Monday, January 07, 2008

Hillary's Tears

Last year, in a professional situation of significant stress, Moose learned an uncomfortable lesson: She is a woman who cries under pressure. The discovery did not please her. Moose has a big heart. We think it's one of her charms. But she likes to think she's a tough girl when she has to be, so those unexpected (and briefly uncontrollable) tears in the workplace were acutely embarrassing to her. Today, in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton got visibly emotional as she answered a voter's sympathetic question about how she manages to keep things so together out on the campaign trail. She didn't break down into a full-on boo-hoo, but the iron lady of American politics was clearly choked up as she spoke of how -- and why -- she does what she does. See for yourself:

You know the same cynical crew that spilled buckets of ink deconstructing Clinton's "cackle" will have a field day debating whether the display of emotion was genuine or yet another calculating effort to con voters into entertaining the possibility that she is a human being with an actual beating heart. I can see the Maureen Dowd column now, and I bet a year's supply of kibble that NBC's Andrea Mitchell will be on the news tonight with some breathless behind-the-curtain report on how the tears were a desperate, orchestrated response to polling data showing that 4 out of 5 New Hampshire voters believe the former First Lady is a replicant. In her on-the-ground reporting from Iowa the other night, Mitchell kept pointing out that the party in Clinton's campaign headquarters the night of her dismal showing in the caucuses was staged. Andrea passed along this "news" as though every other loss in American political history had been followed by a spontaneous gathering of ridiculously happy people that just happened to be captured by television cameras, so we look forward to her in-depth analysis of Clinton's tears.

Wa Po's Anne E. Kornblut, not known for her sympathetic coverage of the junior senator from New York, witnessed the display of emotion and seems to have found it genuine. Her blog post on the moment is here. Newsweek's Karen Breslau was there, too, and thought she caught a glimpse of the Clinton she got to know during her years of covering her as First Lady: "an engaging, warm and witty woman, a first-class road-trip companion who seemed to spring to life as soon as her plane left U.S. airspace." More importantly, an undecided voter who was on the scene was also moved by the moment. Breslau's report, which is here, concludes:
"It got me," said Jane Harrington, a voter from Newington who came to the session trying to decide between Clinton and Obama, whom she had seen a day before—and really liked. "I wanted to see who the real Hillary was. That was real." The question now is how many others will feel the way Harrington did—and whether the emotional moment came too late.
The consensus in Roxie's World is clear: Tough girls don't intentionally cry in public, so when they do it comes straight from the heart. We feel for you, Hill, and with you. Hang in there. The nation you seek to lead is mostly a bunch of cry babies anyway. Sew up that vote, and you'll win in a walk.

Update: Great op-ed in Tuesday's NYT by Gloria Steinem on gender as a force in American life and the current election and on why gender barriers are taken less seriously than racial barriers. It speaks to the debate that broke out in comments here on the "No Country for Bold Women" post. Go read it, children, and we'll resume that conversation while the vampire killers are sharpening up their stakes after Clinton loses in New Hampshire. Love you. Mean it.

Update #2: The Good Old Girls continue to weigh in on this subject. Katha Pollitt offers a fiery denunciation of John Edwards's smarmy, sexist suggestion that the incident suggested Clinton might not be "tough" enough to be president. Hmmm. Let's see. Just how "tough" is the guy who sent his wife out to attack the woman candidate in the race and hid behind her support for same-sex marriage as a way to protect himself from criticism for his poll-tested opposition to it? The glorious Pollitt talks to Pat Schroeder, who knows a thing or two about the political risks for women of public displays of emotion, about the incident and responses to it.
"I'm so sick about the way Hillary is treated I can hardly talk about it," the former congresswoman and presidential candidate tells Pollitt. Amen, Pat!

Update #3: As predicted here in Roxie's World, noted cat-fighter and Clinton-hater Maureen Dowd holds forth on Hillary's nefarious plan to "cry her way back to the White House." Yep, that's right. Thanks, Mo Do, for continuing to meet the exceedingly low expectations we have for you. You truly had to scale the heights of Dowdian genius to inject both Richard Nixon and the misogynistic stereotype of Clinton as "the school girl with geeky glasses and frizzy hair, smart but not the favorite" into your commentary, but you managed to do it. All of us visually impaired smart girls appreciate your tireless work on our behalf.


  1. yay Roxie! Thanks for this great post, and for the pep talk for all of us Hillary fans.

  2. Yes, thanks for this great post, Roxie, and for ending it by pointing us to Gloria Steinem's piece. Steinem continues to be incisive, and I feel as if we are all back in Feminism 101. One of the most tried and true ways to perpetuate any -ism (racism, sexism, homophobia -- ok, that last is a -phobia) is what we all learned/taught in our beginning Women's Studies courses: *particularization*. Currently, it's the line, "it's not that I'm opposed to a woman being president, it's just that I don't like Hillary." Oh really? And if your choice is Obama, is it because he voted with Clinton nearly 100% of the time as a Senator? Notable exceptions include not only his voting against the Kyl-Lieberman amendment (yes, a good call), but his absentee non-votes on other very important measures regarding Iraq war funding (except when he showed up to vote FOR the war funding).

    So what does it mean when we say we like or don't like a candidate? Very few of us know any of them personally, so we don't mean "like" in that regard. How can any of us really know if we would like Clinton or not? The only people I know who have actually met her and talked with her (Moose and Goose were unable to make some of those cool Dyke cocktail parties this fall) think she's great, thoroughly enjoyed talking with her and found her smart, informed, and SPECIFIC (my 88 yr old mother among them), and one of our friends even fell in love with her because of her extensive knowledge. Over the years, I've just heard too many say "it's not that I don't want a black or a woman as a chair, dean, CEO, senator, representative or whatever, it's just that I don't want THAT black, woman. . . ." I've heard that far too many times and then seen lesser-qualified men assume the leadership positions in question, and assume them without being put to the likability test.

    Can someone explain the following to me: How is it that the same folks who grouse about Clinton's ties to big business turn their eyes away regarding Obama's indebtedness to Big Coal? How is it that the same folks who say Clinton slants facts to fit her purposes (John Edwards among them) are willing to turn their eyes away from and close their ears to the fact that Edwards lied, simply lied, in the debate Saturday evening when he declared, “I’m the candidate up here who’s never taken a dime from a Washington lobbyist in my entire time in public life, or a dime from a special interest PAC.” That's just not true, as CNN and other news agencies quickly pointed out.

    One of the things my Norwegian sister always notices when she comes to the United States is how sexist this country still is. Taking her and her teenage daughters down to Congress, they were impressed with all the "suits and ties" and wanted to know, "Where are the women?" As Steinem notes, the United States is way, way down the list of countries who have elected women to office. Way down. And I find her analysis of why quite on target.

    Steinem writes, "So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects 'only' the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more 'masculine' for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no 'right' way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what."

    Steinem goes on to make some very important points: "I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that."

    I'm stunned that in early 2008, sexism is as powerful a beast as it was 25 years ago. Sexism, racism, homophobia -- those caste systems are indeed interdependent. And we need to be vigilant and not let the old tricks that perpetuate them (particularization being a favorite) pass without noting those old dirty tricks for what they are. Is there anyone, anyone, who will say that Hillary Clinton is not the MOST QUALIFIED candidate running as a Democrat? Who has done more, who has partnered with more colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get things done? Who among them has met and talked with more world leaders? Who sounds most informed in those debates? Senator Clinton does, as even those who don't "like" her repeatedly admit. What, then, is the responsible reason for not supporting her candidacy?

    If Senator Obama were much more progressive, I could understand better where some are coming from. . . .but he has voted with Senator Clinton 95% of the time, and he has been repeatedly absent when called on to vigorously oppose the Iraq War in any kind of meaningful way. If Senator Edwards had done a lot as a legislator, I could understand better where others are coming from. But what was it he did again when he had the opportunity? I've looked and looked, and can find no big legislation. The support I hear for these two is anti-Hillary more than pro-either of them.

    My support is pro-Senator Clinton. And let's be serious. . .as my 88 yr old mother said last night, we ALL want change. Let us not forget that Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and EVEN Richard Nixon all ran on a mantra for change. I'm going with the candidate who has the best chance of getting the job done, of enacting some changes we all want to see.

    In peace, and with the impossible hope that the bloviators will go back to their crypts until early December.

    Way to go Rox,
    Your Goose.

  3. Anonymous8:13 PM EST

    Logged in to point you to the Steinem piece in the NYT, but, like a good dog, you brought it back from the doorstep long ago. I'll be calling later on in Jan. so you can talk me out of my support for Edwards, but for now I'm pulling for Hillary to finish strong in NH so a few more of the rest of us feel we *have* a choice. I hate all this jumping on the bandwagon of the winner-du-jour. . . Last I checked we didn't call the election off after the first primary. . . . Yeesh! Hang in there Rox. You're fighting the good fight!

  4. While I could not agree more with Steinem's analysis of the pervasiveness of sexism in America, a pervasiveness that I can honestly say fills me with almost constant rage, I nevertheless want to point out that the "particularization" strategy of many of Clinton's opponents should not be confused with her supporters' willingness to acknowledge her weaknesses as a candidate. Granted this honesty may be counterproductive to the solidarity needed for victory (which is why this is the last time I will bring it up--onward from New Hampshire) but I don't think that it's necessarily sexist to point out, or even to believe, that charisma matters in a leader and that Hillary Clinton has thus far seemed closer to John Kerry (or the 2000 Al Gore) on the charisma meter than to her husband Bill Clinton. Nor do I think that Bill-Clinton charisma, that aura of folksy authenticity (however bogusly "authentic"), is a particularly masculine characteristic--Oprah has it, to cite the most obvious example, and Oprah with Hillary's brains and Hillary's qualifications would have been closer to the ideal candidate in my book. The more Hillary cries and declaims about her personal investment in America, the future of young women and girls in America, and her struggles with diet and fatigue on the campaign trail--and whatever else makes her seem warm and likable and "authentic"--the better I will feel about the vote that I will cast for her, regardless, on election day. I hope I never become too intellectual to feel and appreciate (thought perhaps not to the degree of some) the pull of personality in a politician and a leader--and for a woman to demonstrate the freedom to be warm and likable, to cry if she is moved, to claim her gender as an impetus for her candidacy, to not feel the need to conform to masculine standards of "toughness" to be a successful politician, is to me a great indication of her real potential as a successful president and a role model for young feminists.

  5. Anonymous7:21 AM EST

    You are right, Sarah, particularly in your last sentence. I have always thought it was a mistake for Clinton to hold so much of her self back in public and to downplay the significance of gender, and the dramatic shift of the last couple of days seems to prove that. For months, I think, her campaign was playing it safe -- not playing to win, but playing not to lose. They seem to have decided to handle the unprecedented nature of her candidacy as the first woman with a serious shot at the presidency by trying to prove she could out-man the men. "Sometimes it takes balls to be a woman" is a line from a song whose title escapes me at the moment, but it could have been the Clinton campaign's theme song in the past year. Part of me understands that, because I appreciate what she's up against (all those stereotypes about women and power, leadership), but her finest moments on the campaign trail have been those in which Clinton has projected an image not of a woman trying to "be a man" but of a woman who is smart, strong, capable, and completely at ease with herself and her role. Hopefully, after last night's win, she'll feel more comfortable showing that side of herself -- and the media will cut her a break and acknowledge how unfair their one-dimensional depiction of her has been.


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