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Clinton and the Gender Card: Perspectives

BY Morra Aarons-Mele | Monday, November 5 2007

Feminist leader Gloria Feldt writes that the furor about Hillary Clinton and the gender card (see Pile On video) is a process of “desensitization” : we’re all trying to work out our collective discomfort with such a powerful woman. It’s new to all of us, so we have to talk about it, and often screw up. I agree with that. But it’s hurting the candidate. What so many pundits see as "surefootedness" is a calculated means not to alienate confused voters and a ravenous press.

Clinton's tendency (or imperative) to doubletalk on issues means she cannot lead right now, because she is hamstrung by the handicaps of being a pioneer, yes, but also being the frontrunner. She must be too cautious, and that puts her at risk of standing for nothing, and everything, and then losing. It’s an old saw that politicians can never be too specific, lest they alienate supporters, but I think now we need more from our leaders. Can we get off the horse race and the desensitization and talk about Iran?

Like the “General Betrayus” ad and censuring Pete Stark, both of which clouded real issues and consumed several news cycles, yet again political pundits and elected officials and candidates are shunning real responsibility by covering process over issues.

Hillary Clinton has to work so hard to be tough. I do think her gender and her front-runner status combine to create a horrible condition: she can’t say anything real. Even when she (or, I guess, her staff) drops the unflappable front and complains about something real, she’s attacked and has to backtrack.

Wendy Kaminer’s approach explains the calculation: “But while Clinton assures voters that she’s tough enough to face down the demented tyrants in North Korea or Iran, she appeals to their sense of chivalry when criticized by her male opponents.”

Some feminists, like Sister Toldjah, disagreed with Clinton’s stance: “as a self-proclaimed feminist woman, if she wanted to hold true to what the radical feminista sisterhood routinely preaches (but, as we see more and more, doesn’t actually practice) about women being equal to men in every way, she should stand tall and, as they say, “take it like a man…”

Conservatives (and, er, the press) had a field day after the Philly debate because it allowed them to paint the Democratic front runner (talk about working out issues) as “Hillary: Macho, Macho Woman" or, to cite another favorite title: “Hillary Vs. the Girly Men?

But enough already. Clinton wants to be our president! And she vacillates on giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, she signs on to the hawkish Kyl-Lieberman bill that names part of Iran’s army a terrorist organization (Nancy Pelosi, bless her, won’t even bring up this bill in the House because it’s inappropriate and unprecedented)- but then couches her vote by signing on to another anti-Iran war bill, or re-frames her words.

Senator Clinton spends so much time proving how tough she is and defending her position, she forgets to actually lead. She played the gender card last week but in truth, I think she was mostly attacked at the Democratic debate in Philly because she was waffling and because she will not take a stand on things that matter. I think Obama, Edwards, et al are some of the least sexist men out there. Male, female, whatever: this is not leadership. I do believe it is painful and trying to be the first serious female candidate in America. I do think there are gender issues at play (see Cara at the Curvature). But this is not an excuse. Some of Clinton’s positions are unacceptable, because she refuses to take a stand.

Senator Clinton is not leading on Iran. She is vacillating. “I’m not in favor of this rush to war. But I’m also not in favor of doing nothing,” as Frank Rich quoted her Sunday. That's not an answer! How does that win voters in the long run? What does that even mean?

Besides, even if Hillary doesn’t bring up the gender issue, others will do it for her, because it’s real. But it’s not leadership. In our culture, leaders don’t complain, even if they have reason to. They are brave and they take stands. She can’t win the process war and shirk responsibility on issues. We have Congress for that.

Some other perspectives:

Kat’s Korner doesn’t even like Hillary, but she feels sorry for Hillary “as a woman” and thinks Obama’s response was pathetic: “Instead of trying to spin it, Barack Obama should drop it and find something else to push because he and Edwards look like trash right now. And this isn't something women are going to forget or let go of.”

Susan UnPC doesn’t see it as vacillating. She notes that Hillary “was also being the “wonkish” Hillary we’ve heard so much about: She likes to look into the complexities of issues and express all sides. To me, that’s an admirable trait.”

What do you think? Is it fair and honest for Hillary to bring up gender?

Cross posted from