Saturday, January 26, 2008

Instead of Bill, Hillary should Rely More on Chelsea in Campaigning

So Obama has won South Carolina. Surely, media coverage in the last few days, which continually painted a portrait of "the Clintons" in cahoots against Obama, had an influence.

From the New York Times web site: "Indeed, surveys of voters leaving the polls showed that many Democrats who believed Mr. Clinton’s role was important ended up voting for Mr. Obama.

Last week, Clinton advisers believed Mr. Clinton was rattling Mr. Obama and drawing his focus away from his message. The results on Saturday indicated, instead, that voters were impressed with Mr. Obama’s mettle and agreed with him that the Clintons ran an excessively negative campaign here."

But really, when voters "agree" with Obama that "the Clintons ran" an overly negative campaign (note how even the New York Times news section writes "the Clintons" rather than Hillary Clinton) they are not really forming their own impressions based on reality, but agreeing with a common media portrait of Hillary and Bill Clinton teaming in tandem in the last few days to critique Obama.

The media has run with this notion of Hillary relying too much on her husband in South Carolina, creating a “two-headed monster” as the New York Post put it. Maureen Dowd wrote, "It’s odd that the first woman with a shot at becoming president is so openly dependent on her husband to drag her over the finish line."
That’s an old canard—conflating a successful woman with her husband, as if she’s nothing without him. It’s a criticism often throw at Hillary. It’s an easy way to belittle a powerful woman. Somehow it’s a boon to Obama to have a powerful wife (Camille Paglia recently wrote in Salon that a reason to vote for Obama was that his wife was a “powerhouse.”). And it was O.K. for Elizabeth Edwards a few months ago to declare that her husband was a better candidate for women than Hillary. But it's not OK for Bill Clinton, who happens to be a former popular president, not just an average spouse, to take to the stump. As Hillary said at one point in the South Carolina debate, in response to Obama criticizing her for something Bill Clinton said, “He’s not here, I am.”

Relying too much on Bill to do her campaigning in South Carolina in the last few days before the primary played too much into her critics' hands, and didn't do much to appeal to younger post-feminist women who don’t want to see a powerful woman depending too much on her husband to fight her battles, even if he is a popular former president.

Hillary's challenge in the days ahead is going to be how to reach out to those postfeminist twenty and early thirtysomething women who haven't yet suffered much because of their gender and so don't see the importance of supporting the first female candidate for President. A suggestions: we should see a lot less of Bill, a lot more of Chelsea. Not just see, we should hear from Chelsea. Many young women will see themselves in Chelsea in a way they never will in Hillary.

Bill Clinton (with Gore by his side) could use his sex appeal as a way to attract young female voters in 1993. I remember Naomi Wolf on the Yale campus screaming that "These men are babes!" to the cheers of the co-eds. The “Obama Girl” YouTube video only strengthened Obama's appeal. Hillary can't capitalize on her sex appeal as a strategy. (When she innocently showed an inch of cleavage a female Washington Post reporter jumped all over her.) But maybe she can try to run a little more on her maternal appeal.

At Nancy Pelosi's swearing-in, surrounded by children and grandchildren, she capitalized on the image of a powerful woman as mother. For those millions tired of the fake machismo of George Bush, with its resulting thousands of dead young men and women brought home in body bags, a little maternal imagery might be just the right refreshing "change" America is looking for.

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