Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Toll of the Campaign: Hillary Clinton Old and Bitchy?

There's been few turns in the debate over Hillary Clinton's campaign the last few days.

Note first this gnarly picture of Hillary Clinton above, which was first published at the Drudge Report. Hillary Clinton's a 61 year-old woman. - why is she looking so haggard and wrinkly here? Is it the toll of the campaign?

Ann Althouse wants to know:

My first reaction to that picture is simple disbelief. How can she suddenly look that much older? I know Presidents age horribly in their few years in office, but she's not President yet, and this seems to have happened overnight. Did some treatment wear off?

But here's my second reaction, on reflection: We make high demands on women. A picture like this of a male candidate would barely register. Fred Thompson always looks this bad, and people seem to think he's handsome. We need to get used to older women and get over the feeling that when women look old they are properly marginalized as "old ladies." If women are to exercise great power, they will come into that power in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. We must — if we care about the advancement of women — accommodate our vision and see a face like this as mature, experienced, serious — the way we naturally and normally see men's faces.

Althouse is responding to Immodest Proposals, which called the Hillary mug shot the photographic event of the year:

Right here, that's it, this is the most significant photo taken in the year 2007. Think it will win a Pullitzer? Whichever photog snapped this photo effectively ended Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

There's no recovering from that, image isn't everything, but it counts for a lot, and her image in that photo isn't the image most Americans would want us to project as a nation. You don't have to be wrinkle free to be president, but you can't look haggard and bedraggled, either.

Drudge captioned it "The Toll of the Campaign", but campaigning as arduous as it is, is still nothing compared to the toll that actually serving in the roll these folks hope to fill. Sen. Clinton has had some scary pictures in the past, but none have escaped that looked like this one.

She's done, whether or not the intention of the person behind the lens was to alter the path of the election or not, that's what this snap will do. She may have been too negative, too managed, and too divisive to ever convince the primary voters to choose her. So her winning was far from assured, but just as the "Dean Scream" solidified the concept of Gov. Dean that many voters already had of him, and just pushed away a ton of undecided voters, this photo will turn off the people who were on the fence regarding Hillary.

Rush Limbaugh weighed in on "the toll of the campaign" as well:

Now, this theory of mine based on this Drudge picture of Mrs. Clinton, with the headline: "The Toll of a Campaign." Now, it could well be that that's a sympathy photo, too, to make people feel sorry for how tough the campaign trail is. Now, I want to preface this by saying I know it's going to get out there. Media Matters is going to get hold of this and they're going to take it all out of context. We can expect that. It's a badge of honor when this happens, but for the rest of you, I want you to understand that I am talking about the evolution of American culture here, and not so much Mrs. Clinton. It could be anybody, and it is really not very complicated. Americans are addicted to physical perfection, thanks to Hollywood and thanks to television. We know it because we see it. We see everybody and their uncle in gyms. We see people starving themselves. We see people taking every miracle fad drug there is to lose weight. We see guys trying to get six-pack abs. We have women starving themselves trying to get into size zero and size one clothes; makeovers, facials, plastic surgery, everybody in the world does Botox, and this affects men, too. As you know, the haughty John Kerry Botoxed his wrinkles out during the campaign....

We know that the presidency ages the occupants of that office rapidly. You go back and look at... Well, you can't use Clinton because he dyed his hair based on the audience he was speaking to, but take a look some pictures of Bush in 2000, when he was campaigning, or 2001 when he was inaugurated. Take a look at him now. Just been eight years. The difference is stark. He's kept himself in good shape and so forth, but you can say that this is a sad, unfortunate thing. But men aging makes them look more authoritative, accomplished, distinguished. Sadly, it's not that way for women, and they will tell you. (interruption) Well, Snerdley, you're just sitting there thinking I'm on the precipice of the cliff here without a bungee cord. I'm not. I am trying to be... Look, if I'm on the edge of the bungee cord, then I'll take the leap. The bungee cord will save me. I'm just giving an honest assessment here of American culture. Look at all of the evidence. I mean, I've just barely scratched the surface with some of the evidence, and so: Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis? And that woman, by the way, is not going to want to look like she's getting older, because it will impact poll numbers. It will impact perceptions.

Read the whole thing.

While Limbaugh's got a point that we have a simplistic, narcissistic demand for glamor and beauty in our public figures, there's something fishy about that Clinton shot (Photoshopped?).

There's more though: What is it about how we discuss Hillary Clinton? Is the political debate nastier, more demonizing than in earlier eras, perhaps because of greater political polarization?

I thought about this after see this post over at Crooks and Liars, which links to a Bill Moyers interview with Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Moyers is hammering on what he alleges is a double standard in the vitriolic attacks in Hillary Clinton as a woman Democratic frontrunner. Try as he might, he can't get Jamieson to go all the way toward fully condemning Hillary Clinton's attackers:

BILL MOYERS: ...You've been looking this year at how the new media, the Internet, the blogs, the Web-- YouTube, MySpace, Facebook-- have been affecting politics. What have you found so far?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, first, there's more information available than there ever has been, and it's more easily retrievable. So we can, within minutes, locate candidates' issue positions, contrast them to other positions, search news interviews with the candidates where they're held accountable for discrepancies between past and current positions. We can get contextual information, also largely gotten from news. And you can hear in the candidates' own voices their arguments for those issue positions, sometimes at great length. Greater than you're going to find in ads. Or greater than you're find-going to find in news....

BILL MOYERS: What is Facebook, for my audience?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Facebook is a place that was originally designed for college students to go and post information about themselves, to talk with each other -- in which groups are formed that post-- people post pictures of themselves and they talk with each other on wall postings. And so you could form a group that would say this is the Bill Moyers discussion group about something on Facebook. And it might have a perfectly fine discussion about anything that we're talking about tonight. Or you could, you know, post a discussion group that says things that I have difficulty even talking with you, even privately much less in public.

BILL MOYERS: Because of the language, the words that are used.

BILL MOYERS: Because of the language, the words that are used.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Because the words and because the graphic images, the images that are manufactured to be placed in these sites are such that you wouldn't want to be associated with them in any way, nor would I. And they contain such things as graphic representations of what a donkey should do to Hillary Clinton. They contain language suggesting various sexual acts in relationship to Hillary Clinton. They reduce Hillary Clinton to various sexual body parts. They engage in characterizations of her in relationship to her policies. They're nothing but name calling in relationship to all of those categories of language. And so if you came home when you were, oh, say, a 15-year-old boy from school. And you said to your mother "Let me give you some of my language for the day," and you repeated any of those words, you know, your mother would have been shocked.

BILL MOYERS: Here are some of the entries from Facebook, you know? "Hillary can't handle one man; how can she handle 150 million of them? Send her back to the kitchen to get a sandwich. She belongs back with the dishes, not upfront with the leaders." It goes on and on like that. I mean, and it is fairly misogynist, but it isn't just the Internet. I mean on Rush Limbaugh, he talks about Clinton's testicle lockbox. MSNBC's Tucker Carlson says there's just something about her that feels castrating. One of his guests, a former spokesman from the Republican National Committee, Clifford May, says that if Clinton is going to appeal to women for support on the basis of her gender, at least call her a vaginal-American. I mean, in fact, isn't the sexist vilification of Hillary Clinton being set by the mainstream media?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's being set by both. The mainstream media has a much larger audience. When you look to the size of the groups that have this sort of vulgar, gross language on them about Hillary Clinton, their membership is actually very low. Where mainstream media can reach that number of people with the first second that it's articulated. Underlying this is a long-lived fear of women in politics. For example, we know that there's language to condemn female speech that doesn't exist for male speech. We call women's speech shrill and strident. And Hillary Clinton's laugh was being described as a cackle....

--and why we're looking at a laugh and whether it's appropriate or not is of itself an interesting question. We also know that underlying many of these assertions is the assumption that any woman in power will, by necessity, entail emasculating men and, as a result, a statement of fundamental threat.

So, why shouldn't you vote for Hillary Clinton? Well, first, she can't be appropriately a woman and be in power. She must be a man. Hence, the site that says Hillary Clinton can't be the first woman president; Hillary Clinton's actually a man. But also explicit statements that suggest castrating, testicles in lockbox. She's going to emasculate men. It's a zero-sum game in which a woman in power necessarily means that men can't be men.

Okay, note right here how Jamieson indicates that these attacks are from people on the fringe. But here's more:

BILL MOYERS: Let me show the audience that particular-- it's at real time. It happened. Senator McCain was at public meeting. And this woman stood up and asked-- woman. Wasn't a man who asked him this question. Look at it.

WOMAN: How do we beat the bitch

MCCAIN: May I give the translation?

BILL MOYERS: I know people don't like that word. I don't like that word. I'm using it only because it is out there. It's in common discourse on the Internet and you know, Senator McCain had the chance to say, "That's out of bounds. Don't ask me that question. Ask the question you want to ask differently and I'll answer it." But he didn't. He laughed. And he, in effect, gave it legitimacy.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, he looked uncomfortable and then he tried to find a way to reframe it, and he didn't reframe it very artfully. But those first seconds that you're showing on camera, you can see he's not very comfortable in that moment. And I wonder why the national audience didn't see that moment and feel that discomfort and ask the question, "Would you be comfortable saying about the woman who teaches your child, the woman who is your doctor, the woman who heads this corporation, you know, 'Well, how's the bitch doing today?'"

You know, where are the boundaries of when you will use that language and what does it mean? Was this a Hillary-specific comment? Or is this about women who get this far seeking the presidency? Or was this language that has been circulating in private circles for a very long time and now erupted into public? The people have heard it so often that they're not surprised by it? And as a result, they don't think we need to talk about it.

I think one way to reframe this is to ask: How would you ask a comparable question about a male candidate you really wanted to defeat? Where would you find comparable language to use?

BILL MOYERS: And where would you? There is no language of degeneration like this that describes men, is there?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, you could say, "How are we going to beat the bastard?" But it wouldn't carry all the same resonance of that word in the context of its use now.

BILL MOYERS: And you couldn't say, "How are we going to defeat the nigger?" How are we going to-- which is the word that was so common when I was growing up in the South. "How are you going to defeat the kike?" referring to Jews-- you wouldn't do--- that woman would not have done that, I don't think.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, and we have language is constantly open for discussion. We know what's appropriate and what's inappropriate by the way in which society responds, what our peer group responds, the community we turn to responds. And so when someone uses language that is considered inappropriate and there is a national discussion, we dampen down that use. That's what happened with Imus, who is now just coming back on the air. When something like this happens and we don't have the discussion, we move it in to acceptable use.

BILL MOYERS: But some of this stuff on the Internet about Clinton is just downright pornographic. Words are used, toxic words-- are used that I can't use and wouldn't use on the air. I mean, let me just show you some of the stuff we pulled off-- a montage we strung together from the web with using some of the worst comments about them, which would be offensive to people if we didn't bleep them out and still may be offensive. But take a look....

BILL MOYERS: I want to say how would I write this off as just Internet graffiti, the kind of stuff you'd find sometimes on the subway or you found on your high school gym wall. But I have to say it seems to me to have reached far beyond that.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: When you look at the number of members who identify with the sites that post these sorts of things, they're actually fairly small. One question is: How much social disapproval of this actually is there? Another is, within these communities, where is the capacity to talk back and ask where the boundaries of appropriate discourse would be? That is, is there a way to engage productively in the disagreement they want to express and have some substantive content attached instead of simply, you know, ad hominem, in this case I guess ad feminem, name calling?

BILL MOYERS: How does this make you feel as a woman?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think most of the professional women who see this happening have had enough professional experiences in their lives to realize that these sorts of sentiments are actually out there and have probably experienced some of these sorts of things. And the question it raises for me is, you know, as this happens nationally and as moderate Republican women become more aware of it, do they increase their identification with Hillary Clinton or not?

BILL MOYERS: Which came first, the episode with McCain from the woman who asked him that question or all the pornographic stuff about Hillary Clinton on the Internet?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The material was on the Internet long before the McCain question. And these kinds of characterizations of Hillary Clinton go back to her emergence in the public sphere as the spouse of the Democratic candidate in 1992.

BILL MOYERS: So this is really unusual?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's un-- this amount--

BILL MOYERS: Unprecedented?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: This amount of content is unprecedented. But because the medium of the Internet is new, we don't know what would have happened with previous candidacies of women. So we can't go back and actually study it. The way we find that these kinds of characterizations of Hillary Clinton have been out there is to look to other forms of media throughout the 1990s where we do, indeed, find them. Hillary Clinton as dominatrix, for example, is one of the ongoing themes and one of the parodies on Rush Limbaugh.

BILL MOYERS: We share the same floor here with the BBC. And a BBC producer, I was talking about this with him the other day. He said, you know, this did not happen when Margaret Thatcher rose to power. Of course, the Internet was not a phenomenon then. But it did not happen even in the pubs, it wasn't said about Margaret Thatcher. What's different about the British culture and the American culture?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: What I remember being asked about Margaret Thatcher is who wears the pant in the family? And her husband, you know, basically is suggesting that he did. So a kind of light joking tone about - the question, you know, what is it like to have a female assuming power? But you've got to remember that Britain had a history of female leadership. You know, Elizabeth Rex is, you know, the queen that we all turn back to as, you know, the monarch that is an exemplar of exercise of power, including in times of war. The United States doesn't have a tradition, except an indirect one with Edith Bolling Wilson. And then with very strong first ladies with Rosalyn Carter, with Nancy Reagan, with Hillary Clinton.

BILL MOYERS: I covered the campaign in 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic vice-presidential running mate. I do not recall these kind of attacks on Geraldine Ferraro. There's something, as you say, unique in this present experience.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Or there's another possibility. There's a possibility that these kinds of attacks have always been there, but they were never posted in public space before. Is it possible that in these past environments, for example, with Margaret Thatcher in Britain or, for example, when women were running for governorships. When, you know, you saw, for example, Jean Kirkpatrick emerge as a Republican leader or Ann Armstrong, earlier than that. Perhaps these things were being said. But perhaps we didn't have any way of seeing them.

Perhaps the comments that you're reprising from public space elsewhere, largely on cable or on talk radio, were actually out there but we only had network evening news as a way of getting access to the political world. And they never would have gotten into that forum. So it's possible that nothing has changed except our access to a window on a part of a world. And that we haven't found a way to create boundaries around it and say within it, "Don't you want to have a different kind of discourse here? Do you really want to conventionalize this?"

Jamieson does not take the bait!

She comes down squarely that the wild, demonizing attacks we see are not something new, or at least it would be impossible to confirm empirically a more substantial courseness in today's political speech than in earlier eras (certainly Margaret Thatcher got some of the nastiest attacks imaginable in her day, from the left!)

So a question for readers: Are Limbaugh or Moyers two sides of the same coin, one conservative and one liberal, both trying to put their own spin on the issues?

I'm mostly just observing. But honestly, I don't think the "toll of the campaign photo" is a matter for serious discussion beyond a morning of talk radio chatter. Of the two, I see Moyers engaging in more of a partisan project, as part of the liberal media elite driving the hard-line discourse among much of the nation's press establishment.