Wednesday, June 18, 2008

History for Hillary Clinton supporters

As I said in my previous post on the idea that the media was sexist against Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, I still haven't gotten to what bothers me the most about that charge. So here it is.

A lot of the criticisms are based on the fact that some of the comments made about her have been superficial and trivial: her speaking voice, her display of cleavage.

I admit that when I see references to her legs or the fact that she wears pant suits, my reaction is: hey, that's sexist and unfair. So I'm not saying I approve of all this. (As I said before, though, it doesn't bother me for people to talk about her voice or cleavage.)

But it doesn't make sense to go from saying that the media's criticisms of her have been superficial ... to saying that Hillary in particular was hurt by sexism.

A presidential race is a zero-sum game. That means that anything that hurts one candidate has to help the other candidate. Therefore, if something "hurts" all the candidates, it really hurts none of them. If you're saying she was hurt by sexism, that's implying not just that there were unfair criticisms of her, but that they were criticisms of a sort that male candidates don't have to withstand.

Well, I agree that there have been some unfair criticisms of her. But to imply that male candidates aren't treated just as unfairly, or that the discussion of them isn't just as superficial? I mean, maybe you could believe that ... if you had never observed how any other presidential candidate has ever been treated.

I have some news for Clinton supporters who think that superficial criticisms of her are evidence of sexism:

Media Focus on Candidates' Personal Quirks
Trivialities, Superficialities Discussed More Than Policy Issues

Barack Obama is criticized for not wearing an American flag pin on his lapel. His exotic name is a major topic of discussion among serious commentators.

John Edwards is ridiculed for seeming to spend too much time and money on his appearance.

Mitt Romney is criticized for being too polished and robotic, and his own staffers worry that his hair is "too perfect."

Bill Richardson receives little media attention despite having a more impressive resume than Clinton, Edwards, or Obama, and you have to wonder if the fact that he's not as conventionally attractive as those three candidates has something to do with it.

Before he officially enters the race, the media focuses on Fred Thompson more than any of his Republican rivals even though he doesn't have especially interesting ideas or accomplishments. The discussion in the media largely focuses on his perceived "sex appeal" and masculinity.

Dennis Kucinich is mocked as an elf-like creature whose wife is too attractive for him. While he might be too far left to have a real chance at becoming president, you have to wonder if he'd receive more favorable coverage if he had equally liberal positions but were a suave 6'4" man with a baritone voice.

John Kerry is criticized more for his stodgy demeanor than his policy stances — which the media don't report on because they're too busy mocking his rhetorically clumsy but substantively defensible statement that "I voted for it [one particular Iraq appropriations bill] before I voted against it [a related but significantly different bill]." It becomes common to talk about his horse face.

After Howard Dean loses the Iowa caucus in 2004, the media never report on him without mentioning that he let out an ill-considered yelp (which is always referred to as "the Dean scream") in an understandable effort to rally his supporters after a shocking defeat.

Dick Gephardt is routinely derided for lacking a "rock star" quality even though he's actually one of the most passionate speakers among the 2004 candidates.

Al Gore is criticized for seeming "stiff" and "wooden," for sighing heavily in a debate, for wearing "earth tones," and for walking over toward Bush in an awkward manner. He receives an enormous amount of attention for aggressively kissing his wife Tipper at the Democratic Convention -- a stunt clearly intended to broadcast his male sexuality.

George W. Bush is regularly mocked for stumbling over his words.

Bill Clinton is regularly mocked as fat.

George H.W. Bush is famously called a "wimp" on the cover of Newsweek magazine and is criticized for asking for a "splash" of coffee.

John F. Kennedy has a better tan and shave than Richard Nixon in a debate. This is widely seen as being a major factor in Kennedy's victory.

Presidential races are superficial and unfair. That's true whether the candidate is a Democratic or a Republican. It's true whether the candidate is a man or a woman. And it's unlikely to change in the near future.

(Photo of Edwards from the Edwards campaign.)


Ann Althouse said...

I love the picture of poor suffering John Edwards, who is not just a head of hair but a human being.