Why is it that I just really don’t like Hillary Clinton? I must admit I felt pretty guilty last Tuesday when I did not use my hard-earned women’s suffrage to vote for the first female presidential candidate. Instead, I mistakenly walked into the morgue side of the polling place (no wonder there were so many parking places on that side) and saw a dead white man laid out in a coffin before I made my way to the ballot box.Was it a sign? Was it corporeal proof that that the era of white male supremacy in Washington is finally ending? Maybe I was traumatized into voting for Obama by an image that reminded me of my own mortality, but if it was fear that compelled my decision, I surely would have voted for Senator McCain. So than why can’t I just suck it up and vote for Hillary? She is smart, capable, ambitious and well-connected; I really should like her, but I have to agree with Andrew Sullivan here: the woman gets on my nerves. Hillary seriously lacks the cult-inspiring charisma that comes so naturally to Obama, and it is something her Chanel suits and Manolo pumps cannot make up for.
I would argue that the truly great politicians of the last century have been fabulous actors, spurting out charisma like urine. Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton: they were more Hollywood than they were Washington — hell, Reagan actually was an actor! Obama has that same star quality and a tad more genuine authenticity that, after eight years with W. (the worst fake cowboy/frat boy that ever stepped onto the political stage), a lot of people are gravitating toward like moths to a flame.
As smart as she is, however, Hillary is a seriously repugnant actress. Anyone who has sat through a community theater rendition of Shakespeare might know how I feel when I watch Hillary on TV. You are literally crawling out of your skin by the time intermission rolls around. Hillary is like Lady Macbeth and Ophelia rolled into one, and that, my friends, is a very unfortunate combination of ambition, madness, victimization, and desperation.
Charisma is not the only thing affecting this election, though. I think that gender and race are bigger factors than ever before.
The brilliant Paul Cohen, historian turned masculinity expert (a new caveat of gender studies), gave a lecture last year where he predicted that Hillary would be virtually unelectable because of her gender. This is because, as a woman, she is forced to walk the line between masculine power tactics and feminine vulnerability. No matter how she plays the part, she comes out the villain or the victim, neither of which are very appealing.
Unlike Hillary, whose gender boxes her in, Obama’s race seems to works to his advantage. He is both an African and an American, but does he really fit into the category of African American? He spent most of his childhood with his mother in Indonesia, was educated at the likes of Columbia and Harvard, worked as a civil rights lawyer, community organizer and lecturer in Chicago and was a Senator of Illinois — all before he ran for office. It’s safe to say he is not your average American, let alone your average black American.
Yet it is precisely his race that allows him to avoid the gender trap all together. It is his race that safeguards him from the effeminate aristocratic stereotype that has emasculated so many intelligent democratic candidates in the past. Take, for example, what happened to John Kerry in the 2004 elections: He was lampooned by the right as an effeminate sissy because of his wealthy wife and wiry physique, yet he was a Vietnam veteran. I think, because Obama is a skinny black nerd and not a skinny white nerd, he doesn’t get tagged as an effeminate member of the Bourgeoisie.
While Obama is flying on the wings of talent and charm, followed from state to state like a democratic demi-God, Clinton seems to be unfortunately deterred by her gender. Maureen Dowd, editorial writer for the New York Times, used a joke from Webcaster Penn Jillette to illustrate Hillary’s cultural predicament in last Sunday’s column “A Flawed Feminist Test.” It goes: “Obama is just creaming Hillary. You know, all these primaries, you know. And Hillary says it’s not fair, because they’re being held in February, and February is Black History Month. And unfortunately for Hillary, there’s no White Bitch Month.”
Dowd believes, and I agree with her, that the ways in which Hillary is trying to use her gender in this election are backfiring. Although I do not want to see Hillary publicly humiliated — and I cringe at the words “White Bitch” — I do not think she’s the feminist icon she makes herself out to be.
Dowd argues that instead of carving out her own identity, Hillary has spent many years in the shadow of her husband’s success only to launch her campaign using his political muscle and economic legacy to back her up. I think that in order for Hillary to be successful, she must somehow disentangle herself from the hardboiled political image she has created and show us an authentic human being divorced from the Clinton history — a seemingly impossible task.
Unfortunately, despite all of Hillary’s positive leadership qualities — her smarts, her capability, her political savvy — she is still a very unappealing candidate. Her identity, for better or for worse, has become this complicated combination of masculine ambition and feminine desperation that makes Obama seem like a breath of fresh air. Even though I believe that it is due time this country had a female president, I cannot justify supporting her just because she is a woman — that would just make me a sexist.