This is a difficult post to write, because I’m concerned that I’ll be accused of sexism. Specifically, of criticizing Hillary Clinton for being a Bitch; when a man could get away with the same behaviour, and even be admired for it.

So maybe I’m sexist. But I found the video of the Democratic debate in South Carolina very uncomfortable to watch.

I can deal with political conflict. What bothered me most was THE LOOK. The time notations come from the Youtube video, posted below.
14 second mark:
14 sec
22 second mark:
22 sec
41 second mark:
41 sec
49 second mark:
49 sec
57 second mark:
49 sec
This blogger describes Hillary’s style as “shrill”. I used the word “bitch”. Those particular pejoratives are reserved for women, so it seems sexist to use them.

But I’m not anti-women. There’s a real contrast between these two candidates, and it has nothing to do with the fact that one is male and the other female.

It isn’t like Barack Obama is equally aggressive and negative. Obama’s great gift is his ability to cast a positive vision of the future. His style is all about bipartisan consensus. It’s about bringing Democrats, independents, and even Republicans together around common objectives. Blacks and whites, too.

Whereas Hillary Clinton represents a continuation of the kind of politics the USA has seen for sixteen years now. Brass knuckle, divide-and-conquer, partisan campaigning. Do whatever you have to do in order to win.

The USA has been fed a steady diet of this for the eight-year Clinton presidency, and then the eight-year Bush presidency. Nasty, nasty! Aren’t Americans ready to turn the page on that?

Not Clinton. Hillary doesn’t just play the role because she has to:  she relishes it. Just before the six-minute mark of the video, Hillary says “We’re just getting warmed up,” with much laughter and self-satisfied smiling. She was genuinely enjoying the bloodletting.

That’s what struck me as I watched the first few minutes of this video. And frankly, it makes me sick that she has better-than-even odds of winning the nomination. Obama is right:  there are important issues confronting us, and Americans need to come together to face down the challenges.


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aaron
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 17:15:07

    You can make your point without calling her a bitch. In fact, if you leave out everything in your post before the sentence that begins, “There’s a real contrast between these two candidates,” you make a cogent argument that isn’t sexist in the slightest. Since I know you’re a very smart person, I have to assume you knew this already, so I have to wonder why you did it.

    Incidentally, if you think that calling her a bitch is ok, where do you draw the line? Do you think this goes too far (note the “clever” acronym)?


  2. aaron
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 17:16:36

    hmm, i seem to have lost the link for my last paragraph. try this —


  3. Stephen
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 17:54:40

    Honestly, Aaron, I found myself struggling when I was writing the post. Struggling with my own sense of political correctness, I suppose. I had a visceral reaction to “THE LOOK”. And I set out to explain why I think the reaction is valid, even if it runs dangerously close to sexism.

    I titled the post “Nasty” because that’s a gender-neutral pejorative. I guess I would have done better to leave it at that. Clinton’s nastiness would offend me even if she wasn’t a woman: just as Dick Cheney’s heartless, ruthless, nastiness does. I’m attracted to Obama’s campaign for the obverse reason — he delivers a constructive, optimistic message.

    The blogger who describes Clinton as “shrill” is unfair in some of her criticisms, I think. But she raises a difficult question: if Hillary’s voice is shrill, is it OK to say so? Is that just a superficial characteristic, or does it speak to character — at that point, she alluded to Martin Luther King’s dictum that people ought to be judged on the content of their characters.

    So is it sexist to use the word “shrill”, even if the word is accurate, and even if it does say something about the candidate’s character? I wonder the same thing about the word “bitch”, but perhaps that term is a little bit worse than “shrill”.

    As for the c-word: some feminists have tried to reclaim it as an empowering term. But yes, when it’s clearly used as a put-down — a reason all by itself to vote against Clinton without any need to back it up with a substantive argument — yes, clearly it is inappropriate and offensive.

    Arguably, my use of “bitch” was, too. So thanks for calling me on it.


  4. Bridgett
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 20:04:52

    I tend not to use that word (unless it slips out of my mouth following “son of a” when I stub my toe or other such thing). Tend not to call people that. But I use the adjective form all the time.

    I think when it gets applied here, it’s like the needle scratching over the record. Since it is a gender-specific slur, it ends any debate and just focuses the attention back on the user, when really, it’s not about you or me or anyone else. It’s about her and the way she is. I’ve always thought of words like smug and sour and conniving and vile when I’ve considered her. Bitch also applies. But I can say “Hilary Clinton is conniving and vile political animal” without sounding like I listen to Rush Limbaugh every afternoon.

    It is very frustrating to think the Democratic party will turn out to be naive enough to put her up as candidate. Because they will lose as sure as I’m writing this. She is so divisive.


  5. Bridgett
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 20:07:26

    Oh, and I also think she’s pissed off and afraid that this….man…this black man….is going to take it all away from her. Notice how dirty it’s all gotten of late?

    I hate how the dems become a bunch of crabs in a bucket in their debates. My kingdom for a viable third party. Or fourth.


  6. Random
    Jan 24, 2008 @ 05:20:23

    Maybe I’m missing something because I didn’t see the live feed, but what exactly is wrong with the look in those pictures? To me it just looks like she’s concentrating hard on what Obama is saying without giving any impression that she accepts what he’s saying. At worst, the fact that her expression is exactly the same each time gives the impression it’s some sort of rehearsed poker face.

    As for “bitch”, I guess I’m with Bridgett on this one. There are plenty of other words that can be used to describe Clinton that are gender neutral and I think you should stick to them. If nothing else, you don’t want to give her supporters a chance to deflect the substantive criticisms by giving them a chance to make the debate about sexism. For that matter I agree with Bridgett’s second post too – the almost monarchical sense of entitlement (and I actually am a Monarchist in the British context:-)) Clinton gives off is one of the most unpleasant things about her.

    That said though, and speaking as your token VRWC contributor, I have to express some surprise that you (or at least the liberal left in general) have only recently seemed to notice this sort of thing about the Clintons. There really is nothing significantly different here to what they were doing to republicans and conservatives in the 90’s, and yet when they were doing it then they had sky high approval ratings and were lionised by the left. It really is a bit rich to start criticising them for their tactics now that they’re doing it to somebody you approve of. Nothing has changed, the Clintons are just being the Clintons, as always.


  7. Stephen
    Jan 24, 2008 @ 15:35:49

    • Bridgett:
    Since it is a gender-specific slur, it ends any debate and just focuses the attention back on the user.

    Good point. I’m probably relying on my reputation here — that all of you know me well enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. But someone who doesn’t know me might immediately dismiss the post as born of sexism.

    • Random:
    To me it just looks like she’s concentrating hard on what Obama is saying.

    Interesting. I wondered whether others would see what I see in those images, since it’s admittedly a subjective judgement.

    I would characterize the expression as sneering. I see what you describe as a monarchical attitude: a sense that she’s better than Obama and shouldn’t have to put up with flack from such an inconsequential person. But there’s also a degree of malevolence there: she’s waiting patiently for her opportunity to speak, when she plans to make short work of him.

    I might be able to screw that look onto my face momentarily, with some effort. I could not sustain it for 60 seconds. It speaks to Clinton’s character in part because she wears that face so effortlessly, which suggests that it’s well practiced.

    On your other point: one of the columnists I linked to is making the same point you do: people on the left are just waking up to what the Clintons have always been like.

    But it seems that a lot of Democratic voters still don’t see it, or Clinton wouldn’t be ahead in the polls.


  8. nebcanuck
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:50:41

    Interesting. I wondered whether others would see what I see in those images, since it’s admittedly a subjective judgement.

    I agree that it’s a sneer, from my POV. Interestingly, Obama has a pretty good look of his own — one of impatience. He has an air about him throughout the video which suggests that he is just waiting for her “childish rant” to end.

    I don’t like it much.

    I’m still an Obama supporter. But I think this instance is a pretty big blemish on his record. The worst part is that he seems to be showing signs of fatigue. He is a raging optimist, and I love that about him. But Clinton, as you say, can maintain her cool feel throughout the entire video. Though she is mean, she never seems to lose her composure, and always has a sharp retort and a vicious look to give her opponent. On the other hand, though Obama’s message is hugely positive, he seems to crack here, and heavily. He throws a couple of heavy punches, and despite trying to maintain his stance that his politics are “cleaner” he begins to partake in Hillary’s game.

    I don’t know if it’s the result of some slipping polls. I don’t know if perhaps he’s genuinely hurt by Hillary’s comments. I suspect it’s a bit of both. But whatever the cause, this type of show has to beg the question: Can he last as a candidate? He has all the right words, and is the best candidate for his policy. But will he make it all the way through without completely falling apart? And if so, how long will he last as President? Being under the media microscope for 4-8 years is a lot of pressure; Will the criticism cause him to lose focus and fail to enact what are great plans for the future?

    I would far prefer his optimistic visions to the typical partisanship presented by politicians. But if he’s going to wind up slipping to their level when the heat’s on, how much can we trust him to follow through with tough policies? Hopefully he regains his poise in upcoming debates; If not, this could be a troubling series to sit through!


  9. Stephen
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 20:39:39

    Yes to all of that: but be aware that you’re seeing exactly the result that the Clintons were after.

    I agree that Obama’s approach in this debate wasn’t flattering to him. The dispute is working in Edwards’s favour in South Carolina, against both Clinton and Obama, according to a recent poll.

    It’s a “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” situation for Obama, which the Clinton’s cynically forced upon him. Does he ignore them while they spread lies about him? Then he maintains his pristine purity; but meanwhile they distort his record at key points: that Obama didn’t consistently oppose the war in Iraq; that Obama expressed approval for specific policies of Ronald Reagan ("like privatizing Social Security, like moving back from a balanced budget and a surplus to deficit and debt" — Hillary); that Obama didn’t stand up for the pro-choice position; that Obama plans to increase taxes by one trillion dollars to support Social Security!

    There’s an old saying which I despise: “it takes two to tango”. Meaning, of course, that it takes two to have a fight.

    I emphatically disagree. It takes two people to make peace; but if one person or the other is determined to be belligerent, peace becomes an impossible ideal.

    The Clintons have dragged Obama into the mud with them. It doesn’t matter whether their allegations are true or false. If he doesn’t oppose them, the Clintons benefit. If he does oppose them, it reflects badly on both the Clintons and Obama. But the net impact is worse for him, because his whole appeal is based on overcoming divisions and working harmoniously even with his opponents; on casting a positive vision for the future that people can unite around, instead of running a negative campaign.

    I think Obama knows this is a trap and a no-win proposition for him. He’s choosing the lesser of two evils (from a political perspective), because “trust” is an area of vulnerability for the Clintons. But no matter how he plays it, he loses ground to the Clintons. Not among black voters, but among whites and perhaps Latinos as well. (In Nevada, inciting Latinos against Obama perhaps cost him a victory.)

    And I think Obama is demoralized because this lying campaign is coming from fellow Democrats. Presumably he genuinely respected the former President at one time. If the smear job had come from the Republicans, it wouldn’t have been so demoralizing.

    And people might have seen it for what it was: but a lot of Democrats continue to have a soft spot for Bill Clinton. Many former colleagues of the former President are appalled at his conduct — Sullivan has posted a series of quotes of this sort — but among voters, Bill is still the good guy, and Obama looks bad for speaking ill of him.


  10. nebcanuck
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 22:00:41

    You’re right that this is exactly what the Clintons want, but it’s not actually the defense that concerns me.

    I appreciated when he said “no, you’re wrong.” I don’t even think that it doesn’t vibe with his mantra of harmony. The problem is that he lost his poise in regards to respecting his opponent.

    Clearly politics cannot be about accepting your opponents’ ideas 100%. If everyone was willing to overlook the differences between candidates, you may as well flip a coin to make a choice. If Obama is running on the premise that he will never have anything negative to say about the Clintons, I don’t think he’s realist enough to make a run at the Presidency.

    What hurts is when he loses his cool and throws the “board of governors for Wal-Mart” slam, or he begins to talk over her. I’m not seeing the results the Clintons want, Obama’s delivering it! If he maintained his cool and said “respectfully, you’re wrong, because here’s what I said”, that doesn’t undermine that he’s willing to work together with them, it just says that he’s willing to call them out on being wrong. Instead, he shows his demoralization clearly. Though I appreciate it, and believe that he has a right to be demoralized in this situation, I would be a lot more convinced if he had managed to handle it in a way that vibes with his statements.

    And then we get into the mire that they intend: My reasoning. Clearly the goal is to make him look like he would falter as a President. And it sucks to give into that line of thought. Nonetheless, Obama’s going to run into a lot of people who want to “Tango” and won’t back down. If he can’t handle himself respectfully but forcefully on an international, national, and local scale, he’s not going to cut it as a President. We’ve seen the forceful and it’s tiring; The respectful loses out every time. It’s time that he steps up and can prove to be both, as his promises seem to suggest.


  11. Stephen
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 22:13:04

    Good argument.

    My sympathies are still entirely with Obama. But it’s certainly true that, if he manages to get past Clinton and win the nomination (which I now seriously doubt) he will face much more ugliness of this sort from the Republicans. So Obama does indeed need to figure out how to respond without looking “nasty” himself.


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