Friday, July 20, 2007

Why Hillary should thank Elizabeth

Hillary Clinton should drop a note in the mail to Elizabeth Edwards. The note should be effusive (something along the lines of “thank you, thank you, thank you”), because it’s clear that Elizabeth did Hillary a big favor the other day. She certainly didn’t intend it as a favor, but that’s what it was.

Elizabeth was really intending to help her spouse when she dissed Hillary as weak on women’s issues during an interview this week with the online magazine Salon. She was trying to address a political problem in her own camp. Husband John, the self-declared populist who’s running third in the ’08 Democratic race, badly needs to gain ground among unmarried, modest-income working women if he is to have a reasonable shot at the party nomination – but right now those likely primary voters are solidly behind Hillary. The latest New York Times-CBS poll, for instance, cites those women as Hillary’s strongest supporters, and, more generally, it reports that Hillary is viewed favorably by 69 percent of all female Democratic primary voters.

So Elizabeth sought to redress the imbalance. She argued that her husband is more sensitive to women’s issues, in part because Hillary is trying to campaign as a man. She said, for instance, that “keeping that (career) door open for women is actually more a policy of John’s than Hillary’s…(Hillary) is not really talking about poverty, when the face of poverty is a woman’s face, often a single mother…Look, I’m sympathetic, because when I worked as a lawyer, I was the only woman in these rooms, too, and you want to reassure them you’re as good as a man. And sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women’s issues. I’m sympathetic – she wants to be commander-in-chief. But she’s just not as vocal a women’s advocate as I want to see. John is.” (italics mine)

Elizabeth’s first mistake is that she leveled a charge that most women will never believe. She claimed that Hillary is not a sufficient advocate for women, but that line won’t sell, basically because it isn’t true. Here’s the best summation of Hillary’s track record:

“Attacking Hillary Clinton on women's issues is a tough sell. There's no possible way she can get any traction out of this…She has consistently sponsored key pieces of legislation that take direct aim at women's issues. She has sponsored The Paycheck Fairness Act to battle wage discrimination; The Prevention First Act, which expands family planning services; and just recently she picked a fight with the FDA over Plan B to get the ‘morning after’ pill available over the counter. In Democratic politics, these issues matter and you would think Elizabeth Edwards would have known that. Additionally, Hillary Clinton has been very outspoken about her pro-choice position; also, as First Lady she helped introduce the National Campaign to Prevent Teenage Pregnancies. And of course one of her most famous statements as First Lady was when she said ‘women's rights are human rights.’”

And that’s not a rebuttal from Hillary’s camp. That’s from David Brody, the Capitol Hill correspondent for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network.

Elizabeth’s second mistake is the favor she did for Hillary. The flip side of Hillary’s abiding strength with women is her weakness with men; in the Times-CBS survey, only 35 percent of swing-voting independent men view her favorably, while 42 percent view her unfavorably. Hillary badly needs to make gains with that crucial slice of the electorate.

And what better way to advertise herself to a skeptical man, than to have a rival complain that she is campaigning “as a man”?

That’s exactly how Hillary wants to be perceived by male voters. As Georgia Duerst-Lahti, an expert in gender politics, recently told Salon: “The first woman absolutely has to out-masculine the man, kind of like Margaret Thatcher did.” Fairly or not, swing-voting men want to be reassured that a female president would not hesitate to act assertively as commander-in-chief. Elizabeth’s complaint – that Hillary is emphasizing her commander creds at the expense of her women’s creds – can only help Hillary among the guys.

And, yesterday, Bill Clinton spotted the opening; in his rebuttal to Elizabeth's charge, he signaled to men that his wife does not intend to be bound by gender stereotypes: "I don’t think it’s inconsistent with being a woman that you can also be knowledgeable on military and security affairs and be strong when the occasion demands it. That’s — I don’t consider that being manly. I consider that being a leader."

Lest we forget, Hillary is aided by the fact that her spouse is still the best verbal tactician in the Democratic party.


The quote of the week goes to White House spinmeister Tony Snow.

In a USA Today guest column, he wrote this astounding sentence about Saddam Hussein: “We never argued that he played a role in 9/11; political opponents manufactured the claim to question the president's integrity.”

On the one hand, I wonder at this point whether it’s worth rebutting fact-defying and blame-shifting assertions from the Orwellian Ministry of Truth; on the other hand, it’s worth sticking up for empirical reality.

For nearly a year, starting in October 2001, the Bush regime floated the story (officially debunked in 2004 by the 9/11 Commission) that 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta had met secretly in Prague with one of Hussein’s intelligence officers. Naturally, some reporters ran with it; columnist William Safire cited the Atta-Hussein link as an “undisputed fact.” But by September of 2002, the story had unraveled. U.S. officials, including CIA and FBI sources, were telling reporters that there was no proof of any such meeting, and that the tip had come from a dubious informant. The Czech president even told the Bush team at the time that the story was a crock. Yet none of this deterred the Bush team; Dick Cheney went on Meet the Press that autumn and repeated the Atta story anyway (“we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center”).

And then the Bush team proceeded to draft language, for their Iraq war authorization, that strongly implied a Hussein-9/11 link without explicitly saying so: “Members of al Qaeda, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, its interests, including the attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq.”

So, with reference to Snow’s aforementioned claim of innocence, suffice it to say that not only has the Bush team repeatedly uttered falsehoods, but now it is telling falsehoods about its falsehoods.