You could feel the swell of female angst. It wasn’t even about Hillary Clinton. It was about what she was put through. It was about running while female.
The Democratic race for president was supposed to herald a new era for blacks and women in politics. What became clear was that for the African- American, it is the 21st century. For the woman, it is 1955.
The media had declared open season on Clinton, who being middle age, was somehow deemed an easy target for special savagery. On Slate, Christopher Hitchens slimed Clinton as “an aging and resentful female.” The Drudge Report simply displayed a photo of Clinton’s face looking puffy, lined and fatigued. No caption necessary.
I won’t even bother with Rush Limbaugh.
On New Hampshire primary day, the host at C-SPAN’s Washington Journal read from a news story explaining Clinton’s show of emotion. The reporter had written that she choked up “because the other woman expressed concern for her feelings.” But the host misread the phrase “other woman” as “older woman” (a subconscious slip, no doubt).
It was during this same program, however, that I first suspected the polls predicting a Barack Obama coast might be off. An early female caller, a Democrat, took umbrage at the sexist carnival, noting that she has two grown daughters. That was to be expected. But then a Republican woman called in to defend Clinton. Clearly, this was no longer just about politics.
Clinton was never my first choice for president, but the shredding of her dignity drove me crazy. I e-mailed Jennifer Lawless, a professor of political science at Brown University, to see whether I had simply lost my sense of humor. Lawless is a tough analyst who specializes in women candidates and herself ran for Congress. What did she think?
“Quite frankly,” Lawless responded, “I am so disgusted with the media’s coverage of Hillary Clinton that I can barely write about it without the anger rising.” Lawless noted that she, too, was “by no means, a knee-jerk Hillary Clinton fan.”
Towering over the personal attacks was the monstrous double standard. The woman was the diligent worker, studying the minutiae of health care, terrorism and taxation, but portrayed as an over-the-hill broad, who every 10 minutes had to answer a question about why people didn’t like her. Not that this should matter, but John McCain happens to be 11 years her senior, and Mitt Romney several months older than the New York senator.
No female – young, old, black or white – could ever play the knight-on-charger with meager experience. If she presented herself as the human embodiment of national unity and world peace, everyone would have fallen down laughing.
Obama’s message, meanwhile, turned increasingly narcissistic. Thanks to his victory in Iowa, he said, “there’s a sense of hopefulness and interest and engagement among the electorate that I don’t think we’ve seen in a very, very long time.”
By January 8, the broads had had enough. Seeing that it had become socially acceptable to mock mature women, they were determined to prove that it was not politically acceptable. Many of their daughters joined them.
And it would be incomplete reporting not to add that New Hampshire’s old factory towns also came out for Clinton. Obama retained support in the comfortable university towns, where the economically secure had nothing to lose in gauzy messages of “hope.” The hurting workers did not have that luxury.
I still can’t say that Hillary Clinton is the best choice for president, but seeing her rise from the rubble last week did bring on my own show of emotion. That I must confess.
©2008 The Providence Journal Co.