Election 2008 Obama Politics The Clintons

Gaming the System

[Photo by joshp over at Flickr]

[reddit-me]Terry McAuliffe of the Clinton campaign on Meet the Press this morning described Barack Obama’s campaign as one of “gaming the system” which is something he says Senator Hillary Clinton would never stoop to:

Listen, we have played hard and we didn’t want to game the system.

The statement is one that doesn’t ring true on several levels and is certainly an odd way to describe the Obama campaign – and an odd way to excuse the total lack of preparation or foresight that has characterized the Clinton campaign. I don’t mean to use the phrases “lack of preparation” and “lack of foresight” as weapons here – but as objective descriptions of the campaign. Her campaign simply assumed she was going to sweep the early primaries and even now still lags behind the Obama campaign in organization in the remaining states, months after the nature of this campaign became clear.

Yet McAuliffe used the phrase “gaming the system” to describe the Obama campaign winning by every available measure – the popular vote count, the number of contests won, and especially the delegate count.

Gaming the system has been defined as “using the rules, policies and procedures of a system against itself for purposes outside what these rules were intended for.” By implication, Obama – by playing by the rules, and winning – is using the rules against the Democratic party itself.

This whole reading makes sense, of course, only if the Clintons are the Democratic party.

McAuliffe’s comments also called to mind the Susan Faludi piece in the New York Times a few days ago in which she described the appeal of Ms. Clinton’s campaign:

…our first major female presidential candidate isn’t doing what men always accuse women of doing. She’s not summoning the rules committee over every infraction. (Her attempt to rewrite the rules for Michigan and Florida are less a timeout than rough play.) Not once has she demanded that the umpire stop the fight. Indeed, she’s asking for more unregulated action…

Faludi insightfully, and perhaps even accurately, described the gender and competition-related stereotypes at play – and how these stereotypes which were once used against Ms. Clinton are now working in her favor:

Maybe the white male electorate just can’t abide strong women whom they suspect of being of a certain sort. To adopt a particularly lamentable white male construct, the sports metaphor, political strength comes in two varieties: the power of the umpire, who controls the game by application of the rules but who never gets hit; and the power of the participant, who has no rules except to hit hard, not complain, bounce back and endeavor to prevail in the end.

For virtually all of American political history, the strong female contestant has been cast not as the player but the rules keeper, the purse-lipped killjoy who passes strait-laced judgment on feral boy fun. The animosity toward the rules keeper is fueled by the suspicion that she (and in American life, the regulator is inevitably coded feminine, whatever his or her sex) is the agent of people so privileged that they don’t need to fight, people who can dominate more decisively when the rules are decorous. American political misogyny is inflamed by anger at this clucking overclass: who are they to do battle by imposing rectitude instead of by actually doing battle?

The specter of the prissy hall monitor is, in part, the legacy of the great female reformers of Victorian America….While the populace might concede the merits of the female reformers’ cause, it found them repellent on a more glandular level. In that visceral subbasement of the national imagination — the one that underlies all the blood-and-guts sports imagery our culture holds so dear — the laurels go to the slugger who ignores the censors, the outrider who navigates the frontier without a chaperone.

I think this helps explain why the figure of “Hillary the bare-knuckle brawler” is so much more attractive than “Hillary, the inevitable”, or indeed, many of the other “Hillary Clintons”. It helps her to play against type – including certain elements of her own reputation.

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