Vox’s Ezra Klein penned a thoughtful piece about “Hillary the listener” and her strengths as revealed through a leadership model that departs from male campaign bluster (and sometimes, slogans without substance) to which we are accustomed, and of which we are too accepting. Hillary’s speeches are often judged more thorough than exciting, but her ability to show you how her mousetrap is going to work is what we should expect from any leader. Mr. Klein notes her departure from male campaign traditions has met with resistance even though her style will likely make her a better President. It also demonstrates why women excel in leadership roles:
“Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination by forming a coalition. And part of how she forms coalitions is by listening to her potential partners — both to figure out what they need and to build her relationships with them. This is not a skill all politicians possess.”
[As] Mickey Kantor, “who chaired Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign but has known Hillary Clinton since the 1970s” put it, Hillary doesn’t just “hear the words people are saying but really hear what the implications are. That’s where she’s good. In fact, she’s better than anyone I’ve ever worked with.”
Klein argues that these fine Hillary qualities are obscured by her reputation and he “struggles” to understand the “disconnect” between the media’s caricature versus the loyalty and affection Hillary inspires from colleagues. But that “disconnect” is the product of 25 years of agenda-driven pundits and political opponents’ narratives.
We cannot ignore that the first woman with a shot to break the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” has to combat bias via the insecurity of powerful white males fearful of the encroaching female, religious stereotypes (that say a woman cannot lead), Republicans out to destroy Hillary’s reputation and career along with a Beltway literati yearning to get her head on a pike for ratings.
While acknowledging her strengths, Klein also complains:
“The Iraq War mars her record, and the private email server and the Goldman Sachs paydays frustrate even her admirers. Polls show most Americans doubt her basic honesty. Pundits write columns with headlines like “Why Is Clinton Disliked?””
Corporate-owned media offer headlines about her being disliked to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, I write, for the umpteenth time: Hillary has been voted America’s most admired woman a staggering 20 times. In her 2008 Presidential campaign, she won more votes than anyone in primary history. She got more votes in 2016 than anyone else, too. With the resistance any woman would encounter to breaking a 44-0 male Presidential shutout, voters are not “holding their nose” to ink the dot for her, no matter what media operatives like Maureen Dowd, Chuck Todd or Andrea Mitchell tell you.
The very things that “mar her record,” like her IWR vote, are not held against male politicians who did the same (VP Biden, anyone?).
Klein laments her sometimes playing “loose with the public’s trust.” How? Her emails? Former Secretary of State Colin Powell used personal email to conduct government business and helped lead us into a phony war. She turned over 55,000 pages of her emails to the State Department. Powell turned over zero. A number of Republican Governors and Congressman have also been guilty of this email “crime,” yet they received no oversight, scrutiny or prosecution. This alleged email “scandal,” like the Benghazi non-scandal (Republicans politicizing the tragic deaths of four Americans) from which it emanated, are politically driven witch hunts. Again, there is a different benchmark for Hillary Clinton when it comes to trust.
As for her 3 paid speeches to Goldman Sachs, she was a private citizen and had every right to be paid for her expertise. Men have gotten paid 5 times what she has. Why aren’t they cursed? Who among them has released their speech transcripts? Has anyone viewed her 2014 speech to Goldman Sachs touting investment in female entrepreneurs? It’s available. Where is her sin?
Thoughtful and nuanced as Klein’s piece is in many respects, and I encourage you to read it, it seems he still holds Clinton to a double standard and then wonders why she would bristle at it.
Isn’t is more apropos to ask ourselves why we are so forgiving of male politicians’ missteps, misstatements, shortcomings or even appearance, yet a woman gets no such leeway?
Thankfully, Klein then dives past outworn Hillary tropes, discussing that which the Beltway press pretends not to know:
“[T]hen there is the Hillary Clinton described to me by people who have worked with her, people I admire, people who understand Washington in ways I never will. Their Hillary Clinton is spoken of in superlatives: brilliant, funny, thoughtful, effective. She inspires a rare loyalty in ex-staff, and an unusual protectiveness even among former foes.”
“Obama administration officials, up to and including the president, badly want to see her win — there is something in the way she acted after the election, in the soldier she became and the colleague she showed herself to be, that has curdled the pride they felt in winning the 2008 primary into something close to guilt.”
Their “guilt” stems from what President Obama proclaimed in his powerful endorsement of her: Hillary is a “trooper” who put personal feelings aside, dedicating herself to getting him elected, later serving loyally as his Secretary of State. It seems his 2008 senior campaign operatives, like Klein, may have ingested much of the news media garbage written about Hillary and were shocked to find out it was false. See Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau’s lovely mea culpa to Hillary earlier this year:
“She was by far the most prepared, impressive person at every Cabinet meeting. She worked harder and logged more miles than anyone in the administration, including the president…”
“Most of all—and you hear this all the time from people who’ve worked for her—Hillary Clinton is uncommonly warm and thoughtful…”
“This same story has repeated itself throughout Clinton’s career…”
“…You don’t doubt her fierce brilliance when she’s debating policy with Bernie Sanders. You don’t doubt her stamina or tenacity when she’s sitting through hour eleven of the Benghazi Kangaroo Court. But when it comes to nearly everything else, Clinton can seem a little too cautious and forced… It’s a tendency that can’t just be blamed on her opponents or the media, though I wonder how many of us would be so brave and open in our public personas after being subjected to 25 years of unrelenting and downright nasty criticism of what we say, what we do, and how we look.” [emphasis mine]
Lamenting Clinton’s negative opinions of news media, Mr. Klein posits that Hillary’s surety she will be ill-treated by them constitutes a self-inflicted wound. This is debatable when one considers their 25 years of brutal coverage, which I suspect started with her husband’s 1992 election, because she did not “know her place.” Buzzfeed’s Ruby Cramer offers a moving history (Hillary Wants To Talk With You About Love And Kindness) of the way Hillary had been ridiculed for sharing her heart with the press. How can we expect her play Charlie Brown and keep kicking the football?
Respected studies have also proven how media misogyny derailed Clinton in 2008. Per Kathleen Jamieson (Prof., Communication and Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania), visual vilification is a very effective tool employed to devastating effect in that primary with media using any angry, bug-eyed Hillary photo they could find in order to repel voters, making them uncomfortable with her. These tactics work. Mr. Klein cannot be ignorant of this.
Despite her history, Hillary Clinton continues her active listening, coalition-building style, has presented a bold progressive agenda and says she will “meet anyone, anywhere, any time to find common ground.” Here, Mr. Klein does appreciate, although he cannot quite fathom, how Hillary finds it in herself to be convivial to her worst adversaries, disarming them with a charm offensive. It’s called leadership. She has her eyes on the mission she is working to accomplish, empowering her to look past snipes and insults. Perhaps the answer can be found in her unshakeable Methodist faith, or her spine of steel that refuses to break. As her beloved late mother Dorothy said, “Hillary always had the capacity, the confidence and tenacity to stare the devil down.” Love her or hate her, Hillary is admired for her ability to take a punch and keep going, usually emerging stronger by the end of the battle.
Most important, as Klein shares in specific anecdotes throughout, Hillary doesn’t bother with slogans or glad-handing. You send her the information. She acts on it and gets results.
Here’s why Hillary Clinton will be an effective president:
She’s got more stamina than all Congress put together. Ask anyone who’s worked with her.
Her deep understanding of policy and “intersectionality.”
Her ability to retain, in excruciating detail, everyone’s pet crusades so she can find common ground to work with them. As a Senator, she was famous for it.
Her ability to listen, rather than bluster. As Stephen Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
No wonder Republicans are trying so hard to make you “not trust” her. Historically, once Hillary Clinton gets the job, her approval numbers go way up. As she has pointed out, she is not a natural campaigner, and unlike candidates who are great talkers with campaigns a mile wide and an inch deep, Hillary-the-policy-wonk, great listener and coalition builder knows how to get the job done.
Klein’s article is a rare media moment, where a reporter takes the time explore the elements of Hillary Clinton’s style that constitute strength, not weakness.
Only if we elect her President will we learn how effective that “style” can be – and that a woman can be successful without imitating a man.
*Photo courtesy Stu Collins.