Election 2008 Politics

What bothers me about Hillary

The only times I believe her – really feel the conviction and weight behind her words, actually believe she is speaking from her heart, instead of uttering poll-tested phrases designed to manipulate – are when she is talking about herself.

Her new ad airing in South Carolina is a great example.

via Marc Ambinder

I’m wondering who this quote is supposed to refer to:

Over the last week I listened to you and in the process I found my own voice. You helped remind everyone that politics isn’t a game.

Which couple has been accused for the past twenty years, by liberals mainly, of believing politics is just a game? Barack and Michelle? John and Elizabeth?

Peggy Noonan had an interesting point (via Andrew Sullivan) backing this point up:

Was what is called sexism part of the story? I suppose, and in a number of ways. When George Bush senior cries in public, it’s considered moving. Ditto his moist-eyed son. But in fairness, they have tended to appear moved about things apart from themselves, apart from their own predicaments. Mrs. Clinton was weeping about Mrs. Clinton. If a man had uttered Mrs. Clinton’s aria – if Mr. Obama had said, “And you know, this is very personal for me . . . as tired as I am . . . against the odds,” and gotten choked – they would have laughed him out of town.

Even one of Hillary’s other breakthrough moments before the New Hampshire primaries was about her:

The other moment from last Saturday’s debate that got a lot of airtime also demonstrated my point – at least to myself.

For me, the drama in this is not the idea Hillary is presenting, or the message. What is interesting and compelling is that Hillary is talking about herself. Obama and Edwards talk about the changes they want to make – and they use their life stories to illustrate their commitment to change, and why they believe what they believe. When John Edwards talks about how his father worked in a mill – and he does often – it’s not that interesting. What is interesting is how this “son of a mill worker” has dedicated his presidential campaign to helping those like his father. When Barack Obama tells his stories – of his unlikely candidacy, of his traveling to South Carolina and getting fired up – he is using them as an example of the idea he is trying to get across. When Hillary Clinton finally “welled up” – the subject was herself; her “new” campaign is about her finding her voice; when she talks about change, aside from her nakedly strategic attempt to get Edwards to join her in attacking Obama, she is touting herself.

In order to be a politician, one is required to be at least a little narcissistic. As one of the candidates said: “I think if you don’t have enough self-awareness to see the element of megalomania involved in thinking you can be president then you probably shouldn’t be president.” Certainly Barack Obama, John Edwards, and the rest of the candidates for president feel this election is the culmination of their lives and careers. Each of them acts as if they were meant for this moment, as if they were made for it. There is no other reason they should be running.

The problem with Hillary is that ambition and narcissism and megalomania are not some of the factors pushing her to run. They are all she has.

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6 replies on “What bothers me about Hillary”

I know quite a few others feel the same way about Hillary that I do – I read it all over the place; I hear it whenever she comes up in a conversation. But I am willing to consider the fact that my dislike for her may be misplaced. Am I stretching too far in making these points in this piece or in general?

I have mixed feelings about Ms. Clinton. On the one hand, I agree with you that she is not truly sincere. On the other hand, I am uncomfortable with too much psychoanalysis of a candidate. There seemed to be broad agreement in 2000 that Mr. Bush was a nice guy, probably a bit lightweight, but overall a fairly decent chap. Boy, were we wrong! Of course, his campaign promises also turned out to be big lies, and his history as governor of Texas gave us the wrong impression about how he’d turn out as President.

Perhaps we should dismiss Mr. Bush as a bad comparison, somebody so skilled at misrepresenting himself that he shouldn’t be compared to Ms. Clinton.

I prefer Mr. Obama to Ms. Clinton because he is a leader and she is a manager. No doubt she’ll do a competent job as President, but I don’t think she’ll have the courage — or the political leverage — to fundamentally alter the course we’re on and get America back on the right track. I think that Obama might be able to pull this off.


That’s basically my position as well. Except I think I’m a bit more frustrated with the Clintons, and I think the country is in a worse place than you do – and I see a Hillary presidency as making almost everything worse – because I think she would strengthen the powers Bush has asserted for the executive branch. (In a number of cases, Bush and Cheney have built on precedents set during the Clinton years – including Hillary’s health care task force to argue for secrecy for Cheney’s energy task force, Guantanamo’ s special status, and war powers asserted during the Kosovo campaign.) I also think she would be incredibly divisive and partisan at a time when a working majority of Americans supports many of the issues she holds dear.

Yes I think you are stretching it too far. I agree with Chris that over-psychoanalyzing a candidate is unnecessary and inappropriate. If you rely on psychoanalyzing a candidate’s every word, facial expression, and gesture… then we might as well elect the best actor or actress we can find. Not everyone is born with a likable face or inspiring voice.

This is how I see it: You are watching these videos with the mindset that Hillary is insincere and narcissistic. So, you are going to look for all these cues that point to that, and it seems to me that you have ignored what she is actually saying. True, I am watching these videos with a differently biased mindset, but I think you are being unfair.

In the last video particularly, I think what it comes down to is this:

– Obama and Edwards preaching about being “Agents of Change,” in which America needs a “powerful voice” is all fine and well… but Hillary is beyond that, saying that not only is she for change (she just doesn’t need to center her entire campaign, speeches, and ads around it), but she has more to show for it than just a “voice”… she has past action.

-At the end of the clip, Edwards and Obama gang up on her. So, I do not blame her for citing her past accomplishments in defense. It may appear narcissistic to you, but I think it is perfectly reasonable and what people need to hear. I also think Edwards comments that Hillary is the “force of status quo against change” and that she is saying this “because she isn’t ahead anymore” is inappropriate and hypocritical of the very kind of behavior he was denouncing.

[Is Edwards and Obama talking about their unlikely road to the presidency better? That is just feeding in even more to a glorified, iconical campaign. You mention that they talk about these things as example to an “idea” they want to get across… that being, presumably, hope for change against adversity. Well, it seems to me that Hillary’s life story as an example of this is how she is a woman who was able to rise up in a male-dominated arena, not to mention her husband’s foibles. But if she used that as a large part of her campaign, people would complain she is running on her gender alone.]

[Tangent – Personally, I don’t see what the big deal about having humble beginnings is. Sure if your father was a mill worker I would hope you would want to dedicate yourself to helping others like him, as you should. I think it takes an even bigger and more compassionate person to be able to dedicate yourself to helping others simply out of feeling of responsibility and empathy. Hillary dedicated her life to helping children and the less fortunate, but she didn’t need a touching story about rising out of poverty or whatnot, to drive her to do so or to attract more attention to it.]

-I also do not blame Hillary for pointing out that Obama has been inconsistent with his past positions. Edwards goes on to say that this is not a time to be discussing those things, but with Obama’s perfectly PC nature and almost messiah-like campaign, we are obliged to hearing the both sides, beyond the glittering facade he and the media portray of himself.

“The problem with Hillary is that ambition and narcissism and megalomania are not some of the factors pushing her to run. They are all she has.”

She also has experience. If you had listened to what she was saying rather than pick apart the way she was saying it, you would have heard some of the things she has done to bring about change. What would you say Obama has, then, that Hillary doesn’t? [I know that sounds like a challenge, but I honestly just want to hear, for my own good.]

Thanks for the post and the videos.


Your two thoughtful comments deserve a thoughtful reply – and I wanted to make sure I let you know that I am planning on replying. I will reply soon.

And thank you for taking the time to comment so reflectively.


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