Unpresidential

This seems unnecessary.

Kate Michelman is a fabulous woman. She did a great job as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and she’s an impressive feminist activist. I’m a huge fan of hers. But her attack on Clinton follows the established media pattern of creating a scandal where there was none:

But now that we have the first viable female candidate for president of the United States, things will get better for women, right? Her candidacy will positively affect public perception regarding women in politics and business – and that change will benefit all women – even the women struggling in dead end jobs, scrapping by on minimum wage, raising their families on their own?

Not so fast.

As women take a second look at the candidates, now that attention is focusing more on the issues and how each of the candidates would lead, how they would make decisions; now that making a choice is becoming real, less about celebrity, more about being president, legitimate questions are being raised about Senator Clinton.

And we’re all learning something.

When unchallenged, in a comfortable, controlled situation, Senator Clinton embraces her political elevation into the “boys club.” She is quick to assure listeners she is plenty tough enough, that she’s battled tested, ready to play be the same rules as the boys.

But when she’s challenged, when legitimate questions are asked, questions she should be prepared to answer and discuss, she is just as quick to raise the white flag and look for a change in the rules. She then calls questioning, ‘attacking;’ she calls debate among her peers, ‘piling on.’

It’s a political strategy, no doubt focus grouped and poll tested: make it look unseemly that this group of men would question her and hold her accountable for her record.


It is kind of unseemly when six people all go on the offensive against one in a debate. Of course, it’s also politics, so it’s not necessarily unfair. But pointing our the all-against-one dynamic isn’t necessarily about doing the gender-pity thing.

It’s trying to have it both ways; walk the fence, something Senator Clinton’s good at. At one minute the strong woman ready to lead, the next, she’s the woman under attack, disingenuously playing the victim card as a means of trying to avoid giving honest, direct answers to legitimate questions.

Clinton is excellent at avoiding hard questions. She does have a questionable record on some issues. Those are some of the reasons why I’m hesitant to throw my support behind her. But comments like these remind me more of responses to Katha Pollitt’s book than thoughtful political analysis — the message seems to be than any display of weakness from a Strong Woman ™ is unacceptable. And what counts as “weakness” is negotiable. I’m not sure that Clinton’s debate reaction would have been seen as representing weakness if it came from a male candidate who was leading in the polls; I think the fact that Clinton is a woman influences how we perceive her actions. And I don’t think that attacking women for failing to be our Superwoman ideal is particularly helpful.

Back to Michelman:

As a woman who’s been in the public eye and experienced scrutiny, as a woman who knows how hard it can be for women to earn their seat at the leadership table, how hard women have to work just to get the same opportunities, this distresses me.

It is not presidential.

Ouch. Does she think that Clinton doesn’t realize how hard it is to do all of those things? Again, I have my issues with Hillary, but she’s worked her ass off to get where she is, and she knows exactly how difficult it can be. Cutting her down as “not presidential” is really, really low.

Any serious candidate for president should have to answer tough questions and defend their record.

Any serious candidate for president should make their views clear and let the American people know where they stand on issues.

And any serious candidate for president should be held to the same standard – whether man or woman.

Have we have come a long way? Well, far enough to know better than to use our gender as a shield when the questions get too hot.

Unfortunately, that’s bullshit. Clinton never used her gender as a shield. She does what every other politician does — she addresses some tough questions, and she side-steps the tougher ones. She happens to do it extremely well. She has had to defend her record. But the narrative of “Hillary Clinton cries like a girl when she’s pressed” simply isn’t true, and it’s distressing for me to see a feminist leader promoting it.

Watching this story spin out of control has been incredibly troubling. As far as I can tell, no one can actually point to where Clinton said she’s being ganged up on because she’s the only woman; yet that’s what’s being attributed to her. I’m disappointed to see Kate Michelman jumping on board.

15 comments for “Unpresidential

  1. Lemon Twist
    November 5, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    As far as I can tell, no one can actually point to where Clinton said she’s being ganged up on because she’s the only woman; yet that’s what’s being attributed to her.

    Of course Sen. Clinton doesn’t. She has her surrogates do it for her. Geraldine Ferraro was insinuating that Edwards and Obama were acting in a sexist manner just today in the NY Times.

    I love all of the outreach to women voters that Clinton has been doing, but I find her campaign’s spin that she was ganged up on because she was a woman to be really upsetting. In that particular context, her sex is irrelevant and claiming that her opponents are acting sexist is low.

  2. November 5, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    I absolutely agree with this post. I am so disappointed in Kate Michelman – even if she doesn’t support Senator Clinton, it’s critical that she not buy into this ridiculous sexist narrative. What, is Clinton supposed to just wake up and be a man? Is she just supposed to forget that she’s a woman and maybe everyone else will, too? What, if you don’t challenge misogyny then it’s not there? If you’re just a nice girl and do everything absolutely perfectly maybe you’ll get equal consideration? Those expectations are so incredibly harmful to women.

    I think all the lunacy over the debate is over the fact that everyone is disturbed at some level by the six-on-one debate, but we all want to pretend we live in a world where the fact that she’s a woman doesn’t matter, because then maybe we as a country can ignore it.

    Not to mention, every time it turns into “everyone attack Hillary!” all they’re doing is showing how capably she can handle the inevitable GOP smear campaign for whoever ends up getting the nomination. Oh, but she’s a woman, so she must just be whining, or having someone else whine for her. I guess there should be, like, a Midol IV at every press conference or something.

  3. November 5, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    What’s ironic here is that in 2000, Michelman had NARAL endorse the front-runner, Al Gore over dark horse Bill Bradley despite Bradley’s concededly more consistent pro-choice record. Her rationale then was that Gore had the best chance in the general election, and that Bradley was being “divisive” and helping the Republicans by attacking Gore’s record. But now that she’s with Edwards’ struggling campaign against the front-running Clinton, apparently anything goes . . .

  4. Tammy
    November 5, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    I’ve been puzzling over the same thing – where, exactly, did Senator Clinton make gender the issue? If there was a quote, in all the articles I’ve read, you’d think someone would have used it.

    The “piling on” thing, I think, might have been an actual quote. An accurate assessment, too, but not “crying like a girl” or any of the other such nonsense that’s been attributed to her. She’s the frontrunner; they’d be “piling on” no matter her gender. They’re not doing it (necessarily) because they’re sexist; she’s not whining about it, either.

    The hardest part of public life, I imagine, must be defending yourself against the shit you NEVER said.

  5. Bloix
    November 5, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    I personally think that they were piling on. But that’s not the point. The point is that “playing the gender card” is a Republican talking point and if you’re a Democrat you don’t repeat Republican talking points! There are plenty of legitimate disagreements among the Democratic candidates. Savaging them in ways that weaken them for in the general election is not legitimate.

  6. November 5, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    Hillary’s supporters are implying that she is being attacked because she is a woman.

    Clinton pollster Mark Penn:

    The criticisms followed Penn’s assertion that Clinton was “unflappable.” He also said criticisms from Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) would backfire and that he was already “detecting some backlash,” particularly among female voters.

    Those female voters are saying, “Sen. Clinton needs our support now more than ever if we’re going to see this six-on-one to try to bring her down,” Penn told those on the campaign call.

    AFSCME president Gerald McEntee said, “Six guys against Hillary. I’d call that a fair fight. This is one strong woman.”

    The Hillary campaign put out the Politics of Pile On video.

    Hillary never said that the other candidates were picking on her because she is a woman. Her campaign and supporters are making that implication. Either Hillary is clueless about what her campaign is doing or she is staying above the fray. This is smart political strategy. Hillary’s debate performance was awful and her people are changing the subject.

    Jill, I have the utmost respect for you and consider you a pal. You’re going to be a progressive/feminist star for years to come. Take a look at this from a strategical standpoint. Her people are in the business of winning. They won two presidential elections by being aggressive. The last thing they want is for voters to focus on is her lack of policy substance.

    Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with the Clinton campaign using the fact that she is a woman for political gain. The campaign is out to win. Not make the other candidates happy. Obama is running a shitty campaign and Edwards (whom I like) is fading. Iwish more people were talking about Christopher Dodd.

  7. November 5, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Michelman is working for Edwards, FYI.

  8. Raging Moderate
    November 5, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Michelman is working for Edwards, FYI.

    That explains it.

    Ya can’t trust those people.

  9. shinybear
    November 5, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    Michelman is working for Edwards, FYI.

    It’s all about fighting for your candidate now and it’s getting ugly.

    Many big media players back Obama and they are passionate for him. They won’t go down without a fight.

    Edwards has always been a media darling.

    The media is pushing the “gender card” spin both to generate drama and excitement in what would otherwise be a clearcut race- generating “news” and controversy, or they are trying push their individual favorites.

    If that’s all they’ve got on her, good luck to them.

    I agree the “gender card” expression is a conservative talking point and any Democrat who cares about women’s rights should drop the term. It is offensive.

  10. Flowers
    November 5, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    AFSCME president Gerald McEntee said, “Six guys against Hillary. I’d call that a fair fight. This is one strong woman.”

    The Hillary campaign put out the Politics of Pile On video.

    Hillary never said that the other candidates were picking on her because she is a woman. Her campaign and supporters are making that implication.

    So if 6 Republicans all piled on Giulliani during a debate, and he put out a video about it, he’d be playing the gender-card, right? He’s be saying, “Look, I’m a tough MAN!”

    No, wait. He’d be a politician. He’d be saying, “Look, everyone is piling up on me. They know that I’m the one to beat, and they can’t do that.”

    But if you happen to mention the truth, and the truth involves people piling on against a female candidate, then she must be playing the gender card…. because she’s female.

  11. zuzu
    November 5, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    When she ran for Senate, her opponent, Rick Lazio, actually charged her podium during a debate. She didn’t react, and she didn’t (IIRC) say a word about it, but actions speaking louder than words and all, there was a lot of buzz about Lazio’s masculine anxiety about being kicked to hell and back in the polls and taking it out on her by being physically threatening. Didn’t help him at all.

    People are going to come to the conclusion that she’s playing the gender card no matter what she does, and no matter that the Dems have for quite some time been trying to outplay the Republicans at the swaggeringly macho anxious male game.

  12. zuzu
    November 5, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    Sorry, my memory was a little faulty — they had to share a lectern, and he was pushy and aggressive, waving a paper at her for her to sign (a pledge not to spend any more soft money).

    But she handled that incident much in the same way she handled the recent debate pileon, by making a wry comment on it before an audience of women:

    Most pointedly, however, Mrs. Clinton exploited an opportunity before a friendly audience of women to make a concerted attack on Mr. Lazio’s debate tactics. Many supporters of Mrs. Clinton said they found Mr. Lazio to be pushy and disrespectful during the debate in Buffalo — bullying her in a way that he would not have bullied a male opponent.

    Mrs. Clinton’s senior advisers have seized on that notion to blunt favorable portrayals of Mr. Lazio as strong-willed and determined, and Mrs. Clinton joined the effort yesterday. Expanding on a comment she made the morning after the debate, Mrs. Clinton received knowing chuckles and applause when she said having two younger brothers was the best preparation for her sometimes bruising encounter with Mr. Lazio.

    Then she complained of having to share her lectern with an overly aggressive Mr. Lazio. (He approached her at the end of the debate and urged her to sign a document he said was a promise not to raise or spend any more soft money.) She recalled an old law school maxim that lawyers without the law or facts behind them usually ”pound on the table” as a distraction.

    ”There is a big difference between raising your voice and raising up the quality of education in our schools,” Mrs. Clinton said. ”There is a big difference between pointing your finger and reaching out your hand to improve the quality of life for the people who need health and good jobs.”

    Lazio tried to portray himself as strong, which the ladies appreciate:

    Mr. Lazio said women were being sold short by suggestions that they would not vote for him because he gave Mrs. Clinton a tough debate.

    ”It’s probably not respecting the judgment of women in New York,” he said. ”Women in New York know that they need to have somebody who’s going to be a strong advocate for them in the Senate, somebody that will be there for them. You got to be able to not just talk about things, but actually get the job done.”

  13. Admiral Komack
    November 6, 2007 at 2:22 am

    This bullshit is going on because Hillary Clinton is the perceived Democratic front runner.

    When Barack Obama started getting attention from the media, it was “Is he black enough?”

    Seems like that question has run its course.

    The MSM: “Damn, we’re lazy!”

  14. Coldorderful
    November 6, 2007 at 4:54 am

    No, wait. He’d be a politician. He’d be saying, “Look, everyone is piling up on me. They know that I’m the one to beat, and they can’t do that.”

    But if you happen to mention the truth, and the truth involves people piling on against a female candidate, then she must be playing the gender card…. because she’s female.

    This is what’s so aggravating! If Edwards or Obama had been ganged up on like that, they’d be complaining about it too. Anybody would. But oh no, Hillary isn’t allowed to complain about the same things anyone else would be, because she’s a woman and if she complains, a) she’s showing that she’s too weak and whiny to lead, and b) playing the gender card. Kate Michaelman isn’t the only woman who’s out there throwing these “victim card” cliches around, the blogosphere is full of them saying things like “which is it, is she strong enough to lead” and if they think that’s an effective tactic to stop the backlash among even women who don’t particularly like Hillary but really don’t like this sexist narrative, yeah good luck with that.

    Hillary’s debate performance was awful and her people are changing the subject.

    I don’t know if Hillary’s performance was awful, but I do know that Russert is a horrible moderator, and as far as I’m concerned all of this continuing nonsense by Edwards is just giving legitimacy to his stupid right-wing frames. Russert set stupid traps, do we really need more attention on whether or not any of the candidates fell into them? Let’s let him pick our issues for us and frame the entire general election around that, it’s definitely in our long term interests.

  15. Val
    November 6, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    This bullshit is going on because Hillary Clinton is the perceived Democratic front runner.

    When Barack Obama started getting attention from the media, it was “Is he black enough?”

    Seems like that question has run its course.

    What’s more acceptable, not being black enough or not being woman enough?

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