Friday, January 11, 2008

Was Clinton's Near-Crying Episode Contrived?

With the Wall Street Journal reporting this morning that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may endorse Sen. John McCain for the Republican nomination, and McCain faring quite well in last night's South Carolina Republican debate, and campaigning vigorously in Michigan, it seems this morning that the McCain effort in the scrambled Republican race is going well.

Michigan is up next, with the Republican primary Jan. 15, and the Democratic one getting little attention, because the state defied the wishes of national Democratic leaders in setting the primary early, and, in response, most Democratic candidates are not campaigning there. Former Gov. Mitt Romney, whose father, George Romney, was once governor of Michigan, is contesting McCain in Michigan. McCain has won the endorsements of both the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. Sen. Hillary Clinton may have the edge in what little Democratic campaign there is.

Meanwhile, the Democratic campaign, for the moment, has moved on to South Carolina, where the Democratic primary will be Jan. 26, and Nevada, where caucuses will be held Jan. 19. Clinton was in Las Vegas yesterday, dissing Sen. Barack Obama, challenging Culinary Union members to defy their union chiefs who have endorsed Obama, and she will go on to California today. In both Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Clinton is making a pitch for the Latino vote, viewed as a promising group for her.

After her surprise New Hampshire victory, upending Obama narrowly after he had led the polls by 10 points, much has been written about the apparent turning points of the New Hampshire contest, which brought Clinton back from the brink of defeat and again made her the favorite in the Democratic race.

There were two incidents in the last three days in New Hampshire that seem to have gone Clinton's way. By far the most important was her tearing up in a Portsmouth, N.H. coffee shop when she was asked by a 64-year-old woman, Marianne Pernold Young, how she managed to hold up under all the pressure of the campaign. That set Clinton off on an emotional statement which seems to have won her many women votes in the primary the next day. In Iowa, more women coming to the caucuses had voted for Obama than Clinton. In New Hampshire, this plurality was reversed.

Yesterday, the often cynical conservative columnist Robert Novak said that everything he knew about politics suggested to him that this episode was contrived, that Clinton had nearly burst into tears as a campaign ploy.

But a long, detailed article in the Los Angeles Times yesterday by Faye Fiore and Peter Nicholas reported that the woman who asked the question had nearly not asked it out of embarrassment, and that, in any event, the woman who asked the question ended up voting for Obama. This would seem, if the woman was telling the truth, to indicate that the question was not a plant and that Clinton could not have known it was coming.

I wonder. It is very convenient for the woman in question to deflect suspicions by saying she had ended up voting for Obama. I'm just a little suspicious.

The other episode that seems undoubtedly to have helped Clinton had to do with Saturday's Democratic candidates debate, when former Sen. John Edwards and Obama gained up on Clinton, and, when an improper question came up as to her likability, Clinton handled it well, and Obama did himself no good by suggesting dismissively that Clinton was "likeable enough." The exchange seems to have rallied many women voters to Clinton, just as her near-crying outburst did two days later.

Edwards, the third-ranking Democrat in the New Hampshire vote, compounded the positive effect for Clinton in both the debate and then, Monday, after the near-crying episode by his negative remarks. In siding with Obama in the debate, he contributed to the impression that the other candidates were piling on Clinton, and then, Monday, he suggested that her near-crying meant she was not tough enough for the presidency. Edwards' words in both cases probably redounded to Clinton's benefit.

The New York Times yesterday examined the women's vote in the Democratic contest at length in an article by Jodi Kantor headlined, "Sexism Involving Clinton Rankles Certain Sizable Demographic."

Kantor found that between Iowa and New Hampshire women had rallied to Clinton, because they felt she was being denigrated on sexist grounds, and they decided in the end that, as one woman put it, "I was really pained by the thought that her campaign really was over."

What bothered women "as much as the Iowa results, said several dozen women in states with upcoming primaries, was the gleeful reaction to her defeat and what seemed like unfair jabs in the final moments before the New Hampshire voting," Kantor reported in this powerful article.

She added. later in the article, "In interviews, some Democratic women over 40, who said they had experienced stinging sexism at school and in the workplace, seemed to long for the election of a female president -- they said Mrs. Clinton would fill the role just fine -- as a grand moment of validation. But younger women, who have grown up in a world of greater parity, seemed less likely to allow gender to influence their vote."

Eli Saslow has a story in the Washington Post this morning about divergences regarding a vote for Clinton among the young women at Wellesley College, which Clinton once attended. And author Judith Warner has a piece in the New York Times suggesting that voting for Clinton as a result of her showing emotion in the coffee shop does not speak very well for American women in this era.

All this indicates that the various deep emotions aroused by the first serious bid of a woman for the presidency are not going to go away soon. They will be with us as much in the fall campaign as they are now in the Clinton-Obama contest.

I've said before that Clinton strikes me as much more divisive than the idealistic Obama and that the election of Clinton would mean a continuation of the cultural divide which has roiled the country's politics throughout the Clinton and Bush presidencies. I tend to think Obama, even though he would be the first black president, would be less divisive and set the country on a new promising course.

But, with many women now flocking to her banner, and the shrewd negative campaigning of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, Clinton might well win the Democratic nomination. I'm less certain about the fall campaign.

A jibe at Obama by former President Bill Clinton in the last days of the New Hampshire campaign, a claim that the Obama campaign is a "fairy tale," meanwhile, may hurt Clinton in South Carolina, where a leading black congressman, James Clyburn, is now angry that the Clintons in his view my be denigrating the Civil Rights Movement. He also did not like a recent statement by Hillary Clinton that it was President LyndonJohnson who finally had to complete Martin Luther King's work. Clyburn is considering moving from a neutral position to an Obama endorsement, which could fortify his position among black voters who constitute half of the South Carolina Democratic electorate. This demonstrates that deep currents are running too in the case of the first black man to have a serious chance to be elected president.

As a footnote, Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic candidate who never gets more than about 2% of the vote anywhere, is calling this morning for a recount of the New Hampshire results, because he says there was a pro-Clinton discrepancy between the vote counts of precincts which had voting machines and those which had paper ballots. This, however, was probably explained by the fact that the machines were in the urban centers where Clinton prevailed, while the paper ballots were often in rural areas where Obama prevailed. New Hampshire authorities defended the authenticity of the result, Kucinich would have to pay for a recount, and a recount almost certainly would not change the result.


David Ulin's review of a book that is a sequel to the famed movie, "The Graduate," in yesterday's L.A. Times Calendar section was a classic example of how authors, as they age, can often go off the tracks. Ulin masterfully dissected the new "Graduate" story, "Home School," by the original author of "The Graduate," Charles Webb, now writing 40 years later. Ulin edits the Times book review which has now been folded into Opinion. This was one of his best efforts.



Anonymous Matt Weinstock said...

Hillary Clinton contrived?

How dare you, sir?

1/14/2008 11:29 AM  

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