I would like to discuss Hillary Clinton’s impending announcement that she is running for president, but, frankly, I am afraid.
If I posit that she is ambitious, driven or a lovely grandmother, it will be taken as “coded sexism.” If I say she is brilliant, well-organized and aging beautifully, it will be seen as sycophantic.
Folks, we are getting into a new etymological (study of words) quagmire here, and it is sort of scary. How, you ask, will the popular (or not) media handle this?
My betting is that it will be treated with all the gusto, political correctness, ineptitude, posturing and ridiculousness you would expect from the media. And in the end, everything will be said about the former secretary of state that is condescending, obnoxious, sexist and rude and everything will be said about the former first lady that is hyperbolic, ostentatiously pretentious and over the moon.
Having covered every presidential election since 1974, I know that the preferred metaphor is the horse race. (For a brief period in 2012, it was neck-and-neck between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.) If the horse-race analogy doesn’t work, we go to the boxing ring. Geraldine Ferraro’s vice presidential bid was “down for the count” after her news conference in which she tried to explain her husband’s murky financial affairs.
But some of Hillary’s “people” (she won’t have actual paid aides in her campaign for a few days until she announces) are telling reporters they don’t want any “coded sexism” in the coverage of their beloved politician.
Some blogger who is a big Hillary supporter from 2008 let fly by e-mail a list of words he warned reporters not to use when writing about the next Clinton candidacy.
When this overwrought nugget was tweeted out by a New York Times reporter, the airwaves palpitated with 1) speculation this could hurt Hillary because the sensitive media would be furious; 2) outraged claims that such a blogger has absolutely no connection to Hillary and was just stirring things up; 3) assurances that when the real campaign aides come on board such missteps won’t happen.
All that may be true, but the issue has been raised. Will Hillary’s bid be reduced to sexist drivel in other arenas besides Rush Limbaugh’s fantasy world?
The fear is, yes, it will. Politics has been dominated by testosterone for so long in this country that the temptation to discuss Hillary’s hair, clothing, jewelry and mannerisms may be too great, too easy and too much fun. That moment when she briefly had tears in her eyes in 2008 was treated with the same gravitas as her pro-war stance.
(When former Colorado congresswoman Pat Schroeder dropped out of the race, her tears were seen as a sure sign of weakness. In fairness, Ed Muskie’s tears in talking about his wife were also seen as signs of weakness. But, today, House Speaker John Boehner’s frequent tears are viewed with patronizing amusement.)
The other issue that already has arisen about Hillary’s bid is how frequently she will consult her husband and how he will be “handled” by her staff.
Since he is a former president, a formidably smart man and a keen political strategist, one would hope they will talk nonstop. After all, until bipartisanship became a dirty word, candidates, presidents and former presidents used to exchange advice all the time. But some defenders of Hillary already are taking offense at any implication that she regularly will seek his advice, angrily insisting that is sexist.
In the end, let’s hope she will be treated no better and no worse than one of the guys. And just think of it. It’s going to be Hillary lining up against about two dozen (and counting) males!
Most of her supporters are certain she’ll hold her own. But others are warning they’ll be watching. No words or phrases such as polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, entitled, overconfident, will do anything to win, secretive, represents the past, out of touch, tired and worn out.
It would be very refreshing if we didn’t see any of such tired, worn-out, polarizing language about anyone in the upcoming political race. Period. Let’s at least have some new clichés in this horse race.
Ann McFeatters is a columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.