David Brooks doesn’t get it. (Yes, Politics in Pink is aware that this is not a news flash). In his most recent adventure in faux intellectualism, Mr. Brooks ponders why it is that Hillary is so unlikeable. He skips over the obvious answer of the 25 year coordinated attack against her. Instead he hits upon something that a lesser man might have missed. It turns out; Hillary Clinton is disliked because she doesn’t have a hobby.
Or to put it in Mr. Brook’s words, “Clinton gives off an exclusively professional vibe: Industrious, calculated, goal-oriented, distrustful. It’s hard from the outside to have a sense of her as a person; she is a role.” Let’s leave aside for a moment that these sound like some pretty good characteristics to have as a Commander-in-Chief and delve into the heart of Brook’s critique.
David Brooks’ advice for Hillary is to be more human. Her daughter works at the Clinton foundation- so obviously there is no warmth there. Her scandal-plagued husband is her “co-politician” and so there is clearly no affection there. One can imagine that Brooks wants Hillary to show more personal warmth. She should get or- at least show us- a hobby. “Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun?” asks Brooks. We know, that baking cookies is clearly out.
Hillary is not the first candidate who faces a likeability problem (ask Mitt Romney or John Kerry). And being likeable is an important part of getting elected president. But Brooks’ answer for Hillary misses the fundamental bind that Hillary, and many other professional women find themselves in.
Apparently, David Brooks has been too busy to notice the volumes of research (here, here, here, here) on the so called Double Bind. Women are penalized for being both too masculine and too feminine in workplace. On some level, Brooks is right. Hillary Clinton is guarded. And after 25 years of character assassination, it’s hard to blame her. Would she be a better candidate if she felt less guarded? Sure. But a conversation of Hillary’s likeability that does not address the issue of gender is fundamentally flawed.
As a woman, Hillary Clinton is in a no win situation. If she shows warmth, it implies emotions, which of course, for women, implies weakness. If she speaks quietly, she is meek. If she speaks loudly, she is shrill or yelling. If she wears a dress, she is too feminine. If she wears a pantsuit, she is too masculine.
Hillary has learned what every professional woman has learned. Being a woman in a man’s world is filled with landmines. You are weak or you are a bitch. Second Wave Feminism– in which Hillary Clinton came of age- told women that the way to battle this is to play by men’s rules. Be tough. Wear a suit. Speak like a man and be twice as smart and twice as good and twice as prepared as any man in the room.
When David Brooks tells Hillary to be more personal and accessible because she looks like the unlikeable workaholic, he is offering advice that Hillary cannot really take.
It reminds Politics in Pink of the critique of Obama that said he needed to show more anger. That anyone thought that the first Black president could show anger and not be painted as a dangerous “angry Black man” was insane. Obama’s preternaturally calm and cool disposition has not saved him from such attacks. Can one imagine if the current looser Obama had shown up in his first years in office? Hint: Can you say one term president?
Hillary Clinton is the first female candidate for President who has a real chance of being elected. There is little doubt that she has not struck the “right” balance of competence and warmth. But the truth is, she can’t.
Politics in Pink politely suggests that David Brooks find himself a new hobby.
I see a lot to agree with in both your views and those of Mr. Brooks. Yes, Clinton began her career within the confines of Second Wave Feminism, and she has endured decades of unfair attempts at smearing her, partly sexist, partly political jealousy over the success of her professional partnership with her charismatic husband. Behaving with “shields up” is completely understandable.
However, the superwoman schtick is perceived by current voters (and current generation feminists) as an outdated style of public presentation. Brooks is correct that well-timed offerings of vulnerability and openness, not aloof professionalism, communicates more strength and confidence these days. President Obama, indeed President Clinton before, have learned that allowing themselves to be seen getting choked up, struggling to keep their emotions in check when the subject is important, can be a powerfully endearing act of authenticity. If Hillary truly cares (and I believe she does), she needs to prove she trusts the public enough to be more “real” more often.
Thanks for the comment. I take your point about showing vulnerability having helped Bill Clinton and President Obama. But they are both men. I am suggesting it is much harder for women to do that without falling into the trap of being seen as too emotional. It may be that for millennials vulnerability would not be a liability, but for older generations who vote in higher rates and for the pundit class, that is not the case. I agree- she does need to feel more “real”- I’m just not sure how she does that.
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And I agree with you it’s a more difficult thing for women (of a certain age) to do than men (of any age). But I’m a damned senior citizen/ constant voter, and I’m DYING for the day Clinton removes the stick from you-know-where, because there’s a rich a-hole with no respect for boundaries on the other side, and he’s beating her in the public’s perception of “realness”.