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Love her or hate her, you have to admit: Hillary Clinton is one good politician. What she lacks in experience, she makes up for with skill. New York’s junior senator best demonstrated this most recently when she pulled the woman card; watch how and when and why she did it — that was what was so impressive.
She showed off her political savvy most recently in the midst of a mistake. When she announced during an October 30 Democratic debate both that she supported granting illegal immigrants driver’s licenses and that she didn’t, she showed the first real signs of imperfections. She flubbed an answer.
In truth, I think she did it partially on purpose: She did, in fact, intend to try to please two groups at once (a smart thing, even if the execution was flawed). Clinton was trying to please both a primary constituency (left) and a general-election audience (more conservative) simultaneously. It didn’t go too well, and fellow Democrats tried to take advantage. The media were delighted the next morning, as they tend to be delighted by anything that makes their jobs more exciting.
And then she broke out the whine. The brilliance was in the fact that she didn’t pour the whine herself, she let a man do it for her. (And oh, that master politician she’s married to must have been proud when she came home that night.)
The day after the debate, her senior adviser Mark Penn argued on a conference call with supporters that the imagery of the rest of the Democratic field of men beating up on the woman on the stage wouldn’t go over well with voters. In response, the media frenzy transitioned from Hillary-supports-illegal-immigrants’-rights-to-get-driver’s-liscences to stop-being-mean-to-the-girl and associated fallout.
Once the meme was out there, the brilliant politician reappeared on the scene. Hillary announced during a campaign stop in Concord, New Hampshire: “I don’t think they’re piling on because I’m a woman. I think they’re piling on because I’m winning.”
Now, if she had actually cried, “I’m a girl, leave me alone,” it would have hurt her hardnosed image. Instead it was someone on her campaign, speaking with a little gravitas — someone who you knew spoke for her, but still has enough independence and experience to sometimes freelance in her name but without her express approval. There was a little plausible deniability for the senator lady.
Inasmuch as she is a smart pol, Hillary is actually as refreshing as a liberal Democratic woman can be to a conservative like me. Despite her tendency to support programs that encourage women (among others) to be dependent on the federal trough, she is not the whiner many of the sisters are. Hillary Clinton, at least, ran for Senate, won, and is known as a worker. No entitlement there. She occasionally sounds like she could almost be a social conservative on issues like abortion (even though she’s not), and when she lets out a good feminist cry, she won’t let it be a YouTube moment of 2008: She sends out Mr. Penn to do it.
By way of contrast, Nancy Pelosi, shortly after she became Speaker of the House, got on TV and screeched about Republican men who were keeping her from getting the top-notch presidential-level plane she wanted to travel home on. In front of cameras, she whined and warned and looked like a foolish girl: “As a woman, as a woman Speaker of the House, I don’t want any less opportunity than male Speakers have had when they’ve served here.” Her predecessor didn’t get what she wanted; but members of Congress were accused of being sexist for questioning how taxpayer money was going to be used.
Fact is, Hillary knows that the campaign of the first woman president cannot be a whinefest. It would make her look weak and annoying (a nag!). And if anything, at a time when we’re at war voters may need some assurance that she’ll be commanding. And so she is. She makes jokes about a field of Republican men and their friends who are “obsessed” with her. She reminds her feminist sisters that she is one of them and can — theoretically, anyway — let out a good victim cry now and again; but she will do it on her terms (via Mark Penn) and when she most needs it as a strategic tactic (to change the subject from her support for granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, a measure opposed by 77 percent of Americans according to a Rasmussen poll).
Hillary Clinton, in the end, changed the subject. And that’s brilliant. And that’s formidable. That is a woman who can play with the best of the boys on the bus.
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