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The Problem with Billary

Joe Klein gets it just right:

It may well be true that any Democrat is going to have to handle that sort of sewage in the general election, but I've now--belatedly!--figured out that the real audacity in Barack Obama's campaign--far more than his positions on the issues, which almost seem an afterthought--is his outrageous belief that the entire country, not just Democrats, wants to see a straight up election; that the entire country is tired of the pestilence of tactical tricks that the Clintons learned from their co-dynasts, the Bushes. (The latest example being their sudden, sociopathic emphasis on the importance of the Florida primary, a contest all three candidates had agreed to eschew at the behest of the Democatic National Committee.)

For all their differences, the Bushes and the Clintons share a fundamentally shameless, almost indecent, ruthlessness that I find very hard to stomach, even in people with whose politics I sympathize. Time to turn the page.

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For the uber-liberal newspaper in the uber-liberal city in a decidedly blue state that has been thought as a shoo-in for the Clintons (oops, Hillary), we have this touch of a Reformation: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi f=/c/a/2008/01/27/ED6EUKN15.DTL

It is a small point, but I don't think that referring to Bill and Hillary Clinton as "Billary" is very Obama-like. For all those who want the tone of American political discourse to change, perhaps they should start figuring out how to criticize the Clintons without nastiness and sarcasm. Obama himself is not doing anything of the kind, and if we are to believe his rhetoric, it's not a purely tactical move on his part for the sake of winning the nomination. It's what he's proposing as a new way to conduct politics. If even his supporters can't do it, I don't see much hope for the kind of change he promises.

Great point David. But it is the fashion and many are getting on board. Still lost in all this is the demonizing of women. Most men say that leaders like Golda, Margaret Thatcher and Madeline Albright were rough (and bitchy) figures. So it continues. Look at your history from Fulvia, (one of Anthony's wives) Cleopatra to the present. And even Willie is not exempt as Lady Macbeth has been the forever symbol of female bitchiness. I am amazed how easily people forget how Obama attacked everytime he was losing or lost in this race. He is the refuge for the Anti-Hillary, the anti-feminine, however nicely the praise or criticism is couched.

Further, to place the Clintons with W. Bush is absolute balderdash. Secondly, the father of W has much more integrity than W has.

And thirdly, defend the Iraq vote.P.S. David, you're right, that is a small point. Was it tongue-in-cheek or thumb to nose?

Grant,It was small but sincerely meant. It is the kind of thing Obama himself would never do. It's petty and snide and dismissive. Doesn't "change you can believe in" have to start somewhere?

I can only say "Amen" to David Nickol and his call for civility on this issue. That goes for both sides, Bill Mazzella. Advocating for Obama does not make one a misogynist, nor does advocating for Clinton make one a racist.

I don't get what's so bad about being a bitch. Bitches get stuff done. They have the self-confidence to follow their instincts. They don't put up with a lot of shilly-shallying when there's a deadline looming or a crisis at hand. They have ambition and high standards.Being a bitch is only a problem if you can't compromise with others, if you send your husband out to be the pit bull so you have deniability, if you can't accept criticism, and you waste time twisting the knife once it's in. Some people say I'm a bitch. I usually demur and say I'm merely bitchy, but I'm working on it!

Jean,Used copies available for only 1 cent! Check it out!http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/096291620X/ref=sib_dp_pt/002-2774779-170...

I am all for keeping nastiness to an extreme minimum, but let us also grant the possibility of genuine disgust. One response that I have not yet found goes something like this: If Bill Clinton's strategic comparison of Obama to Jackson was designed to cultivate white backlash, then it would be entirely proper to be disgusted with it, yet, I disagree with you Joe, and do not see the intention of the comparison in that way. Instead, what seems to happen is that one such as myself who does worry about a meaner level to the comment is put on the defensive for being disgusted with what is perceived. When is it O.K. to express disgust with the actions taken during this campaign?David Nickol, you have asked what going beyond partisanship would look like. I am not sure, but I think it would include three things: first, as Margaret has already discussed, it would include a willingness to extend the art of the deal across the aisle. In working to get things accomplished, anti-partisanship means willing to shop for support from those who might get on board if they can get something out of doing so. Second, I think it would include an openness to hearing out the opposition. Regular lunches and dinners, more open access at the White House, etc. These things I think can be done among people who respectfully disagree with each other. Finally, there would be less vindictiveness and retaliation, especially among those in one's own party who disagree for understandable reasons with a position you are promoting.I think Barack Obama would rather lose this race than do certain things to win. I think the same attitude would follow if he were president with respect to legislation.

Joe Petitt, I just do not get your logic. No one worked with the Republicans more than Bill Clinton and they bashed him every chance they got. So where is your argument?Grant, I do not agree with Hillary's vote on the war but could understand her making it with the information we had at that time. David G, I did not say that a vote for Obama was necessarily misogynist. What I mean is that those who are will gravitate to the Obama or Edward's camp. Look at all the bashing of Katie Couric, just because she is a very strong woman. As far as attitudes toward women I am certain that most men are at a primitive level and that too many women have bought into the attitude.

Bill says: As far as attitudes toward women I am certain that most men are at a primitive level and that too many women have bought into the attitude.Jean replies: Bill, BILL! Do you not see how, by saying that most men are morons and women have bought into that attitude against their own interests, that you're belittling a lot of women? I don't think "most men" are at a primitive level about women. And if they are, there are plenty of women like me here to point it out to them. (See my rant on what's so bad about being a bitch above.)I'm frankly more suspicious of men who say they're feminists. I first ran into this line of bull in the Unitarian Fellowship back in the mid 70s, where one of the men was getting a lot of attention by telling the youngest and prettiest women in the group that he was a feminist. It was nothing but a make-out line. Most of the men saw that right from the git-go, but were wise enough to shut up and let the guy hang himself. Which he did, eventually.I'm sure you're not that type of guy, but constantly telling us we've been duped if we don't want to support Hillary is insulting.Give us some credit for being able to fight our own battles.

Joe,You said:

When is it O.K. to express disgust with the actions taken during this campaign?</blockquote?My answer would be: When you find them disgusting. I think your messages set a pretty high standard for expressing opinions without being snide or nasty. My mother was ultraconservative--a big fan of Barry Goldwater, for example. She and I used to have screaming arguments. It was a family tradition. So I have nothing against speaking one's mind. Interestingly, it was a few years after my mother died that my siblings and I, to our amazement, discovered our father was actually a Democrat. We had always taken his silence to indicate he agreed with our mother. Regarding Obama's political style, I just found a piece in The New Republic written by someone, like me, who is concerned that Obama may be advocating something like "unilateral disarmament," in the struggle between Democrats and Republicans. Here's a key passage from the article:
Time after time, Obama brought adversaries into the process early, heard out their concerns, then fashioned compromises many of them ultimately supported. In other words, he used the very strategy he's been describing on the campaign trail--the one giving people like me such angst. And yet, if you talk to liberals in Springfield, the ones who've spent decades fighting for universal health care, you don't hear a lot of disappointment with him. As far as they are concerned, Obama's signature inclusiveness was always a means to an end--a way to push the limits of reform rather than accept them. And, they say, it worked.

The complete article is athttp://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=88a93be1-0e3b-40a7-becf-0dcdbf... the other hand, we have Paul Krugman saying today

First, those who dont want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they dont want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow cant bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1).

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/28/opinion/28krugman.html?ref=opinion

I messed up my blockquotes! When do we get a preview feature? (The Americablog has one. I went to a Christian Brothers high school, and I have a very competitive streak when it comes to the Jesuits.)

Bill Mazzella, if you don't mean to suggest that everyone opposing HRC is a misogynist, then I suggest that you stop writing comments that read as if, in fact, that is exactly what you are suggesting. Jean: re the "b" word: It's not nice because it is meant to demonize women, and to put them in their place, with a strong undercurrent of insinuating that they are not sexually attractive. I decided long ago that there are situations where you do have to choose between being seen as available for a date and retaining respect and authority. Not fair, but not a big deal if you are already married and shouldn't be dating your co-workers anyway.

David,Upgrades cost money. As you know, we don't have much.

Grant,Actually I didn't know, but thank you for telling me. For anyone who cares, you can go to http://www.download.com and search for HTML editors (or any kind of softare you want). You can specify what operating system you want, and whether you want freeware or shareware. There are many free HTML editors available that would work for previewing messages (and doing spell checks, as well).Or, you can just type it up over at America, preview it there, and post it here. (Just kidding.)

Jean and Barbara,Your argument is with Elizabeth Schussler-fiorenza and such. Have you ever done a critque on her book? I think "everyone opposing Hillary" is too strong. Yet there is an education for the taking in this campaign. So far Gloria Steinam got it right.

If you want to to talk about, let's say, Carly Fiorina, and how her treatment in the press differed compared to men, then game on -- and certainly, the Clintons, writ large, have suffered horribly at the hands of the press. Notwithstanding: I can still have an argument with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who, so far as I am concerned, are still accountable for their decisions and their actions regardless of the unfair treatment they receive. It is inconceivable to me that Hillary Clinton would be the front runner in this campaign were she not Bill Clinton's wife. There are two problems with that: one, it's a form of dynasticism that I find personally threatening, and two, the idea that the "first woman president" got there because of her husband only tells me how little the ball has moved. I don't have a vested stake in entrenching undemocratic trends or nepotism, even when it benefits a single woman, which, in my darker moments, is what I think an HRC presidency represents.

Barbara, when I hear men call a woman at work a "bitch,' it's usually because they WISH they could marginalize her, but they're afraid of her, as in, "I gotta get ready for meeting with that bitch Jean. If I don't get this stuff together, she'll hang me out to dry."I don't think being a bitch has an on and off switch, not even to get dates. If there is, I never found mine.Whether Hillary has been unfairly treated by some elements in the press is, to me, immaterial. You don't vote for people because they've been picked on; you vote for them because they have a record of achievement. Which she doesn't have, in my view.

Anyway...

It seems to me that, if it looks like a Billary, then it should be called that:http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2008/01/clintons-p...

I make the case for Carla Fiorina and HRC. Barbara Bush called HRC a "rhymes with itch" while Bill was running against her husband. And Barbara Bush who is no angel is universally loved. That is something to ponder. I never said that Hillary does not have her faults. My point was, is and will be, that criticism of her is more than magnified because of her gender. That is what I appeal to you to look at. Points to ponder:What Holiday is named after a woman?Was Cleopatra a good leader?Was Mary Magdalene a distinquished woman?Was Eleanor Roosevelt a great person?Why is Katie Couric so harassed because she is a national anchor?

The designator of The First Black President is now supporting her candidate for the First Real Black President: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20080128/D8UEUDQ80.html

Bill: enough.

Answers to Bill's Are You Smart Enough To Be A Woman Quiz:What Holiday is named after a woman? Mother's Day.Was Cleopatra a good leader? She was politically shrewd, but how do you mean "a good leader"? I don't think she was kind to widows and orphans, particularly. She also reportedly had her brother whacked because she wanted to be queen and felt she'd do a better job. She promoted Egyptian culture and national pride. Forged an alliance with Caesar (also had his child), which kept Roman aggression at bay. For awhile.Was Mary Magdalene a distinquished woman? In the Gospel of Mary, she was the one who got the apostles out of hiding after the Crucifixion and told them to get busy and get on with Jesus' work. She was also a saint, and it doesn't get more distinguished than that. Was Eleanor Roosevelt a great person? Yes, indeedy, in ways too numerous to count. She could also square dance. I saw her doing it on a PBS special. She was at a community center she helped build in W. Virginia with the WPA workers. Why is Katie Couric so harassed because she is a national anchor? She isn't harassed because she's a national anchor. She's harassed because she was on a morning show, which tends to brand you as a lightweight in the news biz and lump you with journo-celebs like Barbara Walters and Phyllis George. People also remember when Deborah Norville (sp?), another morning show anchor, edged out Jane Pauley, in a move many people felt favored style over substance. Plus, KC was spunky and smiley on the morning show, and people felt she might not be the right person to deliver bad news. Guys like Chet Huntley and Howard K. Smith had faces that begged to report bad news.

Sorry, Grant, my bad.I'm off to beddie bye, anyway.

I agree with the sentiment that Bill has overplayed the misogynist card - could it have been influernced by his choice of candidate?We need to have a more unified Democratic party at this poin tand I think the anger is reall y being pointed not at Hillary but Bill.

The idea that anyone, woman or man, must be difficult or "bitchy" to be successful or an effective leader is way overplayed. I will grant that a difficult person is almost always more effective than someone who is trying to be liked, but it is certainly not the best way to lead.Isn't it possible that Hillary earned this reputation not because she is a woman, but because she is not a very nice person? There is, in fact, is a lot of published material that indicates she treats the people around her, including the supposed downtrodden she so sympathizes with - like maids, cooks etc. - badly. I have had conversations with three people who have had "close encounters" with her (one on several occasions), not in front of cameras, who to one degree or another described her as either unpleasant or dissmissive. (Not so Bill, who they all said was pretty charming.) I don't care either way whether she is pleasant since I wouldn't vote for her anyway, but I don't buy the people just don't like powerful women line. There are a lot of powerful and effective women that people don't call the b word.BTW - Maybe Katie Couric is getting such a bad rap because she's a lousy anchor - granted, not as crummy as Rather, but she's no David Brinkley.

I don't know what published material Sean speaks of, but I do know that HRC also has a reputation as a funny, charming and gracious woman, borne out the one time I was ever in the same room with her. Of course, you are not going to admit that if your goal is to put her in her place. Characterizing someone as a bitch is often just a way of not having to dissect the truth of the situation, or the fact that a woman might be right about something you disagree with. I think Jean more or less has it right.

I think when a successful woman (or any woman) is called a bitch, the implications are (a) she is unlikable and (b) she is a failure at being a woman. It is the latter which is the really hurtful part. I don't think there is an equivalently hurtful expression for a man. Calling a man an SOB implies that he is unlikable, but it doesn't imply he is a failure at being a man. I was just thinking that we think of Harry Truman as "feisty," and we love him for it. I just found the letter Truman wrote, while president, to the Washington Post critic Paul Hume, who gave Truman's daughter Margaret a bad review for her singing. I can't resist reproducing it here. (Notice Truman does avoid calling him an SOB in the last paragraph.) What would we think if Hillary wrote something like this? (Of course, I dont think any modern politician could get away with it.)

THE WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON Mr Hume: I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay." It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work. Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below! Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry. H.S.T.

Barbara, there are all kinds of them from openly ideological accounts like, Unlimited Access, and Hell to Pay, to less ideological ones like Roger Morris's Partners in Power, and the more recent Bernstein and Gerth and Van Natta books. They all paint a less than flattering portrait that would earn anyone the reputation I talk about.All I am saying is that there is more to it than just political opposition and sexism. You don't hear the same sort of chatter about Condi Rice or many other powerful women.

Sean, and one reason why you don't is that those who have less than high esteem for, let's say, Condi Rice or Karen Hughes are usually willing to frame it in terms of the real issues they have, which almost always have zero to do with their sex. The problem with the "b" word is that it is frequently used as a statement of personal dislike of women when one won't or can't articulate one's real political or other substantive resentment. This is because (1) there is no real disagreement, just resentment that the person in charge is female or (2) there is another agenda altogether that one does not want to become the center of attention. It's the coarsest kind of ad hominem discourse.

There are loads of people who dislike Rice and Hughes. Spike Lee is particularly contemptuos of Rice. Imagine if they ran for office. The ranting of Katie took place before she even took the anchor job.Cleopatra was a competent ruler and Mae West was brilliant. Here is "Things I will never do" by West. http://www.simonlouvish.com/maewest_1.htm

Barbara,Ah, I see, Condi Rice doesn't get that treatment because liberals are more high-minded and never stoop to personal attacks. I didn't realize that, sorry.

Sean,Do you think your tone helps advance this discussion? And everyone else: isn't it time for this thread to end?

Sean, let me state it even more directly: "B" is what you say when you can't say anything else. I leave it to you whether conservatives or liberals are more likely to direct this particular epithet at women. In large part, the scorn and hatred directed at Hillary Clinton is in inverse proportion to anything she has actually done to deserve it. So, let's say, Madeline Albright would not be called "b" because conservatives (or others) would single her out only when they had specific policy grievances. Nancy Reagan, to use a different example, was also not well-liked (although I don't recall her being called "b", I am sure she was). She received more of the Hillary treatment, though not nearly as much. Whether or not Peggy Noonan considered her to be a nice person, I don't think she deserved it.

Grant,Given that the thread was begun with about as strong an attack on the Clintons as I can imagine happening on dotCommonweal, especially from an official contributor . . . .

Billary . . .sewage . . .pestilence of tactical tricks that the Clintons . . .co-dynasts . . .sociopathic . . . fundamentally shameless, almost indecent, ruthlessness . . . .Time to turn the page.

. . . . it seems to me that as long as anyone is defending one or both of them, it's only fair to let it play out. And given that there's a strong element of misogyny in the hatred that some feel for Hillary Clinton, and an antipathy in general to women in power, I don't think a discussion of "bitch" is a side issue. I work in a pretty genteel industry (publishing) but let a woman in power assert her authority in any but the nicest of ways and she is sure to be called a bitch behind her back.

I don't think that's a particularly good reason to let these wheels keep spinning.

Last night, we watched the State of the Union -well, sort of. My wife -far more genteel than I -kwpt mumbling "b.s." during GWB's presentation. I read the new NCR (with some great aerticles like the one on the gay parish in san Francisco or John Allen on the catholic Bishops in Kenya) while keeping one ear on the Bushian SOS.Then, the mysoginist Democrats had a woman give the rebuttal. My ears really perked up when I heard the phrase disdained on one side of the aisle, but putatively supported by my Church, "the common good."I also beleive I've heard Mr. Obama bring up that topic as well...

Just for the record, David -- while I certainly do agree with it, almost all the language you are quoting was written by Joe Klein.

Eduardo,I understand that, but of course when you introduce the quote with "Joe Klein gets it just right," they in effect become your words as well. I almost always agree with you, but this time I don'tIn an case, I certainly can't object to your quoting someone who writes for Time or being harshly critical of the Clintons. My only point is that I think as long as people are reacting to the initial message, it's only fair to let them continue.

Barbara,First, a clarification. I don't approve of anyone calling anyone names. As you say it is not helpful and tends to avoid thoughtful discussion of issues. I do think your examples, however, kind of support my point. People did call Nancy Reagan the b-word. Why? Because they didn't like her and there she had a reputation for being a difficult and manipulative person. I think the same thing is predominantly at play here. There is something that rubs people the wrong way, and she has a long-held reputation. People would call her that if she was running for President of the United States or of a Garden Club. Just as calling her that name quashes discussion, and I agree with you that it does, broadly ascribing sexist motives to everyone who doesn't like her or agree with her does too.

Grant,I could easily be distracted from this discussion by a new thread about this book review by Lawrence Joseph, which I found very interesting.

Impressions of EternityWhat do we mean when we say God?Do You Believe?Conversations on God and Religionby Antonio Monda, translated by Ann Goldstein

http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/article.php3?id_article=2121It would fulfill both the "religion" and "culture" requirements, and move away from politics for awhile.

I quoted Harry Truman's famous letter defending his daughter in this string this morning, and I was surprised to see in the Times just now that she died today. The obituary devotes several paragraphs to the letter. Skip over them if you think it's wrong to laugh while reading an obituary. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/29/us/30cnd-daniel.html?hp

Bob: I belong to Most Holy Redeemer, the parish featured in NCR. It is not a gay parish. It is not a gray parish. It is a Catholic parish with a rather larger proportion of membership being gay & lesbian.Not a meaningless distinction by any means. I have never been to a "gay parish" so I don't know what that would be.BTW, I thought the article was good so far as it went. The author could have given a much broader picture of who we are, what we do, and how we concretely live out our lives as Catholic Christians. Nonetheless, after the recent brouhaha about the Archbishop of SF and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence communion dustup, this article was a breath of fresh air.

To Grant (but, really, to all of you):You wrote, in two comments above, "Isnt it time for this thread to end?" and "I dont think thats a particularly good reason to let these wheels keep spinning." While Ive felt impatient with certain posts, Ive seen no basis for suggesting that they end. What I (or you) may see as the spinning of wheels, others may see quite differently; and ongoing comments are evidence that they do see it differently. In that case, can it be right to suggest that that they stop sending comments?

I think this thread is going in circles. Especially unenlightening was the discussion of the word "bitch." Gene, there have been lots of threads with willing participants that outlived their usefulness long before they died.

Grant,Perhaps it might be appropo if you clarified that you have never really been patient with a thread on women's advancement, for some reason. This was true even when you moderated the Commonweal Yahoo list. Correct me if I am mistaken.

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.