January 8, 2008

Tears of a Politician

This video goes along with the extremely interesting phenomenon of Barack Obama's insurgent campaign displacing Hillary Clinton as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President. The context -- at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, a young woman in the crowd asked her, "My question is more personal. How do you do it?" Watch Senator Clinton's entire response:

Now, what has everyone online abuzz about is that Senator Clinton is obviously choking back some genuine tears as she answers this question. Some people suggest this means that she is not ready for the top spot, or that she has not prepared herself emotionally for the rigors of a lengthy and difficult campaign either out of naivete or arrogance that she would have a walk.

Right now is at best, a rough spot in the campaign for Clinton. She was counting on New Hampshire to be a firewall, and it's pretty clear that she's lost that. She's in palpable danger of not getting the Democratic nomination -- something that most people (myself included) have simply assumed for more than a year now that would be presumptively hers. She has harbored a personal ambition of being America's first woman President for a long time now, probably going back to her college years. So now that she almost had the ring in her hands (let's avoid hissing about the preciousss, please) it's got to taste like ashes to realize that she may not get it.

And campaigns are pretty grueling work. You're ON, all the time, no matter what. Cameras and microphones are constantly around and on. Everyone around you has their attention focused on you, all the time. You're working constantly. Fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty hours a day -- meeting and greeting; asking people for money; asking people for their support and their votes; answering the same questions from different reporters and different voters again and again and again; thanking campaign workers and volunteers you've never met before; giving the same goddamned speech for the fiftieth time in three days at bus stops, airports, and greasy spoon diners; eating a steady diet of crappy food; and probably not having a chance to shower or go to the bathroom all that often. I can see how that would weary a person. And she's been doing that for a year, solid -- interrupted only by trips back to Washington for votes in the Senate, which is still work.

Yes, that's what it is to run for President, and yes, she asked for it. But that doesn't make it pleasant.

I might add another theory which I think is eminently reasonable -- she feels no small sense of betrayal that she is being personally eclipsed by a more junior Senator, a man she had thought of as her protégé. Or am I the only one to see a Salieri-Mozart kind of dynamic going on here?

Recall that Obama was assigned to Clinton so that she could mentor him upon his election to the Senate. Recall that she introduced him to a lot of the national-scene folks that are now associated with his campaign -- particularly the fundraising arm of his campaign. Recall also that he was given something of a leash to prepare an early campaign, possibly to groom him as a potential successor to the second President Clinton. Everyone discounted him as too young and inexperienced to really make it all the way to the top, at least at this point in his career. But he proved better than anyone would have thought at fundraising; he proved more charismatic than the Clintons had presumed him to be; he proved, in short, to have the Right Stuff on the campaign trail. When he found that he could have national legs, he started really running with it, and to actually win, he'd need to compete directly against the person who had sponsored him early on. And he's proven himself entirely willing to do it; towards the end of the Iowa campaign, he even found himself able to throw some decent punches Hillary's way.

So in addition to feeling worried about her campaign's vulnerability, in addition to being totally exhausted, and in addition to being on the crest of a life's ambition, she's also likely feeling a bit of a knifepoint between her shoulder blades.

I can't blame her at all for being a little bit emotional. And you know what? I like it that she showed some emotion, finally. She's been robo-politician for so much of her campaign people have joked she was the Terminator. I felt genuine sympathy for her. What's more, yeah, she choked up and fought back tears, but it was just for a moment and she regained her composure. She didn't get all blubbery and weepy. She went on to answer the question by speaking from the heart. That's what made the response as effective as it was, in my opinion.

Now, let me address the obligatory gender-issues question -- would we tolerate this kind of choking back tears from a male politician, and if not, shouldn't we similarly not tolerate it in Senator Clinton? I think under some circumstances we would tolerate a male politician's tears. Probably not in response to a question like this, though. But Senator Clinton is not a male politician. She is a woman. The question is not whether she has emotions or even expresses them -- the question is whether she lets her emotions get in the way of doing her job. This video clip does not provide me with any evidence to support that proposition. She got control back quickly and did a good job with the question.

She gave us some genuine insight into who she really is, and I can see a real person there. Someone who doesn't get to work out as much as she would like and is worried about gaining weight. I can relate. Someone smart who works very hard and is frankly disappointed that all the hard, smart work is coming to nothing, as anyone in her position would be. Someone who isn't going to quit just because it's getting difficult.

I thought it was the best and most genuine answer to a question she's given in her entire campaign. It made me like her more.


Pamela said...

I think that in many ways, this makes her appear stronger to me. It shows me that she feels just like the rest of us. An interesting turn of events that may work in her favor who knows?

zzi said...

Well they're some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than