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What’s Wrong with Hillary

July 25, 2016

To kick off the Democratic convention, Michelle Goldberg wrote a long, thoughtful piece in Slate about why so many people hate Hillary. It’s worth reading if you haven’t seen it already.

Studying polls and interviews, Goldberg finds that people’s disdain and distaste for the pantsuited whipping-girl have remained constant for decades even as the reasons for those emotions have changed. For some people, for instance, it’s policy: Hillary was too liberal in the 1990s and she’s too conservative now—and she has never, apparently, passed through a stage of being just right. For others it’s a character issue: because Hillary has changed her positions over the years, we can’t trust her, even though other politicians do the swivel-dance daily.

“In other words,” Goldberg says, “people hated Hillary for being one sort of person, and in response to that she became another sort of person, who people hated for different reasons. But this doesn’t explain why the emotional tenor of the hatred seems so consistent, even as the rationale for it has turned inside out. Perhaps that’s because anti-Hillary animus is only partly about what she does. It’s also driven by some ineffable quality of charisma, or the lack of it.”

As Goldberg goes on to point out, people who meet Hillary in person tend to like her a lot. But in public she fails to convey the warm, mischievous, funny and charming qualities that her acquaintances know and love.

Of course, she’s not the only political figure whose public persona fails to reflect her private attractiveness. But a wooden, artificial Mitt Romney attracts less vitriol (and more bored sighs), so again we’re left wondering, “Why Hillary? What makes her so abhorrent?”

Ultimately, Goldberg decides, the answer is “gendered”: “Americans tend not to like ambitious women with loud voices.” I think that’s true, and I would add the adjective smart—we especially don’t like an ambitious woman who seems to know uncomfortably more than we do on just about every topic except the state of our own toothbrushes.

Hillary at a Planned Parenthood event, Washington, DC, June 2016 (photo by Lorie Shaull from Wikimedia Commons)

Hillary at a Planned Parenthood event, Washington, DC, June 2016 (photo by Lorie Shaull from Wikimedia Commons)

My explanation, then, expands on Goldberg’s to focus on the aura of superiority Hillary manages to convey. When she ramps up her public persona, trying her best to be cool, authoritative, masterful—to stand up to the alpha politicomales she must challenge—she comes off, to me, as smug. Look at that facial expression, that little smirk. Even if you admire her, isn’t it a bit annoying? Don’t you feel slightly put down?

We Americans, famously, and stupidly, want our president to be someone we can have a beer with. I bet that, in private, Hillary can swill a brew as well as her Bubba—maybe better because her heart is stronger. But she gives the impression of sipping an expensive white wine—one of those Coche-Dury Grand Cru thingies?—whose name we can’t even pronounce.

Admittedly, it’s probably “gendered”—nay, sexist—to care about the way a woman grins. After all, George W. Bush had the stupidest grin ever, and THAT wasn’t what we denounced him for.

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