Hillary Clinton Gets Defensive

by Laura Snedeker

How dare all those mean ole nasty men running for president gang up on Hillary Clinton like a bunch of schoolyard thugs.

Sen. Clinton’s campaign advisors accused her Democratic opponents of “piling on” during the Democratic debate this week, simultaneously casting her as Damsel in Distress and Warrior Woman.

Her opponents challenged en masse her stance on providing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, her approach to Iran, and her refusal to share White House papers from her eight years as first lady.

In a political climate dominated by debates over illegal immigration problems, a controversy over the proper solution to Iran’s nuclear program, and an ongoing battle over government secrecy, these are all legitimate questions for anyone who wants to be the next president of the United States. Or they would be, if asked of her male rivals.

"They really went from 'Let's talk about what I believe' to 'Let me try to do a gotcha against Hillary Clinton,' " one advisor said. "Ultimately, it was six guys against her, and she came off as one strong woman."

The Clinton campaign softened its complaint that her rivals’ attacks were somehow related to her gender by insisting that Clinton’s show of strength in the face of such daunting adversaries would pull in women voters sympathetic to a woman under siege.

The problems that women in politics face are difficult enough without Clinton’s campaign advisors using gender to explain why her six male opponents had the audacity to attack the front-runner. In an era when “feminist” is a dirty word, the last thing women need is a campaign that emphasizes gender but ignores women’s issues.

As a woman and a Democrat, Clinton faces the challenge of proving that both these groups, traditionally characterized as less willing to go to war, can defend America when necessary. Did the popular view of female leaders as more peaceful and weaker on national security push Clinton to vote in favor of war spending bills and in favor of the recent measure urging the government to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization?

Perhaps, but she is still responsible for her behavior in the Senate. For someone who wants to show that she can succeed in a man’s world, she has campaigned extensively on her role as the wife of a former president in an attempt to harken back to the glory days under President Bill Clinton. Her Senate career representing New York, marred by her vote in favor of the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, has taken a back seat.

The argument that female voters are more likely to vote for a woman whom they perceive as a victim highlights erroneous beliefs about women’s intelligence and voting patterns. If the female electorate votes for women based on gender, do qualifications, experience, and policy agenda mean nothing? Or are women simply more likely to vote for Clinton than for her opponents because the majority of women vote Democratic and are likely to vote for the front-runner?

All this underscores the Clinton campaign’s effort to make Hillary look like less of a sure thing. In the absence of any close competition, the campaign needs to create opponents who pose a real threat to her front-runner status. In the longest campaign season in history, promoting hard-won victories is vital to keeping public interest alive.

Not every political struggle between male and female candidates is a battle of the sexes, and the front-runner is always fair game. The best way for Clinton to compete as a woman in the “all boys club of presidential politics," is to prove she has more to offer voters as a candidate who will stand up for women’s hard-won civil and social rights.

For other posts on Sen. Clinton, please see:

(The photo of the Clintons campaigning is by veni markovski of New York via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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Anonymous said...

Hilary suddenly doesn't look unbeatable. Her performance in the debates was just terrible and then she made it doubly worse by playing the poor little girl card. If she thinks its tough to debate 6 fellow democrats wait until she goes up against Putin if she gets elected. Hilary is simply going to have to accept that her opponents are not going to give her a free pass on the democratic nomination therefore she is actually, god forbid, going to have to take some positions and stop waffling on every big issue.

Obama has played the whole episode beautifully and gained some points.

In the end, my hope is Hilary ends up getting damaged enough to fall back into the pack and that this gives Al Gore the push he needs to get into the campaign.

mkenney said...

It is so frustrating to see Hilary using her gender as a weapon. That is exactly what intelligent supporters of greater political involvement by women do not want to see. I want to see a woman in the White House, not because she is a woman but because she's a more competent leader than the other candidates. And I don't see that in Hilary.

On a secondary note, where does her choosing to stay married to Bill as he publicly shamed her with several affairs fit in with her role as strong woman? It's interesting that that's not talked about more. I'd like to hear her explain to the female voters she depends on exactly how plastering on a smile while Bill struggled to find his pants is a good example of her being a good wife and mother.

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