Clinton v. Obama

How a Coronation Became a Contest

Hillary Clinton has often benefited from the general awfulness of the sort of lunatic critics who fill my inbox with ravings about how she’s had people (and pets) killed in the past and, if elected, intends to pack the Supreme Court with lesbian socialists. And to the self-styled “Clinton expert’’ whose most recent mass e-mail began, “Hillary Clinton Linked to Electile Dysfunction in Swing Voters,’’ all I can say is: Are you a plant? Such tacky attacks clearly work in Clinton’s favor, and tend to inspire feelings of solidarity, even among women who are not huge fans of her work. Galling as it must be to her, Clinton does have a history of gaining support while in victim mode—post-Monica and post-Iowa; after Rick Lazio, her Republican opponent, invaded her space at a senatorial campaign debate in 2000; and after she came close to tears in New Hampshire this January.

Because Barack Obama is generally well tolerated across the ideological spectrum, even among those who would never vote for him, he gets no such sympathy support. Indeed, refusing to see himself as a victim is crucial to his broad appeal. Yet it’s instructive to look at the people he’s upsetting, too—especially because his most scathing critics happen to be people with whom he wholeheartedly agrees.

The New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), for instance, threw a big fat prefeminist fit over...

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About the Author

Melinda Henneberger, a Commonweal columnist, is the former editor-in-chief of PoliticsDaily.com.