Sunday, March 9, 2008

Why Hillary may be down, but not out: Molly Ivins, 1992

Molly Ivins (1944-2007) would no doubt have a few choice words to write about both parties in this election year. If she were still with us, her wit and humor would be a great entertainment during what has become the extended Texas two-step of this 2008 primary season. Back in 1992, when another Clinton was making a run for the Presidency, Ivins wrote the following shortly after the Republican convention in Houston. A large portion of the article, excerpted here and which originally appeared in The Nation, concerned itself with reasons why the GOP seems so out of touch with women voters. Hillary even rates a mention, with a then-infamous quote that the Republicans -- in characteristic character-assassination mode -- then tried to use against her.

What seems ironic now, from 16 years on, is how similar the American political landscape sounds as described by Ivins. The faltering economy. The unimaginable health-care system. The exploiting of fear. The Hillary bashing (even if much of it is so far is the party's own self-lacerating partisan bickering -- and what would Molly have to say about that, I wonder?).

The real difference -- and it is real -- is that this time, Hillary's campaign offers a challenge to a big voting base that Obama can't match, with all his charm and charisma. She offers to women voters of both parties a chance to step out of the marginal social and political fringes that the GOP has boxed them in for years. It's not about feminism or women's rights or soccer-mom security: she's got guts. Hillary's been through a hell of a lot, and most of it on very public display. She ought to get the vote for the sheer audacity of hanging in there with Bill: the GOP values voters should give her at least that. And like it was said of Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire, she did it all backwards and in high heels, for eight solid years. Every aspect of her life, from Whitewater to Travelgate, to "the meaning of is," has been discussed not just in public but in Senate hearings. Being the Senator from New York? That was a piece of cake. Yep, she's got guts. In the privacy of the election booth, for a lot of women who don't consider themselves feminists, that's going to count for a lot -- even for those who never heard John McCain's 1998 joke: Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno.

As Molly might say, it's a wonder Hillary doesn't go and slap the taste out of the man's mouth.

And she is still in the race. The fact that Hillary continues to poll in high numbers as the primary season rolls on is evidence of an inner strength -- some would call it hubris -- that primary voters are responding to. Say what one will about political machinery, she takes what others dish out and keeps on rolling. She's not a quitter, even in the face of Obama's youth-oriented campaign, or the viciously mean-spirited websites against her that multiply daily. Her recent offer of a Clinton/Obama ticket is pure theater, made for the thrill of the race. Like Molly Ivins herself, Hillary doesn't seem to mind some mud on her shoes before it's all over. That's a good thing, because the mud's only going to get deeper before November.

Excerpted from The Nation, September 14 1992:

Nothing like a Republican convention to drive you screaming back into the arms of the Democrats. Especially this convention. The elders of the press corps kept muttering they hadn't seen anything like it since Goldwater in '64. True, the Republicans spent much of their time peddling fear and loathing, but it was more silly than scary, like watching people dressed in bad Halloween werewolf costumes. During the buildup to the convention, the most cockeyed optimists among the Demcrats were in hopes that the Republicans would tear themselves apart over abortion. No need. The party was dead meat on arrival.

I am a cautious political bettor. It's silly to put money down any closer than six weeks out from Election Day, and one should never underestimate the ability of the Democrats to screw up. But the Republicans have nothing going for them and nothing they try works. They got a three-point bounce out of their convention. The in-depth polling shows the great majority of the public didn't care for the gay-bashing, didn't care for the feminist bashing, didn't care for the Hillary bashing and thought the whole exercise was too negative. It was. ...

We have long been accustomed to hearing Republicans exploit racial fears, usually by talking about crime. The "family values" issue is a more subtle exploitation of the doubt, confusion and guilt felt by American women. Women are receiving so many conflicting messages from this society that no matter what choices we make, or more often, what roles necessity forces on us -- work, family, or the difficult combination of both -- we all feel guilty about what we're doing. It's quite true that full-time homemakers resent the condescension in remarks like Hillary Clinton's "What did you expect me to do, stay home and bake cookies?" But this is a society in which people's worth is judged by how much money they make, and the esteem in which society holds wives and mothers is reflected in their salaries.

For a political party that consistently opposed every effort to build a support network for working mothers to then condemn and guilt-trip them is despicable. Natal leave, parental leave, day care -- the whole complex of programs that exist in other industrialized nations to help working mothers does not exist here, thanks to the Republican Party. Most women in this country work because they have to. Most are still stuck in the pink-collar ghettos of sales personnel, clerical personnel, and waitressing. Clerical workers are in a particular bind as more and more corporations replace them with "temporary workers" in order to avoid having to pay health and retirement benefits. ...

There are lots of nice Republicans in this world, perfectly decent, quite bright people. When Peggy Noonan, Reagan's speechwriter, covered the Democratic convention for Newsweek, she wrote: "There was much talk of unity, but what I saw was the pretty homogenized gathering of one of the great parties of an increasingly homogenized country -- a country that has been ironed out, no lumps and wrinkles and grass stains, a country in which we are becoming all alike, sophisticated, Gapped, linened and Lancomed." It occured to me that Noonan not only did not attend the same Democratic convention I did, she does not live in the same country I do.

Turns out she lives in East Hampton, Long Island, which may account for it. Despite having lost her job at the White House a few years ago, she does not seem to have spent any time in the unemployment line. In her country people aren't worried about their jobs, they aren't caught in hideous health insurance binds, they aren't watching their standard of living slowly slip down, their hopes for a home slip slowly away, their dreams for the future dwindle. It's another country, the country of those who are Doing Well.

(The Republicans) seem not to believe in much of anything except their own entitlement to power. They are not the true believers of the Reagan years, nor even like the angry lower-middle-class Nixonites feeling snubbed by the Eastern Establishment. Too many years, too many limousines. They're out of touch with the country and fighting like piranhas not for ideas or any vision of a better America -- they're fighting to keep their limousines.

Thanks for the great words, Molly!


Todd Evans said...

I love Molly Ivins, and I like Hillary Clinton, too - but I have to challenge your take on the 2008 primary race.

I'm usually not a big believer in polls, but right now polls are all we have. Polls have been telling us for weeks that Obama scores substantially higher than Clinton does against McCain. I can tell you from hanging out on the Obama blogs that many of the people participating in Obama's campaign are Republicans. You are suggesting that Hillary Clinton can unite Republicans and Democrats, but Barack Obama is actually doing it.

Hillary can't catch Obama in the delegate count without resorting to dirty tricks, and boy is she using 'em. "Nafta-gate" in Ohio comes to mind.

She has also been saying that Obama is all "speeches" and that his supporters are just too naive and blinded by idol worship to see through that.

I can't think of anything more insulting than making fun of people because they have been inspired.

For that reason alone, I can't support her in this fight.

M Bromberg said...

Thanks, Todd -- I had my thoughts that Molly's analysis may have seemed a bit musty (16 years ago is a generation or two, in political years) but her description of the country at the time seems very familiar. Here we are at the back end of another mis-managed, and more importantly, uncomprehending, GOP presidency.

I specifically focused on Hillary's appeal to women, Republican women especially, because for the first time she would represent a part of the population that traditionally votes in greater numbers. HRC's gender will not be the only reason women vote, of course, but I think in this election cycle where the major GOP issues have been immigration and Iraq, the Republicans have been trying desperately to sweep the recession reality under the rug. While men may bring home the bigger paycheck, it's the women who actually have to balance the budget: literally, that's where the recession is hitting hardest. And Republican women traditionally are known for voting bread'n'butter issues.

Add to that the fact that the mortgage mess is threatening to take away the very roof over the family's head and you have a very "energized base," as the pols say, that's not being acknowledged anywhere in talk radio, the blogs right or left, or on the Sunday morning talk shows.

Yes, I think HRC is a polarizing figure. I know a lot of Republicans are looking at Obama. (and yes, that many of them are Limbaugh loonies skewing the numbers). I also know that having watched elections since Eugene McCarthy's "children's crusade" of 1968, young people just have not voted in the big numbers they represent. We can be sure that HRC will not pull the Big O vote -- and let's hope this doesn't open the door for Johnny Mac. Working women & fulltime moms may not see this as an battle for charisma or hope, but how they can pay the bills. And there's a lot of them out there. They don't care about NAFTA, really, or who said what. That's for us cool folks in the blogosphere to debate.

Old politics vs. new politics? Sure is. Let the Superdelegates decide. But I'll vote for the Democratic nominee because I believe politics is about issues and platforms. I hope that Obama's supporters can get as excited by the "boring old politics" as they are about Barack's audacity of hope. We're going to need them to vote in November. Even if Gov. Spitzer isn't the VP. :-)

Big Sven said...

Tina Brown's new piece in Newsweek on Clinton and her place in womens' lives seems like a good update to Molly's article:

Obama will make a fine vice president.

Todd Evans said...

I'll absolutely vote for who ever is the Democratic nominee, no nose-holding or anything. HRC is a smart cookie and we'd be lucky to have her.

I also think that if she were the nominee that many Republican women will decide to vote for HRC at the last minute - and they won't tell their husbands. : )

But I still think the better choice is to win over moderate republicans with Obama and start healing this red state/blue state crap.

M Bromberg said...

That's another group that hasn't been heard from, or even polled: GOP moderates. (Judging from the last eight years, they've gone awfully quiet.) "More-war McCain" may not be their candidate. But who would know? All we get is 24/7 Dem deconstruction. It's going to be a long way to the GE in November.

Anonymous said...

One, you are a fantastic writer! Two, I really miss Molly Ivins. Three, I hope that Hillary wins because I am one of those women who trained MANY younger men to become my boss, and nothing much has changed. Sorry if "feminism" is antiquated, the remnants of the problem are alive and resurfacing. I'll vote for any Dem, but after all the Hill-bashing, I like her more and more.