Compatible Concepts

Has Hillary Clinton been subjected to more "scrutiny" on account of her gender?  All signs point yes.  A cursory examination of the media coverage will find Clinton having to contend with questions directed at gender in a way that, say, John McCain won’t.  Here’s just one of countless examples.  Enter Maureen Dowd (courtesy of Media Matters):


After saying she found her
"voice" in New Hampshire,
she has turned into Sybil. We’ve had
Experienced Hillary, Soft Hillary, Hard Hillary, Misty Hillary, Sarcastic
Hillary, Joined-at-the-Hip-to-Bill Hillary, Her-Own-Person-Who-Just-Happens-to-Be-Married-to-a-Former-President Hillary,
It’s-My-Turn Hillary, Cuddly Hillary,
Let’s-Get-Down-in-the-Dirt-and-Fight-Like-Dogs Hillary.

Just as in the White House, when her cascading images and
hairstyles became dizzying and unsettling, suggesting that the first lady woke
up every day struggling to create a persona, now she seems to think there is a
political solution to her problem.
If she can only change this or that
about her persona, or tear down this or that about Obama’s. But the
whirlwind of changes and charges gets wearing.

And Maureen Dowd, by the way, is supposed to be a liberal.  But, like we’ve been saying, the liberal op-eds disappoint.  In the face of such evidence, Ruth Marcus argues that Clinton cannot claim to be "hampered" by her gender.  Marcus’s claim (isn’t she supposed to be a liberal too?) has what we professionals call a ring of falsity to it.  But she also makes a conceptual claim to support the false empirical claim:


The candidate of inevitability and the victim of the uneven playing field aren’t compatible concepts.

The candidate of inevitability is an empty concept.  There might have been a presumption among media types like Marcus that Clinton was the candidate of inevitability, but there hadn’t been an election yet.   Besides, being a candidate for a job, as I can attest from personal experience, doesn’t mean you’ll get the job–or that you even have a chance of getting the job. 

8 thoughts on “Compatible Concepts”

  1. The candidate of inevitability and the victim of the uneven playing field aren’t compatible concepts.The art of punditry and the ethics of journalism aren’t compatible concepts.Fixed. 

  2. I’m going to have to break character and disagree with you here, defending Marcus in the process.
    Hillary has assumed the persona as the candidate of inevitability. She has carried herself that way, raised money that way (constantly pointing out how she is supposedly better equipped to win the general election), and, until Obama started handing her losses, treating her competition like a bunch of well-meaning, idealistic fools who were wasting time and money by daring to challenge her.
    It’s fair to stick the "candidate of inevitability" tag on her not because she really was or is, but because she decided she was. Treating this like a real contest is something brand new to the Clinton 08 campaign; until mid-February, that wasn’t the case. Her condescending tone and unvarnished entitlement complex were a large part of the deficit in warmth, personality, and generic, subjective "likeability" that exists between her and Obama.
    You’re correct in pointing out that there is no such thing as the candidate of inevitability, but go back and take a look at 2007 Hillary and you’ll see a person who believes she is exactly that. That the media so labeled her is irrelevant; that she so labeled herself is not.

  3. Hi Ed–Thanks for this and other comments.  

    Not that I disagree with your characterization of Clinton (more in a second), I think nonetheless those two notions are absolutely compatible, which was my (perhaps poorly expressed) point.  On that point I’d repeat something I said above: will McCain or Obama have to undergo broad gender-driven characterizations?  I don’t think.  Obama, by the way, will have to defend himself from other equally silly characterizations.

    Your sense of the campaign seems more acute than mine, but the "inevitability" thing seems like a good "narrative" sort of issue.  This isn’t a rule of logic (of course), but I’m growing ever more suspicious of the grand narratives of the campaign.  First, because I can’t determine what their source is; second, I can’t see how to evaluate them.  I don’t know what would make it true, for instance, that Hillary has a deficit in "warmth."  But my thoughts on this sort of issue are inchoate.

    I’m a fan at this point of the Daily Howler on narrative questions–particularly narratives about Clinton democrats.  He does an excellent job of identifying the source (at least of some of it).  But you probably knew that. 

    Thanks again for the comment–




  4. Neat new layout.
    I’d phrase it a bit differently.  The Hillary Clinton campaign did try a strategy of selling her inevitability, which the media pushed even harder.  However, media narratives often have little to do with reality.  Regardless, the reality of unfair coverage for Clinton is hardly incompatible with either her campaign’s strategy, nor the media’s previous narrative (as you outline).  Nor was the media’s previous narrative incompatible with their widespread loathing for the Clintons.  In any case, while I have concerns about all the remaining candidates, and am not a big fan of Clinton, some of the treatment Clinton’s received has been pretty appalling.  It’s also hardly incompatible to point out that Clinton has run a poor campaign but <i>also</i> has been treated unfairly.  I’m also completely unwilling to grant absolution to any of the pundits who write such silly narratives in the first place, and certainly Marcus has been one of them.
    Somerby’s great, and I’d also recommend Greg Sargent at The Horse’s Mouth.

  5. The reason I didn’t mention the gender double-standard in my comment is that I think it’s patently obvious. There’s no doubt that she’s routinely subjected to "woman questions" the male candidates won’t get. Can we really picture a question along the lines of "Senator McCain, how do you think that being a man will impact your ability to lead?" But she has to field them regularly. By and large I think she’s does a fairly graceful job of answering such nonsense.
    I agree with Batocchio, though. As a political scientist, many things about this election have been surprising given how other recent elections have played out. But nothing has been quite as shocking as how terrible Hillary’s campaign has been. If she was going to have an Achille’s Heel I could not have imagined that it would be her campaign strategy. Bill ran a pair of textbook-perfect campaigns and I suppose my expectations for HRC reflected that. But her strategy, leadership, and organization have all been amateurish at best.

  6. Ed, I’m not clear on what in particular has been so terrible about Hillary’s campaign. What does it mean to run a poor campaign, other than not winning it? As a non-political scientist, I lack some of the esoteric knowledge necessary for evaluating campaign strategies, but as far as my general sense goes, I see little difference between Obama’s and Clinton’s strategies other than their particular political positions regarding matters of foreign and domestic policy. Its hard for me to say whether her attack ads were good or bad, or her organizational structure was efficient or not, without relying on whether or not they were effective. They were apparently not effective, since she is losing. But for me, and as it ought to be for all voters, that should be irrelevant. Any real criticisms of Hillary ought to be whether her campaign platform is  good or bad, or somewhere in between.  Is Hillary losing because her campaign was poorly run, or was her campaign poorly run because she is losing? 

  7. Oh, I’m not claiming to have any special or esoteric knowledge. But I think several of the classic signs of a poor campaign are present:
    1. Changing message. Obama has stuck to "change", "hope" and "unity" like glue. One could easily argue that those are empty rhetoric, but consistency is important. What’s Hillary’s message? Sound-bite media gives the public only a fraction of any candidate message so he or she must be mind-numbingly repetitive in order to communicate a single idea. As an academic, you know that the substance of your work is important – but it’s also just as important to be able to communicate the main idea of your research in one sentence. When someone asks you "What is your dissertation about?" at a conference, you need a quick, substantive answer. I haven’t heard Hillary do that.
    2. Poor allocation of resources. She has nearly as much money as Obama – certainly enough to do everything she needs to do – but she has A) clustered her spending in a few states and B) biased her spending in favor of media buys. Most people tune out commercials. Ground teams and flesh-pressing make a real difference. Ask Huckabee.
    3. Failure to counter her flaws. Obviously there’s a charisma/personality gap between her and Obama. What have they done in that regard? Engaging in teeth-baring attacks on Obama’s shortcomings hardly helps.
    4. Failure to take the competition seriously until she started losing. Partially her fault, partially the fault of the paid professionals who are supposed to plan for any contingency. And her "strategy" once she got into a struggle with Obama was apparently to go negative. Not only has the efficacy of negative campaigning been shown to be questionable (at best) in empirical research, but it reeks of desperation.
    5. Leadership changes. Hiring/firing new campaign managers and strategists in mid-campaign is often, although certainly not always, a recipe for disaster. Ask Kerry.
    6. Appealing to the center. We can argue Downs and median voter theory until we’re blue in the face, but I’m aware of no one who considers it a good primary strategy. Bill’s centrism was successful, but this isn’t 1996. Given the past 8 years I doubt that Democrat Lite is what committed liberals – the kind that bother to vote in primaries – are looking for.
    No, the average person does not care if she has run a bad campaign per se. No one’s saying "I like her, but boy has her campaign strategy been awful!" But voters notice the negative consequences of poor strategy and disorganization.

  8. (sorry for double-posting)
    To you and I, of course the only thing that matters is the quality of the candidate platform. But we have to wear our realist/cynic hats. To the "average voter" (the media/academic euphemism for the 75% of Americans who can’t name their Congressman, don’t know what NAFTA is, and pay about 5 minutes’ attention to politics each month) the empty rhetoric, cheesy photo ops, and "likeability" of the candidates are extremely important.
    I wish they weren’t, but I wish a lot of things.

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