Friday, January 11, 2008

Hillary Clinton: Victory in Emotional Display?

Judith Warner: Emotion Without Thought in New Hampshire
By Judith Warner
Published: January 10, 2008
If Hillary Clinton's display of emotion did lead to her victory in New Hampshire, it raises issues about the state of American women.

“It’s the Economy, Stupid,” was the famed James Carville adage that kept candidate Clinton on message in 1992.

“It’s Not About You, Honey,” could be the new slogan for Clinton redux.

It’s all about how you make voters feel.

Feeling – not thinking – becomes all-important when you have a field of candidates who aren’t really all that different from one another politically. It’s particularly important for not-so-political voters; the ones who, for example, aren’t super worked up about Hillary’s Iraq vote, or the lack of universal coverage in Obama’s health plan, or the finer points of Edwards’ billion-point plan to Build One America. I’m not sure if these really are the voters who created the upset in the New Hampshire primary — after all, according to exit polls, the lion’s share of the people who said they made up their minds prior to this past month voted for Hillary — but they’re certainly the ones who stole the headlines. And in a general election, it’s the undecided voters who, in the end, make all the difference.

In New Hampshire last weekend, I saw candidate after candidate – with the exception of Hillary – milking their crowds’ feelings with exquisite mastery. While she talked health care and education reform (and her husband, unbelievably, stunned an audience into silence with a lecture on the molecular makeup of obscure biofuels), Obama reached right into his youngish fans’ hearts, magnified their desires to Feel Something Big, and rocked their worlds. Mike Huckabee even had me shedding a tear for his rise from a town called Hope (“If I can do it, then your kid can do it, too”), almost had me raising a fist as a heckler was dispatched (“The great thing about this country is we’re not going to take him out and shoot him. We’re not going to take him out and beat him up”), and almost choking down a sob as he exhorted all of us former scouts in the audience, on behalf of America, to “leave your campsite in better shape than you found it.”

If I did not have trouble believing that there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark, I might follow this man – and the very pleasant Chuck Norris, of course – to the ends of the earth.

But then, as a young Hillary Rodham once put it, “Emotion without thought … is pitiful.”

I don’t for a moment begrudge Hillary her victory on Tuesday. But if victory came for the reasons we’ve been led to believe – because women voters ultimately saw in her, exhausted and near defeat, a countenance that mirrored their own – then I hate what that victory says about the state of their lives and the nature of the emotions they carry forward into this race. I hate the thought that women feel beaten down, backed into a corner, overwhelmed and near to breaking point, as Hillary appeared to be in the debate Saturday night. And I hate even more that they’ve got to see a strong, smart and savvy woman cut down to size before they can embrace her as one of their own.