Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is "Charisma" something only men can possess?

A professor of history sent me this article idea in an email:

"I was thinking it might be interesting to write a piece on how charisma is gendered male – unless you are, maybe, mother Teresa. All these attractive men – Kennedy, Clinton (Bill), Obama, are “charismatic, “ -- which means that people want to follow them anywhere. It’s ok for women to fall in love with a male candidate, but it is not ok for men to fall in love with a female one. I don’t remember what Max Weber said about charisma, but I suspect none of his examples of political charisma were female."

She wrote this to me a week before the New York Times published the article, The Charisma Mandate" on the front page of its "Week in Review" section, on February 17th. The article mentioned Weber's definition of charisma, but didn't mention anything about "charisma" being gendered male.

This is a fascinating subject that no one, to my knowledge, has written on. Charisma, by definition, is powerful in a political leader--how unfair, and restrictive, for women leaders, if it is in fact, gendered male, and therefore not an attribute that is available to them. It seems to be a widely held notion that Hillary Clinton lacks this quality of "charisma," which the public seems to think Obama has (though the "tipping point" is surely at work here in mob psychology). Has there been a female leader who has "charisma"? Or is it by definition something only men can possess?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Maureen Dowd twists the truth today

Today Maureen Dowd writes in her column, "I know that the attacks against powerful women can be harsh and personal and unfair, enough to make anyone cry." (Meanwhile, she has been one of the first to always attack Hillary Clinton, but she needn't flatter herself, neither she nor any of the other pundits who regularly criticize Clinton have ever made Hillary cry; it's an attack in and of itself to imply that Clinton has been crying because of attacks against her. This is a reference to the two times on the campaign trail that Hillary got a little emotional, but she never actually shed tears. The fact this is focused on is sad: a woman candidate is expected to be steely and strong, if she is too strong, she is seen as too masculine).

Dowd also writes, "While Obama aims to transcend race, Hillary often aims to use gender to her advantage, or to excuse mistakes. In 1994, after her intransigence and secrecy-doomed health care plan, she told The Wall Street Journal that she was “a gender Rorschach test.”

Obama has managed to convince people that he is "transcending race." But what does this mean? In his lofty poetic rhetoric he is always making references to race, and to his own mixed racial background, in a way that connects with African-Americans and gets them to support him, while at the same time saying that he is "above" race. Hillary Clinton could never get away with such doublespeak.

Slight sexism in WSJ coverage today of Clinton

It seems no coverage of Hillary Clinton can appear without being tainted by some sexism. Today a WSJ article is balanced until the end, which reads, "All day yesterday, the Clinton and Obama campaigns traded barbs via emails to the press. Mrs. Clinton stayed on the stump, wearing her trademark yellow jacket and a sunny disposition, while the campaign song blaring here, in Spanish, was "Estos Celos," or 'This Jealousy.'"

Note two things: first, there's no description of what Obama has been wearing on the stump, though Hillary's outfit is detailed, and second, "jealousy" would not be attributed to a man, it's an emotion that is gendered female. It's kind of like the image of Tracy Flick, the wanna-be high school president from the movie Election that has had plastered on its home page in a video comparing Flick to Clinton. Men don't get jealous of competitors, they get angry, they fight, they battle to win. Jealousy is underhanded, secretive, it's one way people view angry women. Society would prefer to view strong women who are stymied as jealous rather than as angry.

Friday, February 8, 2008

No wonder Chelsea's been silent till now...

Her parents were right to worry and to try to shield her from the media. Every thing she says and does is dissected and then discussed on national TV. In the same way that her mother has become a lightning rod for praise and criticism, so has she.

"The View" made fun of her for her soft voice; apparently she called up three of the co-hosts to ask them to support her mother in the NY primary.

But "The View" hosts' jesting was in good faith.

In contrast, David Shuster's said on MSNBC's Hardball, "Doesn't it seem like Chelsea's sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?" Bill Preiss answered no, but Shuster insisted in continuing his metaphor of unseemly behavior on the part of Chelsea.

His choice of the word "pimping" was sexist and unnecessary. All of the candidates have had their adult children campaigning for them. The Romney boys were spoken of in the same way, even though they were much more proactive in campaigning for their father. I think this blog entry by Taylor Marsh is well-written on this subject, and she includes a video link to the exchange between Shuster and Preiss.

Chelsea now taking a more vocal role in campaigning for mother

As I predicted a few weeks ago in this blog, Chelsea Clinton is taking a more active role now in campaigning for her mother. She's the perfect person demographically to reach the younger women that so far have been favoring Obama.

It will be interesting to see if the press gets negative at all in covering Chelsea. Bill and Hillary have gone to great lengths to keep Chelsea under wraps all these years. And if Chelsea hadn't turned out as well as she did, the media would definitely be covering her a la Britney Spears, and criticizing Hillary Clinton as a bad mother.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

On Sunday's Rally of Powerful Women in Calif. for Obama

Watching the YouTube videos of Oprah, Maria Shriver, Caroline Kennedy and Michelle Obama stumping for Obama at UCLA on Sunday, it was striking to see these powerful, articulate women aiming their words at women and convincing them to vote for Obama.
I'm sure that Oprah's endorsement, along with these other celebrity and political female powerhouses, was instrumental in getting Obama votes for the nomination in California.

Here's a link to an editorial in the New York Times on this rally, calling it "the best campaign rally I’ve seen in 20 years of covering presidential politics."

Do you know why this rally was so powerful? Because with this array of attractive, celebrity women, Obama shows he is a master of the new medium, and the medium is the message. This was a successful "show business" or "entertainment" event for the Television age, or as I'll dub it, the YouTubeAge, which distills visual images into digitally-palatable minutes of downloadable videos available to all.

I'm referring to what media critic Neil Postman termed in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. As he argued, we've come a long way from the Age of Typography of the Lincoln and Douglas debates, which were very literate in nature, because the American public was more literate. Now, in the television age, political discourse is all visual; it's all dumbed-down by television. Postman's point: "how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails. . . Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials."

Postman wrote, "a good television program always aims to achieve...applause, not reflection." These women--Oprah, Shriver, Kennedy--were great at eliciting applause from the thousands in the audience, but they didn't even try to elicit reflection.

That's why Oprah could get away with vague speech consisting only of buzzwords. She offered no specifics. Instead, she repeated buzzwords: "Change we can believe in", "Yes we can," and he is "brilliant, brilliant, brilliant." But she doesn't have to offer examples or specifics; she's Oprah, and a recommendation from her is enough to be persuasive. She has "charisma", that quality that everyone is saying Obama has, and that many say Hillary lacks, but Bill had.

Entertainment is what matters in politics, and Obama is the better entertainer. In showbiz, what works is making people feel good, making them smile and laugh: Obama is good at cracking jokes, and Hillary is less successful at that. Many say they like Obama because he's "inspiring;" his words make them feel good.

In contrast to this energetic panel of telegenic women on stage pumping up the crowd for Obama on Sunday, Hillary Clinton, good student that she is, with her nose to the grindstone, led a town hall discussion for an hour on Monday night, heralding to the Age of Typography, of the true debate, the true discussion, which is what she thinks the American people want. In the last few weeks, she's offered to stay to answer people's every last question. But as the Washington Post mocked her on its web site a few weeks ago with a video showing bored people, that doesn't make for good visual "soundbites," for good television, and it's not what the American people want; it's the same reason people didn't like Gore (who also would have done better in the Age of Telegraphy or Exposition: they want "good looks" and "celebrity"; they want "entertainment." (As does the media--it sells more papers and scores more downloads.) And Obama is better at providing that than Hillary Clinton. As are Obama's supporters.

Robin Morgan on Why She, as a Woman, is Voting for Hillary

And here's a link to a well-written essay, by feminist and writer Robin Morgan (and founder of the Women's Media Center) on why she is voting for Hillary Clinton, not Obama, from the Women's Media Center web site.
A choice excerpt:

"Goodbye, goodbye to . . .

—blaming anything Bill Clinton does on Hillary (even including his womanizing like the Kennedy guys—though unlike them, he got reported on). Let’s get real. If he hadn’t campaigned strongly for her everyone would cluck over what that meant. Enough of Bill and Teddy Kennedy locking their alpha male horns while Hillary pays for it.
—an era when parts of the populace feel so disaffected by politics that a comparative lack of knowledge, experience, and skill is actually seen as attractive, when celebrity-culture mania now infects our elections so that it’s “cooler” to glow with marquee charisma than to understand the vast global complexities of power on a nuclear, wounded planet.
—the notion that it’s fun to elect a handsome, cocky president who feels he can learn on the job, goodbye to George W. Bush and the destruction brought by his inexperience, ignorance, and arrogance.

Goodbye to the accusation that HRC acts “entitled” when she’s worked intensely at everything she’s done—including being a nose-to-the-grindstone, first-rate senator from my state.

Goodbye to her being exploited as a Rorschach test by women who reduce her to a blank screen on which they project their own fears, failures, fantasies.

Goodbye to the phrase “polarizing figure” to describe someone who embodies the transitions women have made in the last century and are poised to make in this one. . . .
Goodbye to some women letting history pass by while wringing their hands, because Hillary isn’t as “likeable” as they’ve been warned they must be, or because she didn’t leave him, couldn’t “control” him, kept her family together and raised a smart, sane daughter. (Think of the blame if Chelsea had ever acted in the alcoholic, neurotic manner of the Bush twins!)"

That last bit about Chelsea is so true--Chelsea has turned out so well, but note how the media doesn't praise Hillary for this fine job she did of mothering. Yet, if the flip side were true, if Chelsea hadn't turned out so well, no doubt the media would delight in blaming Hillary for being a bad mother, for being too focused on her career, on ambition and success.

Stanley Fish on Hatred of Hillary

The famous professor and author Stanley Fish writes in today's New York Times on people's intrinsic hatred of Hillary Clinton. He doesn't probe why there is this intrinsic hatred, just points out that it exists. Fish's essay is noteworthy because there are so few voices out there in the mainstream press taking note of a media bias against Hillary Clinton.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

An Academic Study of "the Oprah Effect" before she endorsed Obama

In 2006, Matthew Baum, associate professor of political science at UCLA, studied "the Oprah effect" in the 2000 presidential race, looking at how politicians' appearance on TV talk shows affected people's voting patterns.

This is what he found, from a UCLA article:

"The Oprah Effect" had more than twice as strong an impact on the voting patterns of politically unengaged voters as traditional news coverage had on the patterns of the politically engaged."

"Because highly engaged voters already possess substantial political knowledge, exposure to campaign coverage via either the soft or hard news media is likely to have a limited effect on their voting choices," he said. "They're wading through party mailers, visiting candidates' websites, debating issues with friends and maybe even attending candidates' forums. They've got information coming at them from all directions, so no one source is overwhelmingly influential."

So, an endorsement by Oprah, the queen of talk shows herself, will have tremendous sway on politically unengaged voters who lack substantial political knowledge; this conclusion doesn't bode well for Hillary Clinton.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Oprah is Obama's Bill Clinton

I just read in this piece that Oprah is going to make an appearance for Obama in California tomorrow.

This is big news--and it strikes me as unfair. I feel bad for Hillary Clinton. No doubt at the end of last night's debate, when she mentioned how she will be available to answer questions on the Hallmark channel for an hour on Monday night, in a direct appeal to women voters, Obama smiled: he was probably thinking, hah, go ahead and spend millions renting out the Hallmark channel, I've got the women vote locked up, I've got Oprah making a surprise appearance in California on Sunday.

I've already argued that the "Oprah effect" in Obama's favor in South Carolina has been greatly underestimated and underreported by the media. Now Oprah's appearance recommending Obama is going to do wonders for him in California. She is an incredibly powerful woman who is able to to do what Obama professes he will do as President - transcend race: a recommendation from her can move millions of white women to buy a certain book, or even a pair of jeans. Oprah has also achieved what Hillary Clinton has not been able to: Women do not resent Oprah despite the power she has attained. Women are the votes that Obama and Clinton are fighting over, and Obama has found his savior in Oprah--the perfect person to stump for him.

Whereas Hillary Clinton has been trounced by the press for relying on Bill Clinton to campaign for her in several states, in Oprah, Obama has found a more powerful political force than a former President, one who is more universally loved by the public on both sides of the political spectrum.

Oprah's speech in South Carolina in December before 30,000 mostly African-Americans, in which she praised Obama, was steeped in religious imagery and references, and also references to race--a fact which was also under-reported, because somehow Obama has been consistently praised as a figure who transcends race and does not profit from his color, and yet Oprah was specifically referring to his race and making reference to the race of the spectators. It will be interesting to see if Oprah again makes racial and religious references.

It's amazing how entertainment and politics has truly merged here--Neil Postman, the media critic who wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death, about how television has turned politics and news into entertainment, and other books, is surely turning over in his grave: Oprah's stumping for Obama surpasses candidate appearances on late-night talk shows, and the star-studded Kodak audience at Thursday's debate. Here, the most powerful talk show host is bringing her stage to voters and swaying thousands(of women--that is her audience) to vote for her candidate.