Recently I did something extremely improbable: I devoted nearly half an hour to watching video of Hillary Clinton's national security and counter terrorism speech at Stanford on March 23. I figure this is one of the arenas in which I am going to be most critical of her when she gets elected in November (which I think she will, though conscientious citizens can't take anything for granted.) So I better listen to what she is saying ...
Some of it was not bad. Her repudiation of torture is not only practical (it doesn't work) or prudential (if we do it, others will do it to our troops) but also legal (it violates international law) and moral (it is wrong). That's good and valuable in our next president.
There was plenty I disagreed with. I find it impossible to believe that dispatching the U.S. military anywhere actually promotes anyone's safety. She's just more confident that deployment of U.S. power does the world good than I'll ever be.
But this wasn't what disturbed me, watching the speech. (After all, she's said she respects that old war criminal Henry Kissinger ...) What disturbed me was that I couldn't see her as at all likable. I know she is smart and accomplished; I know that she is capable and tough. Why can't I warm to her at all?
As I was musing about this, I came across a Washington Post article: How can Hillary Clinton and other female politicians be ‘likable enough?’ This is a report on a study that aims to tell women politicians how to jump the hurdle of "likeablity." The authors insist that, for women, this is essential to success. So what to they suggest? The Post offers some of it:
That seems a useful list. The first item is patronizing; in the speech I watched, this item is relevant but requires contextualization. Here the set up is as if she is already commander in chief -- another view of how she needs to project herself. She did share a personal anecdote about bringing her daughter Chelsea to Stanford, but I can't say it projected warmth. This wasn't material that lent itself to humor; I'm not sure it would be right to expect that here. I have no question she cares about what she was talking about. And I am sure she is coiffed and costumed daily which must be a constraining way to have to live! But after all these years, she's used to that. She aces confidence and on this topic, that's probably the highest hurdle for a women.
So why can't I warm to her at all? My reaction goes beyond policy disagreement. I asked Erudite Partner if she could name women politicians whose public personas she admired. She came up with Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards. Good ones; it is interesting that are a) dead and b) were embattled Texans. I can't come up with any. There are many women in politics I can support, but none who evoke enthusiasm.
My reaction to Hillary Clinton feels more viscerally negative than is quite warranted. I don't think she is a horrible person though I do think she is sometimes deeply wrong. (She is probably the most high ranking U.S. endorser of the military coup in Honduras that brought in a regime that murders eco-advocates.) I continue to interrogate my own sexism -- after all, none of our U.S. politicians are very good on essential matters of empire and peace. They like their hegemony. But with Clinton, I feel an extra revulsion.
The next presidency -- assuming Hillary Clinton occupies the office -- is going to be challenging in slightly new ways to this feminist. Can readers here warm to Clinton? We don't need to; she'll be way better than any Republican option. Still, I wonder ...