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The "Bitch-Slap Theory of Electoral Politics"

myiq2xu's picture

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.

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Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

Unfortunately, when all is said and done, a lot of the misbehaviour of the media and so on could have been overcome if she had made some small changes to her campaign at the beginning. She should have anticipated that an opponent would seize on her biggest weaknesses, and not apparently abandoned the caucuses. This is only something that could be an issue in a (D) party primary, but it *may* cost her the general.

Iphie's picture
Submitted by Iphie on

is saying that Hillary is being "mean and nasty." She's saying that Hillary is fighting the real fight and is not backing down and is not fighting the way the stereotype said a female candidate would. Faludi is drawing historical parallels to other women who also fought to win, and is saying that those women aren't the exception and neither is Hillary. She is saying that Hillary is providing a modern day example of this. But the words mean and nasty evoke something petty and small -- and I don't think that's what Faludi is saying at all.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

and Obama is not showing it, even tho the media spins his bitchy and passive-agressive cracks and dismissals and evasions as toughness.

Both Clintons are known as fighters and as successful ones--that appeals to many men and women. And we need a candidate who won't be painted as wimpy.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

so obviously not. Obama's not a "fighter" and denigrates fights ---in his own rhetoric and branding-- over and over and over.

This is especially galling when all Democrats know that the GOP paints us as wimps and weak anyway, and our candidates never fight back effectively at all. Obama supporters who are the same only hurt him too--and that he has so many of the spineless Congressional Dems who cave all the time reinforces it as well.

FrenchDoc's picture
Submitted by FrenchDoc on

Hillary has successfully defeated the stereotype of the "wimpy" Democrat, and for a woman, that is no small feat. It was a tough one to overcome.

And she's not faking it either... I mean, how many people could have survived the triple assault brigades of the MSM, the DNC and the OFB and still be standing?

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

I read an analysis (no time to find it right now) that said Hillary was representing the Jacksonian wing of the party, the people who like fighters. It's why she does well in Appalachia and Kerry did not. It's not because Obama is black, it's because Obama with his call for Unity isn't their kind of guy. Hillary, even though she's a woman, is because she's seen as tough. And a lot of Americans like their leaders tough.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

--fighting Dems are our history, and our success--and not fighting has been our defeat over and over.

Today's stuff-- Obama's crack about McCain "losing his bearings" is exactly what he did against Hillary with the "claws coming out" and "periodically" bullshit--it's not tough at all. He's poking McCain with a (snarky) feather instead of a sledgehammer.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

it's also appealing (and mandatory) to us city people and northerners who always fight, and demand our politics rough--NY, Philly, Boston, Chicago, etc...

I read that thing too, i think--was that the one that said that the midwest prefers calm and non-fighting?

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

One of the reasons I started drifting to Clinton was that I read that she was complaining in 1980 that the Democratic party was weak. Not weak in terms of policy or ideas, but politically weak in that they wouldn't fight for those ideas. She believed that that was why they lost elections. Nobody wants someone as Commander in Chief who won't even stand up for themselves against Republicans, much less protect the country.

Fast forward to today. They won't stand up to the most unpopular president in history. Hell, they finally stood up on telecom immunity and they're already backtracking behind the scenes. That's why people still love the Clintons. There are damned few democrats today who would've survived what Bill Clinton did in the 1990s. And I'm convinced they know it and that's one of the reasons they hate him. He's a walking reminder of how weak they are.

I was reading today at Talk Left about how Obama needs to toughen his image. But here's his problem - he isn't tough. He's the one whining about how long the campaign has been (and claiming today that the US had 57 states). He's the one whining about how mean Hillary is being. He's the one whining that she should drop out. And when you add that to his Unity Schtick, it's not exactly the portrait of a tough fighter. It's a portrait of John Kerry or Mike Dukakis albeit with darker skin.

And here's the article I was thinking of, amberglow, it's from US News & World Report -

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

it's a different article--interesting tho. This is so true-- "Like Stevenson, he speaks fluently and often eloquently but does not exude a sense of command. He is an interlocutor, not a fighter. His habit of stating his opponents' arguments fairly and sometimes more persuasively than they do themselves has been a political asset among his peers and in the press but not among Jacksonians, who are more interested in defeating than in understanding their enemies."

Related, i think, about the toughness thing (and courage and fear, etc)--a contested Convention would be great for our party and our issues-- "...if a convention actually decided something, people would watch. Indeed, a contested Democratic convention would be the best thing to happen to Democratic politics in years. While the Republican snoozefest would be ignored, millions of Americans would tune in to see the Clinton folks do battle for the nomination. Yes, there would be some disunity on display. But this would also mean that millions of Americans would hear Democrats giving speeches on Democratic issues, like health care, the economy, and opposition to the Iraq War. While in politics, unlike some other parts of life, there is such a thing as bad publicity, in this scenario, the good would clearly outweigh the bad. ..." --

Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

She should have anticipated that an opponent would seize on her biggest weaknesses, and not apparently abandoned the caucuses.

Sorry, but the "weakness" that Obama exploited was not the caucuses -- Obama took a page right out of the Karl Rove playbook, and created from whole cloth a weakness that was completely antithetical to reality -- the "racism" of the Clintons.

The only word for what happened to Clinton is "Swift-Boating" -- a totally ridiculous accusation that was able to go from "controversy" to "conventional wisdom" without a single fact to back it up because those making the charge had access to the media.

Caucuses weren't Clinton's weakness -- reality was. Reality dictates that a successful Presidential campaign requires proper time and asset management during the Primary season -- you don't waste your time and effort in heavily Republican caucus OR primary states for Super Tuesday -- that's your chance to (re)introduce yourself to voters in the states that you need to win in November.

Clinton ran the ultimate "reality based" campaign, and Obama's campaign was absolutely irrational as a step to achieving the real goal of winning in November. And this irrational strategy was a perfect fit for a complete irrational attack on Hillary and Bill Clinton based on non-esistent racism.

Submitted by lambert on

God, Paul, am I stupid. I never saw that, and it was right in front of me. Shit, shit, shit.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

from Faludi's piece, and ironic, i think -- "... people who can dominate more decisively when the rules are decorous. ... this clucking overclass: who are they to do battle by imposing rectitude instead of by actually doing battle? ..."

; >

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

It's appropriate, and catchy!

" . . . we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . ."- Winston Churchill

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

be complimented by it, probably--what's he gonna do then?

He was able to paint his opposition and her voters as racist, but his new opponent and the other party willingly assume that label if it helps them win--they won't be upset by it -- or hurt by it at all. He'll actually be doing their job for them.

myiq2xu's picture
Submitted by myiq2xu on

"Obama is playing the race card - again"

To which McCain will add: "Just like he did to Hillary."

" . . . we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . ."- Winston Churchill

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

i bet you're right--Once it's an attack against their beloved McCain, Obama won't get a pass from anyone anymore.

This is good, and very related:

Ten Suggestions for Barack Obama -

(in a nutshell, it says he has to become Hillary--lots of toughness stuff)

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

i read in a comment somwehere yesterday the truest thing--that Obama is the opposite of tough, and just nasty and sniping.