The fallout from Hillary’s victim card playing: The week after

I'm a victim!The discussions over Hillary Clinton’s use of the victim card after her poor performance at last week’s Democratic presidential candidate debate haven’t died down. In fact, they seem to be intensifying.

There’s been some diversity amongst the reactions amongst liberal feminists as to whether they consider her a victim of a “boys-club” attack or if they view her playing of the victim card as a setback of sorts for the feminist movement. Ben Smith and David Paul Kuhn at The Politico reported yesterday on the mixed reaction from feminists to Hillary’s victim card defense:

After jeers from her Democratic rivals and many commentators, Hillary Rodham Clinton has backed off her suggestion last week that her opponents were ganging up on her because she is a woman.

But the debate is still churning in feminist circles, where some women’s activists said she had every right to invoke sexism and gender stereotypes as a defense on the campaign trail — and predicted that this tactic will prove effective against fellow Democrats and against a Republican, if she is the general election nominee.

One prominent feminist and Hillary endorser made excuses for Clinton’s hiding behind her gender, calling it a “visceral gut reaction” to being around all those men:

“It goes beyond logic — it’s a gut response” Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said of the spectacle of Clinton onstage confronting seven male rivals and two male moderators at a debate in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.

Smeal, who has endorsed Clinton, compared the debate scene to the congressional grilling of Anita Hill when she challenged Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination in 1991.

“Every woman — it was just so visceral — that panel was all male” Smeal recalled. “It didn’t matter almost what was being said. It [was] a visceral gut reaction, and I think that’s what you’re seeing here again.”

Sure – it’s a “gut reaction” to instinctively think the worst of a group of people simply due to their sex. Women just can’t help but think the worst! Now, imagine if the shoe was on the other foot, and a prominent male public figure described his “visceral reaction” to having to stand on stage with several female contenders for political office, and then imagine the howls of outrage that would be sure to follow for weeks, the calls for apologies, healing, etc. Double standards, anyone?

Radical feminista Naomi Wolf was decidedly tame in her criticism of Clinton:

“They are being very, very strategic” by playing to sympathies that virtually every woman in a male-dominated professional world can relate to, feminist writer Naomi Wolf said of the Clinton campaign. At the same time, she said, “They are yielding to gender stereotypes.”

But she, too, eventually called Clinton’s tactic fair:

Wolf, a Democrat who advised Al Gore in the 2000 race on how to present a more “alpha male” image, said if this comes to pass, she has little sympathy for the GOP dilemma.

Men traditionally speak in more combative tones and language, in ways that women tend to find off-putting, Wolf said. Her complaints this week were a way of pushing back against that brand of public discourse, Wolf argued. “I have to say they are doing it legitimately” she added.

The next reaction was anything but tame:

One prominent feminist who was critical of Clinton, former NARAL Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman, has endorsed John Edwards. In tandem, Smeal’s comments suggested that the reaction of female activists may be driven more by their candidate preferences than their feminist sensibility.

“Any serious candidate for president should make their views clear and let the American people know where they stand on issues” Michelman said in a statement released by the Edwards campaign.

“And any serious candidate for president should be held to the same standard — whether man or woman. Have we have come a long way? Well, far enough to know better than to use our gender as a shield when the questions get too hot.”

Amen – but seeing that Michelman holds a high position within the Edwards campaign (senior advisor) her comments should be taken with a grain of salt.

What I found both disappointing and disgusting were the reactions of liberal women who believed that it was ok for Clinton to use the victim card even if she wasn’t really a “victim” of the alleged misogyny of the her fellow male candidates on the stage — because to those women, turnabout is fair play:

But even as Clinton abandoned the stance — arguably after it had run its public course and she had reaped the benefits — some women who have spent their lives fighting the politics of gender stereotyping said Clinton had a right to turn the latest events to her advantage.

They note that she has spent a career enduring public attacks, often accompanied by gender-based slurs about her persona.

“Turnabout is fair play” said Marie Wilson, a Clinton supporter and president of the White House Project, which trains women to enter politics. “When you’re the one and only, those stereotypes are coming at you all the time. If she has one time when she can make them work for her, why not?”


Smeal said that she and other women deeply involved in politics didn’t immediately see the debate in terms of gender, but rather in the political terms of rivals engaging a front-runner.

Then, she said, her group started getting e-mails from women complaining that Clinton was being attacked. “Our rank and file … saw it the other way” she said.

She and some other women’s activists were unapologetic about Clinton’s willingness to use stereotypes to her advantage.

“You reap what you sow” she said. “There’s been discrimination against women for so long, and for once this is benefiting a woman.”

I can’t even describe in words fit for a lady to say how this attitude offends me as a woman. I can only imagine how it irks men who’ve had to put up with radical feminist double-speak for decades.

What amazes me about all this is that (again) liberal women are allowed to get away with stereotyping men in many of the same ways men used to get away with it with women back in the old days – something which real feminists of the day rallied against. Does this “he’s getting what he deserves” attitude mean we’ve “come a long way, baby“? I think not, because justifying stereotyping against men in general simply because women in the past have been stereotyped is not what I’d call “progress.” It’s what I would call “misandry.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in today, in her typical nuanced way when tepidly criticizing a fellow Democrat:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, R-Calif., said Monday that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., hasn’t been treated differently because she’s the only woman in the presidential race, but added that her campaign appears to have been trying to exploit that perception in the wake of last week’s Democratic debate.

Pelosi, the nation’s first female House speaker, told in an interview that she didn’t agree with observers who thought Clinton was drawing particular heat because she’s a woman.

“[Sen. Clinton] said it best: They’re ‘piling on’ — or whatever the words were — ‘because I’m the front-runner.’ That’s why they’re piling on,” said Pelosi. “If she was in third place, they wouldn’t say, ‘Let’s go attack a woman.'”


“I think the campaign is trying to take advantage of another — probably people who didn’t even watch the debate, to say, ‘Oh, they were really rude,’ or something like that, and that has some salience,” said Pelosi, who has said she does not plan to endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary. “You know, every vote counts.”

Er, ok. Geraldine Ferraro, on the other hand, wasn’t so nuanced:

“John Edwards, specifically, as well as the press, would never attack Barack Obama for two hours they way they attacked her” said Geraldine A. Ferraro, the 1984 vice presidential candidate who supports Mrs. Clinton. “It’s O.K. in this country to be sexist” Ms. Ferraro said.

Well, of course Edwards is a sexist, because he’s got a long track record of unfairly attacking women (somewhere …?), that is, when he’s not having his wife issue the most scathing attacks of his campaign on the Democratic frontrunner for president.

Ferraro went on to say:

“It’s certainly not O.K. to be racist. I think if Barack Obama had been attacked for two hours — well, I don’t think Barack Obama would have been attacked for two hours.”

Understand that? If Barack Obama would have been “attacked” for two hours – by fellow Democrats – it would have been racist, and only by throwing softballs at him would it have not been racist. I hereby declare Geraldine Ferraro a racist, because apparently she thinks the only questions and criticisms Barack Obama should have to handle are of the soft serve variety. See? Two can play at this game, Ms. Ferraro.


Ms. Ferraro said that she thought the debate and its fallout would rally support to Mrs. Clinton. (“I am not kidding” Ms. Ferraro said. “I have been bombarded by e-mail.”)

“We can’t let them do this in a presidential race” she said. “They say we’re playing the gender card. We are not. We are not. We have got to stand up. It’s discrimination against her as a candidate because she is a woman.”

Some women, apparently, just relish their role as the “victims” of big bad evil males, and Gerry Ferraro is one of them. It’s almost as if they don’t even think about what they say. They just say it like they’re on autopilot. Plus, I think the bitterness over Ferraro and Mondale’s resounding loss to Reagan in 1984 hasn’t subsided in the least. No doubt she blames that on “misogyny,” too.

Suffice it to say that the reactions from all of the above would be decidedly different, and much, much more hostile, had Hillary been on a stage with several Republican men, and turned around and used the victim card, because, well, Republican males are so “repressive” and all.

Oddly enough, staunch conservative John Podhoretz argued today that Clinton’s use of the victim card might help her more than hurt her:

I’m not so sure. Whether intentionally or not, Hillary managed to change the terms under which the debate has been discussed in the days since. In its immediate aftermath, the debate was seen as a referendum on her policy slipperiness, and one in which she did not come off well. Now, however, the discussion of the debate has become something quite different.


Lest one think Ferraro’s view is an outlier, note an even more ludicrously ominous version of it on The New Republic’s Open University blog by Linda Hirshman, a retired Brandeis professor of no reputation until she published a manifesto two years ago explaining that educated women should be attacked for staying home with their children because by leaving the workforce they are damaging the feminist cause. Angry with Barack Obama and John Edwards for ganging up on Hillary, she invokes, astoundingly, Pastor Niemoller: “Oh, and for you Obama and Edwards supporters, remember the story about the man who didn’t stand up to the Nazis when they came for his neighbors.”

The Ferraro-Hirshman school of thought — if thought is what you want to call it, is nothing but self-parodying feminism, so much so that it has earned scorn from other bloggers at the New Republic itself. Still, it has served a raw political purpose — pivoting the conversation to a topic more to Mrs. Clinton’s liking than her own failings in the eyes of Democratic primary voters.

I’m not sure I’m buying that argument, as outside of the Hsu scandal, which only a couple of mainstream media outlets have focused on extensively, Hillary’s failings haven’t been the subject of much scrutiny in the MSM – which, ironically, has to do with, in part, the fact that she’s a female, and a Democrat, and has a real shot at getting elected president, something the liberal MSM (especially the females), would jump for joy to see happen. And not just because they agree with her politically, but for all the stories her historic election would be sure to generate.

All of this does bring up the interesting question of how a male candidate should approach debating (and criticizing) a female candidate, especially in a high profile race. He shouldn’t do it physically, because, as mentioned before, Rick Lazio’s “invasion” of Hillary’s personal space during a debate in 2000 was viewed as a turning point in that election, and according to politicos, steered more sympathetic women voters in Hillary’s direction. In my opinion, I’m turned off by that tactic, no matter whether it’s a man or woman who is being approached. It just doesn’t look good, and makes the person doing the confronting look hostile, overly-aggressive, and prone to political grandstanding rather than engaging in substantive debate. That said, the fact that Hillary is a woman made Lazio’s action seem much more aggressive than it actually was, because men and women alike are naturally more sympathetic when it looks like a woman’s “space” is being “violated.” Eleanor Smeal would likely call this that “gut reaction” she was talking about – perhaps, but it’s certainly not meant in the way she implied it to be. Smeal’s negative gut reaction is to assume that men are the root of all evil, and that because of that it’s only “natural” a woman would feel like she was a “victim” of the “boys-club” and consequently “lash out.” The gut reaction I’m talking about is one of a positive nature where men naturally feel the urge to protect, and women instinctively feel the urge to nurture and soothe.

The way the Dem males handled Hillary last week was exactly the way she should have been handled: as the frontrunner whose ideas deserve scrutiny and criticism. Not one candidate on that stage attacked her on the basis of her being a female. They at least got that right, if nothing else.

The bottom line is that Hillary and Co. tried to use the damsel in distress argument here, too, and I think it backfired. Now, next year, when more voters will be paying attention to what the candidates are saying, it could be a whole new ballgame, and assuming Hillary makes it past the primaries, it will be interesting to see if she tries this tactic again, how the public reacts, and how her opponent will try to turn it around on her. I hope whoever he is chooses his words very carefully, because the right kind of responses – just as we saw last week from Barack Obama and Fred Thompson, could turn the argument around on its head, and make Hillary look like the superficial politician that she really is.

Read related thoughts via Captain Ed, Jim Geraghty, McQ, Joe Gandelman

More: Oh, this is Hillarious:

ABC News’ Eloise Harper reports: Not only is Senator Clinton comfortable in the kitchen, she wants you to bring your mops, vacuum cleaners and brushes when she gets to the White House.

Clinton speaking in West Burlington, IA, told a story about how she is going to clean up the White House. Telling it, Clinton rested her hand on her head and said “oh my goodness I feel like we are going to get into the White House again and we are going to walk around and say where do we start to clean up this mess?” Clinton remembered an audience member who shouted once out when she told this story before – “that’s what women are good at cleaning up the mess.” Clinton said “bring your vacum cleaners bring your brushes bring your brooms bring your mops.”

Hat tip: A reader who wishes to remain anonymous, who quips: “At least they won’t have to bring in a carpet cleaner this time around.”


Bonus: The Edwards campaign has come out with another anti-Hillary video. They’ve found one question she will answer (h/t: Jay at Stop The ACLU):


Update: James Taranto writes a reminder that it’s not just female Democrats who like to play the victim card when they think it will help them politically.

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