Gleams, Boos, and Historical Inevitability
The Democratic debate two weeks ago had three headlines. Last night’s had only two: gleams and boos.
The gleams were in the eyes of women as they contemplated Hillary’s presidency. I thought I saw them in almost every female eye, from the students and moms asking questions to the sole female moderator.
Was it my imagination? It could have been, but I don’t think so.
My conviction rose when I heard the boos. How many times have you heard a rabidly Democratic audience boo two of the party’s top three contenders for the presidency? I’ve never heard that before, and I’ve watched a lot of debates and conventions.
The boos came when Obama and Edwards offered Clinton mild criticism. I agreed with the substance of their criticism. But the substance and mild tone didn’t seem to matter to the audience; only the fact of criticism did.
Toward the end of the debate, Clinton got the inevitable question about playing the gender card. She handled it beautifully. She deftly conflated her own aspirations with women’s generally.
As she wound up her reply, Clinton described women in their nineties coming to her, filled with hope. They were born before women got the vote, she reported, and didn’t want to die before seeing a woman as president.
I had no sound meter with me, but I could have sworn that line got the loudest applause of the evening. Immediately afterward, Edwards chided Clinton for her wicked Washington ways. He got the loudest boos of the evening.
What struck me most was how obtuse the men were. Obama and Edwards—two of the smartest politicians in either party—treated Clinton like just another guy. Edwards even said that was the proper thing to do. It was as if they’d never read about Mars and Venus or argued with their wives. Political correctness submerged common sense, let alone what every husband knows instinctively about gender.
If I’m right about the gleams and boos, then this election is all but over. They reflect a growing female thirst and hope for victory. Women are beginning to understand the big number—51%—that is their share of the electorate. They are starting to feel their political power.
In the primaries, Obama, Edwards and the other males will split the anti-Clinton vote. A lot of men will vote for Clinton, too. Unless Obama can close the gender gap, Clinton will win the primaries decisively. As attack-dog-in-chief, Edwards is already out of the running. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Once she’s won the primaries, can Clinton win the general election? There’s been a lot of talk about her divisiveness and entrenched opposition to her candidacy. But I now wonder how much of that opposition—let alone the commentary on it—is male wishful thinking.
That fact is that Clinton is good enough to be president, especially after the disaster she will follow. I’ve noted her flaws on this blog, and I stand by my critiques. Obama is a once-in-two-generations candidate; I’d hate to see my party settle for second best. But I’d hate even more to watch our democracy go down the toilet under a two-bit Caesar or an authoritarian pseudo-religious frat boy. (If you appreciate a good nightmare, read the latest about Mitt’s upbringing. It’s perfect for Big Brother.)
So if Hillary wins the nomination, I will vote for her without much enthusiasm but with firm conviction that I’m doing the right thing. So will most Democrats and independents, male or female.
To win the general election, she needs the votes of more than half the men and women. The polls suggest that more than half the men are now Democrats or independents and will vote for her. The growing anti-Bush, anti-Cheney backlash will only increase her share of the male vote as time goes by.
As for the female vote, won’t Rudy’s or Mitt’s attacks in the general campaign produce the same result that Obama’s and Edwards’ did last night? Gender ju-jitsu doesn’t stop at party lines. If you don’t understand why more than half of women are likely to support Hillary in a secret ballot, regardless of party, then you haven’t thought seriously about all those gleams and boos.
Maybe there was something unusual in the air of Las Vegas or the university atmosphere there. But I don’t think so. If the truth be told, testosterone has not been a recipe for good government. Not only have we suffered through seven years of testosterone-fueled Texas swagger. Lest we forget, our beloved Bill threw away three years of what could have been a stellar presidency on a fling with a White House intern. After ten years of pathetic male blunders, it’s not hard to understand why women’s time has come, even if “their” candidate is imperfect.
I hope that my impression of last night is wrong. I still believe in Obama as, if not the sole, then our most likely salvation. But if the female tide I thought I saw last night is real, there is nothing that Obama, I or any other male can do about it. We had better get used to seeing a lot of Hillary and hoping for the best.
Postscript on Comments Below
Never have I been more delighted to be criticized than on reading the comments below. I hope that readers of this post will study every one of them (and more in the same vein that I hope will come), as well as the blog that Amalia referenced.
As I said above, I fervently hope my fears are wrong. I thought long and hard before publishing the above post. My wish not to harm Obama’s campaign warred with my personal integrity: my need to call things as I saw them. In the end, my integrity won, in part out of respect for Obama. He tells us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear, and I tried to do the same.
Of course I, too, thought Obama “won” the debate on substance. If you listen to what candidates say, not how they say it, he always does.
I particularly liked his succinct reply to Clinton’s blatant tax pandering on social security. While she decried a “trillion dollar tax increase”—taking a page right out of the Bush/Rove Book of Demagoguery—Obama dryly noted that raising the earnings cap on the social-security tax would hurt only the top six percent of earners. I’m in that six percent, and I certainly don’t want janitors and single moms making $20,000 a year carrying my water for me. That’s not just bad policy; it’s immoral.
As usual, Obama made several other wise and thoughtful remarks, including observations on the loaded question of human rights trumping national security. But to me, his superior analysis and honesty were an old story. The new story was the gleams, applause and boos. Unless Campbell Brown is an undiscovered Meryl Streep, I don’t think she could could fake the look on her face as she served Hillary her softball question on gender.
Those looks and the sound effects surprised me and disturbed me deeply. That’s why I thought they—not Obama’s usual victory on substance—were the headline. The ire and indignation of thinking women that my post provoked is music to my ears.
Two final points are worth mentioning. The thought that the audience and sound effects might have been manipulated occurred to me, but I had no evidence, only suspicion. If the Clinton campaign manipulated the audience or the sound effects, it should be investigated and exposed. The thought that Hillary’s campaign might do something so Bush-like—and so slickly—is truly frightening. Who would suspect that Big Brother might be a woman?
If, as is more likely, CNN’s own bias and complete lack of professionalism were responsible, there is little that anyone can do about that. Will the last professional and objective television news organization (other than PBS) please stand up?
Finally, to the extent my post stereotyped or underestimated women, I apologize. That certainly wasn’t my intent. But the whole nation inexplicably voted George W. Bush into office a second time, having had nearly four years to study his stupidity and bad character. Someone (I think it was P.T. Barnum) said that you never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. I don’t think there are any notable gender differences there.
In fact, there are good reasons to excuse women (and men) for supporting Hillary. It is past time for a female president; she’s a lot smarter than Bush; her heart is closer to the right place; she’s likely to appoint far better people; and she’s a Democrat. We might all have to swallow our distaste and support her in the general election, to avoid the far greater disaster of Rudy or Mitt in the White House.
There should be no gender differences in voting for the lesser of two evils. That’s no fun, but it’s a vital duty. If more people had done it in 1968, Nixon would have been an historical footnote, not our second-worst president. If more people had voted for Gore, rather than Nader, in 2000, so would George W. Bush. Then the War in Iraq would be historical speculation, not dismal fact.
We all have to be circumspect in pointing out Hillary’s deficiencies because we may have to support her next year. It’s hard to walk that fine line, but it’s necessary.
So the quest for an Obama presidency is a bit quixotic. It always has been. That doesn’t mean the fight is not worth while, or that Obama might not win. If my post provokes women to fight harder for him, it will have done its job.