these responses.

    Ellen Mrja

  7. Ghost of Molly Ivins says:

    Hillary is the antithesis of a feminist. Her career was built on the coattails of her husband. Isn’t there a woman accomplished in her own right that could run for Democratic ticket?

  8. jloveland says:

    Polarizing. Scripted. Calculated. Don’t enjoy watching her speak. Doesn’t turn me on politically as much as her primary opponent. Ellen, those are your own observations made divorced from masculine hysteria.

    Do some people oppose Senator Clinton because she’s a woman? Yep. Anyone who doesn’t fit central castings version of a President – women, minorities, short people, people with heavy accents, people with “ethnic sounding” names, divorcees, Mormons, Muslims, agnostics — have it tougher with voters than a tall white Prot dude with straight teeth and an intact nuclear family.

    No doubt about it, Senator Clinton’s gender is an issue with many voters. But the non-gender problems you cite are making it a tougher climb.

  9. ellenm53 says:

    Try this from today’s THE FIRST POST: http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?storyID=7653

    I don’t quite understand WHY Hillary is so polarizing; that, to me, is the fascinating question. Please understand before you read any further that I have pointed out what I see as her negatives just as I did Obama’s and Guiliani’s and McCain’s. But only Hillary seems to serve as a lightening rod, and that’s just plain interesting.

    Why?

    The Ghost of Molly Ivins (let us reflect on that great woman, writer, wit) says that Hillary rode to success on her husband’s coattails. Untrue. Hillary Rodham was doing just fine before she met Bill Clinton. Here are some facts to ponder:

    As an undergraduate at Wellesley (and a National Merit Scholar), she was a self-described “Goldwater Girl” until her junior year, when the Vietnam war, Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, reading the N. Y. Times and witnessing polarizing events at home changed her into a McCarthyite. She did, however, remain a committed Methodist who worked with migrant families and their children.

    After becoming the first student elected to address her graduating class at Wellesley, she applied to and was accepted at both Harvard and Yale Law schools. After being told by a pompous and dismissive Harvard Law professor that “Harvard already had enough women,” Rodham decided on Yale, one of only 27 women out of that class of 235.

    During the school year, she worked as a volunteer for Legal Services representing children in foster care, working with burned and beaten and abandoned children. Charges that she’s “anti-family” stem from a scholarly piece she wrote in the Harvard Educational Review in 1974, “Children Under the Law,” in which she advocates for children’s rights to be protected legally from abusive parents.

    During the summers, she did pioneering work with Marian Wright Edelman at the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., met a charmer in 1970 named Bill Clinton who hit her with a full-court press, asking her within weeks to marry him (she said “no”); graduated, took a job as counsel on the House Judiciary committee drafting articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon; passed her bar exams in both D.C. and Arkansas, and, against the advice of all of her mentors, followed her heart down to Fayetteville. She became a member of the law faculty there, teaching trial and criminal law courses and running the legal aid and prison projects.

    She said “yes” to Bill’s on-going marriage proposals in 1973, continued teaching while doing political grunt work for his first unsuccessful run for political office (Congress). They married in 1975. She bought her wedding dress, a homely affair, actually, the night before off the rack.

    Now, before I go on to finish the 1970s, let me pause to ask: does this sound like a woman who needs coattails?

    Ellen

  10. Eileen says:

    I have both Hillary 08 and Barack 08 buttons on the visor in my car. Recently I picked up my friend’s 10-year-old boy from his baseball game. After buckling up and settling in, he asked, “Do you want Hillary or Barack to win?” I’m not sure, I said. I like them both for different reasons.

    “Well, I’ve thought about it a lot,” he said. “And I want Barack to win because I think racism is worse than womanism in this country.”

    At age 10 he’s given the upcoming election more thought than most people I know.

  11. ellenm53 says:

    Eileen:
    You and your friend’s son have posed the most intriguing question of the day..and the one unspoken question of the 2008 presidential election season.
    And so I’m moving your comment up into a new posting, entitled: “Is Racism Worse than Womanism In America?”
    Thanks for the grist for the mill.
    Ellen Mrja

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