Politics & Policy

Hillary’s Critics Don’t Hate Her Because She’s a Woman

Clinton delivers her acceptance speech in Philadelphia, July 27, 2016. (Jim Young/Reuters)
They hate her because she’s Hillary.

Hillary Clinton has a heinous, grating, and dissonant voice. She hectors. She lectures. She assiduously over-pronounces, as if she were speaking English as a second language or navigating a densely written legal treatise for the benefit of an elderly relative. When attempting to sound inspiring, she instead seems irritated; when aiming to be meaningful, she comes across as censorious; and, on the rare occasions when she condescends to crack a joke, her demeanor is more tipsy than materteral. She is a bad speaker, and at this stage in her career, she is not going to get better.

I mention this shortcoming not because it represents a dispositive case against her campaign — it does not; that can be found elsewhere — but because, since Hillary spoke last night, I have seen a concerted attempt to cast those who have noticed her ineptitude as “sexist” or “reactionary” or worse. They are no such thing. In a free society, it is imperative that the citizenry is encouraged to say whatever it wishes about those who would wield power, and, judging by the responses I saw yesterday evening, a whole raft of Americans wanted to say that Hillary Rodham Clinton is an atypically unappealing character. By setting their observations beyond the pale, Clinton’s apologists are attempting to foreclose a certain portion of political debate. They should not be allowed to do so.

Underpinning the pushback against those who find Hillary unappetizing is a false and dangerous presumption: to wit, that to criticize Hillary’s mien is in fact to criticize all women. If it were the case that every female politician were greeted with the same appraisals as was Hillary, such a charge might hold water. We might wonder, for example, whether we are so accustomed to hearing men speak in public that we are judging all political orators by their criteria and not by women’s. In addition, we might ask whether the formats, rules, and venues that have grown up around our male-dominated politics suit those of the opposite sex. How, we might inquire, can all Americans be expected to compete under a set of standards that were tailor-made for one group?

This isn’t about women. It’s about Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Happily, though, we do not need to ask these questions, because Hillary is not indicative of all women, and because the bad reviews that she has attracted are the product of her own shortcomings rather than of a general dislike for her sex. Recall, if you dare, the effusive praise that has been lavished on female rhetoricians over the last few weeks. On Wednesday night, President Obama was introduced by a septuagenarian mother who had lost a son in Afghanistan. By popular acclaim, she was adjudged to have done a wholly terrific job. A night earlier, the first lady, Michele Obama, delivered one of the best political speeches that I — nay, that anybody — has ever heard; such a good speech, in fact, that the press corps began speculating to a man that she might consider running for office herself.

EDITORIAL: Hillary Forgets Herself

At the RNC, meanwhile, the best of all the addresses was delivered by Laura Ingraham (content notwithstanding). This reflected a pattern. At the 2012 RNC, the most effective speech by far was delivered by Condoleeza Rice (many watching, you will remember, wished in that moment that she were the nominee), while, in 2008, a pre-crazy Sarah Palin all but raised the roof.

This isn’t about women. It’s about Hillary Rodham Clinton.

#related#There are few tendencies that are more destructive of the political order than the progressive insistence that all civic and stylistic criticisms must, deep down, be rooted in structural hatred. When John Lewis’s policy preferences are set above harsh comment because he is a national hero, the Enlightenment presumptions that underpin the republic are dealt a heady blow. When opposition to President Obama’s agenda is written off as “racism,” purely because the object of opprobrium is black, rational discussion is rendered less likely. And when the widespread human reaction to a cynic such as Hillary Clinton is cast as the product of latent chauvinism, we all move one step closer to a world in which conscience is subordinate to euphemism. There is nothing written in stone guaranteeing the charisma or eloquence of the Democratic party’s nominee, nor are Americans obliged to feel warm and fuzzy toward the first woman to have a real shot at the White House. Hillary Clinton is a bad speaker, a chronic opportunist, and an unlikable personality. There is no need for her defenders to bring her whole sex down to her level.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is the editor of National Review Online.

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