Senator Clinton's teary choke-up was the major news event of the final hours of campaigning in the New Hampshire primary, given heavy rotation on television news programs. In case you missed it, let’s go to the video tape:
There was a rush of commentary on the possible interpretations:
"It got me," said Jane Harrington, a voter from Newington who came to the session trying to decide between Clinton and Obama, whom she had seen a day before - and really liked. "I wanted to see who the real Hillary was. That was real."
- - Newsweek, 7 January 2008
Ms. Harrington's was a widely-held response, but in the post-primary gabfests on the cable new shows yesterday, a remarkable number of viewers emailed to say they believe Senator Clinton's teariness was a carefully-planned media event to gain the sympathy vote over Barack Obama.
It's not nice to pick on someone when they appear undefended, but I squirmed throughout the video, embarrassed on several levels. Some pundits, citing her tiredness, say Senator Clinton’s choke-up showed the vulnerable, feminine, human side she has been attacked for hiding - or not having - during the past year.
Undoubtedly Senator Clinton, as she herself said in the diner give-and-take, was tired. There’s not a chance I would take on anything that requires as grueling a schedule as a presidential campaign. But the men’s schedules are no less grueling; they were tired too and there was a whiff from Senator Clinton, taking the video as a whole, of asking for extra credit because she's a woman.
If you take the tired explanation seriously, the larger question becomes this: if she is elected president, how will she handle it on the inevitable day when a crisis in the Middle East follows on the heels of a natural disaster in California, the stock market takes a plunge, Congress vetoes a pet piece of legislation and she is wakened in the middle of the night for an emergency meeting in the situation room? The campaign, exhausting as it is, cannot compare to events that need the immediate attention of and decisions from the president that can involve life and death.
So it is a concern that Senator Clinton’s mini melt-down followed in response to an innocuous question about how she "gets out of the house each day" and who does her hair. A further concern, if credit is to be given for being human, is that she remained steadfastly on message, referencing her standard talking point against Barack Obama’s experience, while in a state of high emotion.
It was a watershed-ish moment for me to watch that video, one that will remain with me as the campaign continues, because it further confuses Senator Clinton’s already disconcerting public character.
Meanwhile, surveys and pundits are telling us that older women are voting for Senator Clinton in droves because she is a woman.
“’I told her that my grandmother was the first person in town to vote, and my mother was the second,’ said Mrs. Smith, who was born three months before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. ‘And I told her I was born before women could vote, and I want to live long enough to see a woman in the White House.’”
- - The New York Times, 27 November 2007
“It seemed like it was always the men,” said the Clinton supporter [68-year-old Pat Slykhuis], “and the women were always put down. “I think it’s going to be wonderful. I want to see history made.”
- - Reuters, 2 January 2008
With so much at stake in this election, voting for Senator Clinton solely on the basis of her gender is not good enough and I am ashamed of women (or men) who would do so, particularly those who are old enough to know better.
As Robert Scheer put it,
“Yes, it is important for the health of our democracy to break barriers that have held back a majority of our citizens, and for that reason it would certainly be an advance to have a black or female president. But that alone is not enough to justify a vote. What we need far more than a change in appearance is one of perspective.”
- - truthdig, 8 January 2008
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia tells the story of how life imitated art in Nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.]