The "Bitch-Slap Theory of Electoral Politics"
Susan Faludi thinks men are warming to Hillary because she's mean and nasty.
Pundits have been quick to attribute the erosion in Barack Obama’s white male support to a newfound racism. What they have failed to consider is the degree to which white male voters witnessing Senator Clinton’s metamorphosis are being forced to rethink precepts they’ve long held about women in American politics.
For years, the prevailing theory has been that white men are often uneasy with female politicians because they can’t abide strong women. But if that’s so, why haven’t they deserted Senator Clinton? More particularly, why haven’t they deserted her as she has become ever more pugnacious in her campaign?
It’s the unforeseen precedent of an unprecedented candidacy: our first major female presidential candidate isn’t doing what men always accuse women of doing. She’s not summoning the rules committee over every infraction. (Her attempt to rewrite the rules for Michigan and Florida are less a timeout than rough play.) Not once has she demanded that the umpire stop the fight. Indeed, she’s asking for more unregulated action, proposing a debate with no press-corps intermediaries.
If anyone has been guarding the rules this election, it’s been the press, which has been primly thumbing the pages of Queensberry and scolding her for being “ruthless” and “nasty,” a “brawler” who fights “dirty.”
But while the commentators have been tut-tutting, Senator Clinton has been converting white males, assuring them that she’s come into their tavern not to smash the bottles, but to join the brawl.
This fits right in with what Josh Marshall (the old one, not WKJM) called "The Bitch-Slap Theory of Electoral Politics." In discussing the "Swift-boat" attacks on John Kerry, Josh said:
It goes something like this.
On one level, of course, the aim behind these attacks is to cast suspicion upon Kerry's military service record and label him a liar. But that's only part of what's going on.
Consider for a moment what the big game is here. This is a battle between two candidates to demonstrate toughness on national security. Toughness is a unitary quality, really -- a personal, characterological quality rather than one rooted in policy or divisible in any real way. So both sides are trying to prove to undecided voters either that they're tougher than the other guy or at least tough enough for the job.
In a post-9/11 environment, obviously, this question of strength, toughness or resolve is particularly salient. That, of course, is why so much of this debate is about war and military service in the first place.
One way -- perhaps the best way -- to demonstrate someone's lack of toughness or strength is to attack them and show they are either unwilling or unable to defend themselves -- thus the rough slang I used above. And that I think is a big part of what is happening here. Someone who can't or won't defend themselves certainly isn't someone you can depend upon to defend you.
Demonstrating Kerry's unwillingness to defend himself (if Bush can do that) is a far more tangible sign of what he's made of than wartime experiences of thirty years ago.
Hitting someone and not having them hit back hurts the morale of that person's supporters, buoys the confidence of your own backers (particularly if many tend toward an authoritarian mindset) and tends to make the person who's receiving the hits into an object of contempt (even if also possibly also one of sympathy) in the eyes of the uncommitted.
I'm not suggesting that Hillary has been the bully in this campaign, or has made unfair attacks on Obama. I'm not aware of any low blows coming from her.
Obama on the other hand, has tried lots of them, most notably the "race card." Has Hillary whined or complained about it? Nope. In fact, virtually all the whining and complaining also comes from Obama.
Hillary has complained about the media, especially when David Shuster made his infamous "pimping-out" remark about Chelsea. She went after MSNBC with the fierceness of a lioness protecting her cub, and the OFB counter-haka on that fell flat.
She also called out Tim Russert and Brian Gregory in a debate, which dove-tailed with the SNL skit that finally got the media to be less one-sided. That wasn't whining, that was working the refs.
The Obama campaign, despite playing far dirtier than Hillary, has been whining and complaining about every slight, real and imagined. He has also refused to debate, which only makes him look weak.
In fairness, debating Hillary makes him look even weaker. Not only has she consistently outshone Obama in debates, she has shown herself to be a vicious counter-puncher. When Obama took a shot at Hillary over her serving on the board of directors at WalMart, she hit back immediately with Rezko the slum-lord. The OFB howled, but Rezko entered the public discourse.
While Obama was being taped awkwardly bowling with his tie on, Hillary was knocking back boilermakers with boys. While he was avoiding debates, Hillary was calling him out with a challenge to face him anytime and anyplace.
While Obama has mostly avoided the media, Hillary has faced off with Richard Mellon Scaife, Bill O'Reilly and even OFB icon Keith Olberman, and won each time.
Unfortunately for Hillary, she may have waited too long to show this side of herself.