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May 9, 2008
Character Rather Than Sexism
Kyle-Anne Shiver does not ask frivolous questions, and so when she pointedly wondered whether it was Hillary Clinton's sex rather than Barack Obama's race that has driven media coverage of the two Democrats, I figured she deserved a thoughtful response, in spite of that fact that she immediately upped the ante by declaring that "plain, old-fashioned, despicable sexism" kept the media from fawning over Hillary to anything like a Barackian degree.
What Shiver does not allow for is the possibility of having presented the rest of us with a classic case of "who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"
I feel like Gold Hat in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, except that where he had to answer for badges, I have to answer for bias. But as he might have said, "we ain't got no bias. We don't have to show you any stinking bias."
Consider first the story arc that Shiver assigned to Hillary Clinton: it goes back no further than 2007.
Shiver seems nonplussed that Hillary has not gotten the credit she deserves for abandoning three kinds of self-sabotaging behavior, but what she charitably regards as newfound "maturity and toughness" might also be viewed as tactical readjustment from a candidate who realized only three months ago that former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle had a limited repertoire of political strategies at her disposal, none of which were suited for electoral combat with a charismatic African-American senator.
Hillary, of course, is no stranger to tactical readjustment. As Barbara Olsen, Bay Buchanan, and other writers have pointed out, Mrs. Clinton has been doing that since before she was Mrs. Clinton. I can well understand why Shiver would have no interest in going back far enough to look at the gee forces involved in twisting a self-proclaimed "Goldwater Girl" into a disciple of Saul Alinsky, but they rival anything experienced by fighter pilots. It is disingenuous to tag sexism as an explanation for Clinton fatigue when the Woman Who Won't Go Away has a back trail that includes Whitewater, Travelgate, and "lifelong" Yankees fandom that came to light only when a Senate seat looked vacant in New York.
You can make the argument that Hillary should not have to suffer for her husband's transgressions, but neither should the rest of us idolize her loyalty to him, especially if the token of admission to that lovefest is a vote that puts her in the White House.
Why aren't the Democrat big-wigs and the Hollywood donors and the media elites running to Hillary's side the way they did with Bill? Shriver wants to know. The answer is that, unlike Bill, Hillary never had the grace to conceal her ambition. People who've met Bill Clinton know that neither his blue-collar persona nor his intelligence are affectations. Hillary, by contrast, has too long moved comfortably among policy wonks whose first instinct is to condescend to voters rather than to charm them.
As far as Hollywood and its hangers-on are concerned, Hillary cannot be rewarded for having the temerity to run against Barack Obama, because although Shiver (like Geraldine Ferraro before her) is absolutely right about the man whose experience ought to put him no higher than junior partner in a law firm, his grievance list trumps hers. After all, chattel slavery induced a Civil War whose battle sites and issues are still remembered, albeit with less attention to states' rights than they got at the time. On the other hand, fulminations about patriarchy and glass ceilings were never sanctified by a comparably bloody history. Obama can invoke the ghosts of Gettysburg. Hillary has the Nineteenth Amendment, and poll data showing that her husband won consecutive terms on the strength of female votes. Which image do you think is more iconic?
That Hillary is doing the work other Democrats should have done would matter more if the DNC were serious about vetting candidates, but the "reality-based community" has never had much stomach for reality, because it's not necessarily the kind of change you can believe in. Ironically, the opposition research that Shiver rightly hails as due diligence is being lamented as "Swiftboating" by WZTK talk jock Allan Handelman and other pundits who 1) fail to remember that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had a point, and 2) agree with Obama that questions about his judgment are "distractions" from "real issues." Many of the same people forget that Bill and Hillary Clinton had a full-time political "war room" going long before Karl Rove and his minions stopped Al Gore from stealing the presidential election eight years ago.
Shiver gets no argument from me when she contends that Hillary Clinton is more of a fighter than Barack Obama, but as comedian Chris Rock might say, "whaddaya want? A cookie?" It's not bias that befuddles the pantsuited one, even while the spouse of her chief rival complains about how "they keep raising the bar" (those meanies!)
Questions of character rather than sex are what dog the veteran of Bosnian sniper fire who claimed to be named for Sir Edmund Hillary even though she was born before that intrepid explorer had made his reputation on the summit of Mount Everest. To claim that Hillary is "a better man" than Barack Obama, as Shiver does (however tongue in cheek), is to insult to all the men who have not made careers out of lying for fun and profit. You don't have to be tough or smart to lose law firm billing records in the White House or claim eighty trips abroad while First Lady as "foreign policy experience," you only have to be shameless.
In short, feminine strength is too beautiful a flag to thrust into the manicured hands of the junior senator from New York, especially when the Secretary of State, the Governor of Alaska , and the Prime Minister of Ukraine , not to mention my wife and a number of friends, are worthier exemplars of that virtue.