Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Even Dowd saw through Clinton's crocodile tears.

When Maureen Dowd -- the New York Times' resident über-feminist -- sees through Hillary Clinton's act, that is saying something that ought not to be casually dismissed. In her newest column, Dowd speculates that Clinton might win the nomination by playing the female victim card, as she did in New Hampshire. Now, before I continue, I should point out that I don't care much for Maureen Dowd. She is the NYT's version of MSNBC's Chris Matthews, practicing what I call the schoolgirl characterization brand of political analysis. That is to say, she's all about the shallow, superficial aspects of politics -- chattering on about haircuts and masculinity and clothes, rather than the actual substance of policy positions. But today she was in fine form. She points out:

She won her Senate seat after being embarrassed by a man. She pulled out New Hampshire and saved her presidential campaign after being embarrassed by another man. She was seen as so controlling when she ran for the Senate that she had to be seen as losing control, as she did during the Monica scandal, before she seemed soft enough to attract many New York voters.

Getting brushed back by Barack Obama in Iowa, her emotional moment here in a cafe and her chagrin at a debate question suggesting she was not likable served the same purpose, making her more appealing, especially to women, particularly to women over 45.
Clinton's act the other day was a cynical act of political calculation, one that has served her well. It allowed her to do two things going in the wake of Iowa: gain voter sympathy as the beat-up girl in the campaign; and have cover for her attack on Obama over national security, a page pulled straight from Karl Rove's playbook.

Gordon Brown comes in, the very next day, there are terrorist attacks. Thankfully, they were unsuccessful, from London to Scotland. So, you've got to be prepared on day one with everything ready to go.
It was, as I stated, a cynical calculation. And fundamentally dishonest. For what incoming executives -- other than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney -- would not have a transition team in place long before election day to prepare for upcoming eventualities, both real and potential? Had Clinton not pretended to lose control of her emotions when she did, her attack would not have worked and Obama might have prevailed -- albeit by a narrower margin than he did in Iowa. Instead, the fake tears tipped that statistically marginal balance in Clinton's favor. Never mind that in terms of delegates, Clinton and Obama won an equal number. She knows as well as her chief rival that what matters is how the press reports the results, not how the statistics break down.

I've never believed, as some have suggested, that Hillary Clinton has no emotions. I do believe she has much better control over them than most lay people, by simple virtue of her trade. She knows when and how to display emotion, and use it to her advantage. There is never a time when Clinton is truly out of control. Consider this bit of condescending whining: "I just don’t want to see us fall backwards...some of us are right and some of us are wrong. Some of us are ready and some of us are not." Put the selfish, teary-eyed whining and the Rovian attack together, and Clinton's political calculations become evident. Her phony breakdown became the thing that salvaged her presidential campaign.

This is not to say that Clinton's near-breakdown didn't have a hint of genuine emotion; after running for months on a sense of entitlement to the presidency, the former president's wife had clearly come to believe the hype over her perceived inevitability. As she saw her hopes of becoming president dashed, she honestly felt as though she was being robbed a second time.
[T]here was a whiff of Nixonian self-pity about her choking up. What was moving her so deeply was her recognition that the country was failing to grasp how much it needs her. In a weirdly narcissistic way, she was crying for us. But it was grimly typical of her that what finally made her break down was the prospect of losing.

As Spencer Tracy said to Katharine Hepburn in “Adam’s Rib,” “Here we go again, the old juice. Guaranteed heart melter. A few female tears, stronger than any acid.”

The Clintons once more wriggled out of a tight spot at the last minute. Bill churlishly dismissed the Obama phenom as “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen,” but for the last few days, it was Hillary who seemed in danger of being Cinderella. She became emotional because she feared that she had reached her political midnight, when she would suddenly revert to the school girl with geeky glasses and frizzy hair, smart but not the favorite. All those years in the shadow of one Natural, only to face the prospect of being eclipsed by another Natural?

Kudos to Dowd for being smart enough to see through Hillary Clinton's whiny victim act. The question now is, will the rest of America?

No comments: