Thursday, February 07, 2013

A Little Patience, Please

You can't say Markos Moulitsas Zuniga isn't open-minded.

The founder and publisher of Daily Kos, with hundreds of thousands of registered users and millions of unique viewers each month, ran on Monday a post entitled "2016 dan be Hillary's." Citing polls indicating Mrs. Clinton is favorably viewed, and would defeat potential GOP nominees in a presidential race in Texas and Kentucky, Moulitsas argues

if she's making states like those two competitive, what prayer would Republicans have in the traditional battlegrounds?

As I noted last week, Republicans are already in a world of hurt—if 2012 looked demographically the way 2016 will look, President Barack Obama's 3.9-point victory would've been a 5.2-point victory. But Clinton would make the GOP's daunting task downright impossible, particularly in the wake of their hamfisted efforts to attack Obama by trying to gin up a rivalry between the president and his former primary opponent.

So when Dick Cheney said, "I have the sense that she’s one of the more competent members of the current administration, and it would be interesting to speculate about how she might perform were she to be president," he wasn't trying to be nice to Clinton, he was trying to attack Obama. But oops. Four years of blowing kisses at Hillary can't be erased by a single manufactured freakout over Benghazi. The reality is that Hillary remains the nation's most popular politician and the most admired woman in the last 64 years, per Gallup.

Barely six hours later, a post authored by "Troubadour" on the same site asks rhetorically

And yet here we are again, with no less than Markos putting up a Front Page piece on what a stirling (sic) candidate Hillary would be in 2016.

The thing is, he and so many others simply forgot to ask the most basic question: Why in the hell would you want Hillary Clinton to be President in the first place?

Troubadour maintains (emphasis his) "The objective reality of Hillary Clinton's career and personality is far, far below any sane standard of Presidential leadership: Every step of the way has been characterized by the Washington version of "social promotion..."  He notes that assessing her performance as Secretary of State is difficult to determine without knowledge of the inner workings of the Department, and believes her efforts in the U.S. Senate were driven by political calculation.

Troubadour's scathing criticism is overly harsh.  The political career which began as First Lady, he states, "became hers simply because she had married a man decades earlier who would later become President." Whatever the merits of that assessment, it is ironic given that Barack Obama, newly re-elected as President, lost a race for the U.S. House of Representatives, became State Senator only after his opponent was forced out of the race, and became a U.S. Senator after the GOP nominee quit the race amid a sex scandal. Obama then faced far-right Republican Alan Keyes, who had flown in from Maryland for the occasion, and who would have been beaten by a block of wood.

Paul Waldman knows that Obama's primary (pun intended) challenger in 2008 would be confronted with some of the same gender-based contempt she had faced until dropping out and endorsing Senator Obama that spring.  He explains

It's also tempting to forget, when looking at her today, just how much ugly sexist vitriol was aimed at her during her time as First Lady and, to a slightly lesser but still significant degree, in her 2008 campaign. If she runs again, and especially if she becomes the Democratic nominee, it will come back in greater force than ever. Ann Friedman laments Clinton's Catch-22:

Herein lies one of the most useful, but also saddest, lessons of Hillary Clinton's career: The best defense against being labeled a raging bitch is to convince people you're an underdog. The ability to eat shit, to suck it up and earn the affection of skeptical voters or older male colleagues or your cheating husband, again and again, is an essential skill for successful women of Hillary's generation. A skill that is becoming less essential, sure, but one that few women would declare irrelevant.

To say that Clinton was the victim of sexism is too simple, true though it is. There was what can only be described as a tornado of male sexual panic directed at her. It sometimes seemed that decades of resentment and insecurity over the attacks on patriarchal privilege was poured into a cauldron, simmered down to a thick sauce, and then poured on Clinton's head. It came in the form of angry screeds, and it came in the form of jokes, all far more revealing about the sender than the target. Much of the humor, like the Spy magazine cover with which I illustrated this post, was premised on the hilarious idea that Clinton was not a woman at all but a man, because after all, how could she be FIrst Lady, work on policy, and still be a woman? (This continued into 2008;here's Amy Poehler as Clinton in a Saturday Night Live skit, saying "I invite the media to grow a pair. And if you can't, I will lend you mine.")

When she wasn't portrayed as male, Clinton was described as a castrating harpy; to take just one example, Tucker Carlson said multiple times during the 2008 campaign that whenever he saw Clinton on television, "I involuntarily cross my legs." I suppose Carlson was being refreshingly frank about his own sexual insecurity; his manhood apparently hangs by such a thin thread that just seeing a powerful woman on television was enough for him to fear that she would come through the screen and steal his testicles. But he was hardly the only one who saw in Clinton such a threat to their masculinity. The examples are too numerous to go through, but I'd just mention one of my favorites, when U.S. News complimented Clinton for a speech she gave, saying, "Her presentation was devoid of hard edges, contrary to her longtime image among critics as a harridan and a polarizer." That's right, a "harridan." That was written not in 1907, but in 2007.

As I said, I have no idea whether Clinton is going to run for president again. But if she does, all that stuff is going to come roaring back. There are many more women in politics today than there were 20 years ago when Hillary Clinton first became a national figure, and I'm sure that before long one of them will run for president and be faced with only a fraction of the kind of sexist venom that Clinton has been the target of (particularly if she's a Republican). But Clinton herself will never be able to escape it.

While Waldman is empathetic, Troubadour slams Mrs. Clinton's "presence, personality, image, and style."  But he does recognize "Comparing a recent Secretary of State with positive name recognition and negatives only from years in the past to GOP politicos who have been actively engaged in partisan politics up to the present time."  He also remarks "We have better, more talented, more courageous people than this available to lead, so there is no excuse for Hillary Clinton being the Democratic nominee in 2016, and even less excuse for we in the base to act like it's reasonable to favor her just because the cogs of the machine are once again turning around to her position."

There may, instead, prove to be no one better, more talented, and more courageous to lead. But less than one month into the second presidential term of the incumbent is too early for Markos Moulitsas or anyone else to assume otherwise.

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