Saturday, January 05, 2008

An Open Letter to Hillary Rodham Clinton

Dear Ms. Clinton,

I’ve been watching you on C-SPAN and other cable news outlets. Today I saw you addressing some New Hampshirites in your typically strident fashion, one day after your disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses. A very strange feeling came over me. I actually felt sorry for you.

I’ve decided to explore these feelings, for my own psychological benefit and also possibly for your own campaign advantage.

Now, it makes no sense for me to want to aid your campaign, since heretofore I have essentially categorized you as a demagogue. Do you know what a demagogue is, Ms. Clinton? The dictionary defines it thusly: “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”

Now, how is it that an eggheaded gal like yourself—Wellesley College, and all—could be conducting herself like a demagogue when surely you must be familiar with the word, know what it means, and know that, for most every politician in history except Hitler, it’s been a dead-end strategy. (I guess Hitler ended up badly as well, though he did have a good long run.)

Do you videotape your appearances? Do you go back and look at them? Has it occurred to you that you come across with a kind of determined desperation that is very offputting to the average viewer? If you do not address your perception problem, you are sunk. Now, you may be sunk anyway, but there’s still time to spruce up the medium if not the message.

Yeah, you’re a smart lady. Everyone knows it. We remember those pictures of you in the ’70s, when you were a young lawyer and had those nerd glasses and probably went to parties where people drank Boone’s Farm and smoked a little pot out on the back porch and bashed Nixon. But this is politics, girl, and if you lead with your brain all the time you’re going to relate a sterile message and alienate all those people out there who want you to make them feel good.

Here’s the irony of it all, Ms. Clinton. You’re so desperate to prove you can play with the big boys, that you’ve forgotten what’s great about being a woman—how those female attributes can soften your perception and even make your message seem more caring. And hence way more appealing.

Of course, there’s the distinct possibility that you are incapable of projecting your feminine side. You’ve always been so hell-bent on election, and proving yourself—and so darned proud to be a feminist—that perhaps you have no perspective on what being female can add to your run for the presidency.

Just being a female won’t cut it. Especially now that you are being challenged by an African American male. I know, I know. More irony. Finally, America gets a serious-minded woman on the stump—one with huge recognizability and formidable intelligence—and she has to run into the one buzzsaw that can really undercut her automatic cachet as a woman: a black man with equal and uniquely fresh appeal.

So guess what, Ms. Clinton? It’s time to play hardball. It’s time to play the gender card. That means being unafraid to be a woman. Let us see your gentler side. Shed a brief—but controlled!—tear at your next touching human encounter on the campaign trail.

Here’s another tip: Smile. Like many intense women, you communicate a whole other you when you smile. You’re not a bad-looking lady. You’ve still got a feminine shape and you seem fairly comfortable in it. Don’t be afraid to play that up, either. And don’t stop smiling unless the situation du jour actually demands gravitas.

Like it or not, Ms. Clinton, you are a woman, and that’s your ace in the hole. You seem to have convinced yourself that acting like a man will put you on the level playing field, but you are wrong. In fact, you are not going to be on a level playing field ever, which means that it behooves you to take advantage of your one singular difference over the rest of the players. This isn’t football, thank God. You don’t have to bench-press 300 pounds. This is a battle for hearts and minds. That’s a woman’s game in my experience.

You are a modern woman, Ms. Clinton. We already know you can roar. Now let’s see some of that nurturant lioness. You know, like in those National Geographic specials, where the mother lion takes care of the cubs with loving care but also with totally aggressive zeal, willing to give up her life for her children if it comes to that.

In short, Ms. Clinton, you need to become a human being again. A female human being, with all the creative wonder and surprising energy that we associate with all the women that we love.

The demagogue has to go, Ms. Clinton. And have you noticed that I’ve not once called you “Hillary”? That’s because the media’s use of your first name only is a pejorative gender-buster. Oh, it sounds catchy and clever and almost affectionate, but that is not its ultimate effect. It does not take the mother lion seriously, which is definitely what you want. (Did they ever call Margaret Thatcher anything but “Mrs. Thatcher”? No.)

All the rest—the nurturing, the humor, the personal warmth, the perceived (and actual, we hope) sincerity—is up to you. If you don’t relax your persona—if you persist on giving us a robot programmed to stridency—you will lose. And you will lose very fast.

I can’t help you with your message. As it is, your rap seems woefully absent of specifics. The good news, I guess, is that your opponents seem to have the same problem, which is why the Democratic race for president has become one of persons and not ideas. But at least that might be a race you can still win.

Be our mommy, Ms. Clinton. Be that intelligent, energetic, caring, vivacious, and still attractive middle-aged lady that most of recognize as the good mother of our youths. You seem to have all of that in your kitbag of tricks, but, to quote a line out of the film Mr. Mom, “you’re doing it wrong.”

It’s not too late to get it right, Ms. Clinton.

(You know what else? Get Bill off the campaign trail. Or at least minimize his presence. Not good. Yeah, a lot of people liked him, but, know, this is your race. This is for all the marbles. You need to win it on your own. And you needn’t worry: We’re all too aware that if you win, he’ll be the First Gentleman. But we don’t want to think about that any more than we already do.)

You go, girl!

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