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Friday, November 2, 2007

Clinton’s Gender Politics

posted by on November 2 at 13:10 PM

Hillary Clinton has a problem.

Her campaign believes that women are going to be key to helping her win the Democratic primary and the general election. Her guru, Mark Penn, likes to remind reporters that women now make up about 54-percent of the electorate, and recently Penn suggested that in a general election, Clinton could win over as much as 24-percent of the Republican female vote based on the “emotional element” of potentially having the first female president.

Hence, the Clinton campaign is trying to stir up emotion among women. That’s why Clinton was at her alma mater Wellesley yesterday, telling undergraduates that “in so many ways this all-women’s college prepared me to compete in the all-boys’ club of presidential politics.” That’s why her campaign released it’s “Politics of Pile On” video in the wake of Tuesday’s debate and went about suggesting that a bunch of men had been mean to Clinton, as usual.

The Clinton campaign is trying to push women’s buttons, getting them to rally around Clinton out of a sense of shared victimhood. Maybe she’ll be effective in this. No doubt there are a lot of women out there who feel like they have to play in an “all-boys’ club.” No doubt there are a lot of women who have experienced something akin to “the politics of pile on” at work or in social settings. And no doubt there are a lot of men whose sympathies can be pricked with the image of a bunch of guys “piling on” one woman—an image that, taken to its logical extreme, brings up images of gang rape and its attendant male responsibilities (the responsibility to protect the woman, the responsibility to punish the male aggressors, the responsibility to make life better for the woman going forward).

But Clinton is also contending that she’s not running because she’s a woman. And she’s trying to show that she’s tough enough to defend herself (and the country) in a world full of bad men. Hence, on Wednesday, the day after the debate, when Clinton got the endorsement of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union’s president presented her with a pair of boxing gloves and said of the debate: “Six guys against Hillary. I’d say that’s a fair fight.”

Well, but: Which is it? A fair fight or not?

Right now the Clinton camp wants to have it both ways. It wants to say Clinton is strong enough to take on six men, and it wants to criticize those six men for taking on one woman.

This creates an opening for people to accuse Clinton of selectively playing the gender card, as Barack Obama did this morning. It gives grist to opinion writers, male and female, who think Clinton isn’t being sincere. And it also creates a danger that her posture will turn off men who find the back-and-forth extremely manipulative.

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Playing the victim card is better than running on things like qualifications, ideas to help the country and the like. If that were the case then she would not stand a chance. It would go to Kucinich or Edwards.

But she is rolling in that millitary contractor money right now. MORE WAR WAR WAR with Hillary!!!

Posted by Just Me | November 2, 2007 1:13 PM

I don't see a contradiction. If a our hero takes on six bad guys in a fight, our hero looks strong. If you are one of the six bad guys, you look weak for ganging up. I refer you to about six thousand cheesy movies for evidence.

So putting herself in this role is fairly shrewd. The fact that this narrative can be cast in two different ways to appeal to both women who feel outnumbered and anyone looking for a tough leader makes it all the more politically useful.

We will indeed see, but I expect a bounce in the polls. Which is too bad since so many of Hillary's are wrong.

Posted by elenchos | November 2, 2007 1:26 PM

She'll make a great Ambassador to Japan in the Gore-Obama administration.

I think Dodd will get the nod for Ambassador to Iraq. Hope he remembers how to pilot a chopper when the pilot gets shot landing on the embassy roof.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 2, 2007 1:29 PM

The response to Clinton's comments about Spitzer's effort to give drivers licenses to illegal immigrants is mystifying to me. She didn't say anything that was worthy of this level of response. As I understood her, she understands Spitzer's desire to license drivers as a reasonable response to Congress' and Bush's failure to pass immigration reform. It's not a Yes or No answer to the question, but a complicated issue is worthy of a sophisticated answer.

Obama's response is pretty simple though. He's playing "Get Hillary" and trying to turn this into an issue when it's really not. She's justified in complaining about the pile-on. This effort to beat on Hillary seems to be a tacit admission that she's pulling ahead and they want to drag her down. That's fair enough, but it doesn't make the criticisms valid.

Posted by gavingourley | November 2, 2007 1:30 PM

[...] Hillary's [policies] are wrong, I should have said.

Posted by elenchos | November 2, 2007 1:32 PM


Your conflation of feminism and victimhood is bizarre to me. I'm a guy, but pointing out "the all-boys’ club of presidential politics” doesn't seem like victimhood, it seems like "now is finally our time." Strength, not weakness.

Also, the "Politics of Pile On" has NOTHING to do with her being female and EVERYTHING to do with her being the FRONTRUNNER.

Posted by Big Sven | November 2, 2007 1:38 PM

Grow a vagina and then talk about the "gender card". Your whole white-boy rant is taking a very complicated experience and trying to sum it up into some sort of cliff-notes version of real women's lives. Lives you obviously know nothing about.

Posted by um | November 2, 2007 1:58 PM

God, Eli, SHUT UP.

Posted by David | November 2, 2007 2:12 PM

um @ #7: That's funny, I was amused by how hard Eli was trying to explain himself without sounding like he was being anti-feminist. Part of the reason it brought a smile to my face is because I knew from experience that no matter how diplomatically he phrased his point, somebody would respond with some version of "shut up, you couldn't possibly understand!" to tell him he was wrong.

Which kind of makes his point for him, if you think about it.

Posted by flamingbanjo | November 2, 2007 2:18 PM

my moms hates hildog.

she'd vote for larry craig before hillary clinton.

Posted by max solomon | November 2, 2007 2:19 PM

Politics is ALWAYS about card-playing! How is this any different, except that it's the first time a woman has had a chance to play?

Posted by Irena | November 2, 2007 2:27 PM

Damn it, elenchos, how do you so consistently beat me to posting the same point?

Posted by tsm | November 2, 2007 4:10 PM

Will, are you being snarky, or do you really believe that?

Posted by Greg | November 2, 2007 4:45 PM

Well. A bit snarky.

She's most likely going to get the VP nod, but I'd rather have a Gore-Obama ticket.

The question is, who gets the Iraqi Ambassador position? Have to be one hell of a masochist, IMHO.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 2, 2007 5:16 PM

I'd agree, Mr. Sanders, if Hillary had given HERSELF a pair of boxing gloves... (or muskrat-lined numchuks... whatever) ^..^

Posted by herbert browne | November 3, 2007 1:03 AM

It's one thing to appeal to women voters and speak from her experience growing up female in America--those things are perfectly legitimate, AND she has done those things without anone complaining.

It's another thing entirely to play the victim card as a means to excuse away a poor debate performance. That's what she did.

And she did it to such an extent it's hard to imagine she thought she would get away with it... unless she thought she would get away with it because of her gender. That's the only explanation that even seems to make sense.

Posted by Mystylplx | November 8, 2007 10:00 AM

Some women know how to use the fact of this phenomenon to their advantage?

Oh really Eli? You think sexism is a phenomenon? Like crop circles or something?

And please DO share your knowledge further as to how I can take advantage of the sexism around me to affect a positive outcome.

It would be great if I could make my salary equitable.

Eli - show me the 'Hillary Way.'

Posted by E. | November 9, 2007 11:58 AM

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