Hillary Clinton was just profiled in New York Magazine by the gifted Rebecca Traister, who wonders if Hillary’s road to the nomination needed to be as hard as it was. In her piece, Hillary Clinton vs. Herself, Traister posits Hillary made her path more difficult owing to her “pathological” need for privacy and purported hatred of the beltway press. While she fairly reports Clinton’s gift for detailed policy and relate-ability with voters, Traister criticizes Hillary’s lack of buttery oratory, calling her “ungainly on the stump,” almost in the way one would criticize oneself in the privacy of one’s own bathroom mirror. This peculiar phenomenon seems reserved for women. We are all too willing and able to give men a pass for their shortcomings, with a dangerous predilection for style over substance. A meat-and-potatoes girl, I could care less for pretty campaign slogans absent the goods to back them up – a concept Hillary Clinton agrees with and rues simultaneously, for obvious reasons.
So should it not be this hard to be the first woman in history to secure the presidential nomination? If you detect sarcasm, you are correct. The answer to who is making it “this hard” is perhaps not who you think.
Traister’s profile discusses the press’ animus toward Hillary that began over 25 years ago but does not mention that press “youngsters” who now cover Hillary, eager for a rare unscripted moment, are also too eager to repeat grotesque tropes from the likes of Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd or Maureen Dowd rather than discover Clinton anew for themselves – while those press “dinosaurs” continue to diminish her at almost every opportunity.
Hillary Clinton is not in this contest in a vacuum. Throughout, she fought three opponents: her Democratic rival, Republicans who have trashed her for 25 years, and her most potent adversary: the Beltway press, who often acted as stenographers breathlessly repeating the most farfetched “scandal” because Trey Gowdy and Co. said so.
Hillary Clinton’s long held belief that women deserve an equal seat at the table has given mainstream press, among others, fits since she first hit the national stage decades ago. Let’s not pretend beltway operatives were otherwise neutral to Hillary, or that her need for privacy somehow created a relationship wherein they are predisposed to offer up only her negatives. Many of them chose to obfuscate her accomplishments for their own purposes. The lady is click bait and pundits have used her as such for decades, ripping everything from her wardrobe, to her infamous hairstyles and vocal quality. Bernie Sanders yelled throughout his campaign yet we didn’t have the likes of Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum writing articles about his “shouting problem.” Yet this is how we grade and degrade a powerful woman who is large and in charge.
Don’t we have an obligation to vet press’ unverified assertions before ingesting every accusation? Doesn’t the press have an obligation to vet other candidates lest we decide style over substance is enough?
Not to belabor what a week from now will likely be very old news, but what if the press had done its job vetting Bernie Sanders’ lofty campaign promises from the beginning? What if more had done as the New York Daily News did, but months earlier, looking beyond shouts of “millionaires and billionaires” to report he had no concrete plan of enacting policy past powerful platitudes? Would as many have voted for him? The beltway press cynically built him up in order to create a horse race.
Republican Donald Trump is a reality show con artist who likewise has nothing but demagoguery to offer. Also for cynical reasons, mainstream press daily attempts to normalizes a man we should be terrified to let anywhere near our nuclear codes.
Like Ms. Traister, I too hope Hillary will just “hit away,” but is it reasonable to expect Hillary Clinton to throw caution to the wind with the TV press when she is excoriated for every misstep while male opponents get pass after pass for the same?
Buzzfeed’s Ruby Cramer penned one of the best profiles I’ve seen this political season, Hillary Clinton Wants to Talk to You About Love and Kindness. In it, Cramer went back decades to report a time when Hillary shared a very deep part of herself with the press only to be ripped to shreds by them for doing so.
Traister does acknowledge we are not done with sexism, since “[t]he ambitious woman who works hard has long been disparaged as insufficiently human,” noting that Hillary’s wonkishness is harder to celebrate because detailed policy prescriptions don’t fit neatly on a bumper sticker. Yet as a Hillary convert and former self-avowed “hater,” Traister seems sometimes to suffer the malaise that plagues many female colleagues when covering Clinton. They project some idea of perfection onto Hillary so that any “stiffness” is perceived as inauthenticity rather than shyness, as if they loathe it in themselves and defensively desire Clinton not to possess it.
Clinton humbly confessed that campaigning does not come naturally to her – but actually doing the job is what she’s good at. Predictably, she is more often cursed (called boring) than lauded for her capable nature.
Traister also states :
“There are a lot of reasons — internal, external, historical — for the way Clinton deals with the public, and the way we respond to her. But there is something about the candidate that is getting lost in translation. The conviction that I was in the presence of a capable, charming politician who inspires tremendous excitement would fade and in fact clash dramatically with the impressions I’d get as soon as I left her circle: of a campaign imperiled, a message muddled, unfavorables scarily high. To be near her is to feel like the campaign is in steady hands; to be at any distance is to fear for the fate of the republic.”
Let’s talk about why that is…Those “unfavorables” are run up by repetition and exaggeration (to the point that even Ms. Traister believes them) almost entirely by a beltway press. The press trumpets every outlier poll, every manipulated “trust” question, almost celebrating if it is bad news for Clinton.
Case in point, two days after President Obama’s reelection in 2012, the mainstream press turned prematurely and disrespectfully to 2016, and the specter of Hillary Clinton running to be the first woman President. They beat the drum so loudly with non-stop Hillary reportage and tea-leaf reading as if they were trying to make the American people sick of her before the first Primary was ever contested. Politico’s 2013 coverage began with a slightly negative taint, which escalated by 2015 via The New York Times incessant and often faulty reportage about her emails. For the past year, we have been plagued with faux news that Hillary’s campaign is “faltering.”
Fact: Hillary Clinton has been chosen America’s most admired woman is staggering, record-breaking 20 times.
Fact: Hillary won more votes than anyone in primary history in 2008 and 2016.
Fact: Editorial boards around the country (not part of the beltway cabal) have overwhelmingly endorsed Hillary Clinton, her preparedness, experience, accomplishments and superior policy prescriptions.
How many voters, then, are surprised to learn that she was winning – by a lot – all along?
How “ungainly” can she be? How “untrustworthy”? Clearly, millions do trust and admire her.
As long as we demand Hillary hold up the banner for all womanhood, we will find that she comes up short. This is by no means to make excuses for her, or to pretend Traister’s concerns don’t hold water (they do), but to insist Hillary has to be a magnificent orator in addition to an ideal legislature and leader is a bridge too far and telegraphs the message that no woman will ever be good enough.
As long as we swallow whole the condemnations of a corporate owned media, we will likewise never see Hillary for who she really is. Fortunately, social media now allows Clinton unscripted moments that she can share directly with the American people, without a filter.
Owing to our current media culture, only then might Ms. Traister and the rest of us get a bigger dose of the “Just talk to me” Hillary we seem to hunger for.
But don’t bet that somebody wouldn’t find fault with that, too.