Hillary Clinton can take it

People who insist the men were too tough on the lady Democrat Tuesday night aren't helping the cause of equality.

By Joan Walsh
November 1, 2007 9:00PM (UTC)
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I'm with Tim Grieve on this one: I saw nothing wrong with the way Sen. Hillary Clinton's Democratic primary opponents went after her politically on Tuesday night. (See Taylor Marsh for the most vivid example of another point of view.)

Clinton is the only woman in a race with seven men; she is the front-runner; it was natural that many of their criticisms were directed at her. Besides, it wasn't her best debate performance: On everything from Iran to Social Security to taxes to the famed flubbed driver's license answer, Clinton's tendency to try to have it both ways and to avoid or back into tough stances was on bright display. She actually handled the Social Security question better this time than she did in the Dartmouth debate, making clear that while she differs with Tim Russert's assertion that there's a looming Social Security crisis, she's not ducking the issue. I liked her answer about rejecting "Republican talking points" on Social Security; I thought it was a month late. (By contrast, I do think Russert's questioning was inappropriately sharp with Clinton, but I'm not sure it had anything to do with her being a woman.)


There are so many interesting cultural and sociological forces at work the first time a woman is the front-runner in the presidential race, I won't pretend to know how all of it will play out. I'll be honest about one thing; maybe because Clinton wasn't doing as well as usual, for the first time I was struck by her being so much shorter than the men, and I even text-messaged an NBC person at the debate (who has been at all the others) to see if there was anything different about the platform (there wasn't). And I did chuckle Wednesday night when Jon Stewart said the men-against-Hillary drama in Philadelphia resembled "a bad Neil LaBute play." But I see nothing wrong with the way the male Democrats treated Clinton Tuesday night. Friends who disagree with me, and saw a creepy dynamic of boys beating up a girl, insist it will backfire against the male Democrats, the way Rick Lazio's bullying approach to Clinton at a debate did in 2000, and that women will instinctively rally to Clinton's defense. Maybe. There are definitely subterranean psychological currents at play in this race, and we'll have to wait to see what they all mean.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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2008 Elections Hillary Rodham Clinton