Friday, June 06, 2008

Hillary Clinton did not know any other way to fight


Mainstream American feminists -- there are not too many of them left, any way -- are quite saddened by the fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton has lost out in her bid to get the Democratic presidential nomination. It is an understandable sentiment. But the feminists should perhaps try to analyse and understand the reasons as to why Hillary lost the battle. There are some useful lessons there for both her and the feminists. Like the heroine of Micheal Crichton's 'Disclosure", Hillary fought the male game of politics in the mail-fisted male way. She did not want to do it any other way -- barring that isolated tear somewhere in Massachusetts - and it was the only way she knew. She pitched for different constituencies, took positions on various issues of national importance -- from the war in Iraq to fixing the economy -- and rammed the opponents for their lack of clarity, though she did not anything concrete to offer except that she was more familiar with these issues than many others in the race because she watched hubby Bill Clinton handle them all for eight years from over his shoulders.
What she missed out was that it was not enough to know about these matters in a laddish way. You have to have a deeper grasp of them, which she did not have. The others did not have either but they got away because they did not make too many claims about what they knew.
Liberal women were not too impressed with her because they did not like her cunning politics and lack of sincerity on political issues. Her maleness in these matters, which Hillary thought, was an advantage turned out to be a burden.
Hillary could not have changed tack despite realising midway through the primaries that she was doing it all wrong. She just did not have enough good advisers to tell her to go back to the drawing board, and not try to draw on Bill Clinton's White House years. It is not enough to live in the White House and be the wife of a president to become a president. That is the kind of the trick that may have worked in India. But even in India, it will not work any more as Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi are finding to their discomfort.
What was missing in Hillary's campaign was, to use a literary cliche, her own voice. She was not speaking from her own heart and head. She was using too much of Bill Clinton's.
She could have learnt a lesson or two from US House Speaker and fellow-Democrat Nancy Pelosi. When she came to Dharamsala during the Tibetan protests, she made a simple statement of how ethically untenable the Chinese way of dealing with the protests was. She did not try to analyse as to what is the politically advantageous thing to say. She spoke from her heart. It was very clear that the Bush Administration did not agree. And there was not much she could have done in the Congress either. But she spoke out, and it struck a chord for a moment.
Hillary had been too calculative. She thought that was the way to do politics. And she learned too late that it does not work.
It is indeed difficult to find out who the real Hillary is? Is she the angry wife who felt devastated by her husband's peccadilloes and did not really forgive him? Or is she the one who knew that divorcing the man would be the end of her political ambitions? Her 1960s-1970s liberal credentials were credible, but she failed to build on them. Clinton spoke the liberal language though he did not believe in liberalism. He was Reaganite at heart in the same way that Tony Blair was a Thatcherite. She could never speak the libera language. That is one of the reasons, her health care plan came to nought in the first presidential term of her husband. Then she timidly withdrew and began to speak about children, women and family. It was not done with any conviction. Laura Bush was quite keen on promoting reading of books but she was also sincere about it. It is this sincerity that was missing in Hillary. The people saw through the political facade. She almost seems, tragically, an updated version of Lady Macbeth.

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