Lost, occasionally, in the hoopla of Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy and the news-grabbing stunts of President Bill Clinton, is discussion of Sen. Hillary Clinton's historic run to be the first female president.
Gender, however, has proved as much a hindrance as help to Hillary, said Dee Dee Myers, the former Clinton administration press secretary. And following losses to Obama in the last ten primaries, she adds, the former first lady will have a "very difficult" time in turning her electoral fortunes around, in part because of her sex.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Myers, author of "Why Women Should Rule The World," offered sweeping explanations for why Clinton has stalled: Her candidacy was overwhelmed by concerns over dynastic politics; Clinton was forced to walk the difficult line between appearing powerful or domineering; the press has been unreasonably harsh. But the sharpest critiques were saved for the overall campaign strategy.
"They woke up after Super Tuesday and just didn't have a plan," said Meyers. "They didn't have a firewall between Feb 5 and March 4. There was no state where they said we were going to make sure we win: Maine, Wisconsin, wherever it may be... How is that possible? What group of professionals came up with that plan?"
Making matters worse, she added, there are few tactics or attacks that Clinton can initiate which will likely bring Obama down to earth.
"When I really realize this guy was impossible to run against," said Myers, "was when someone asked him how his [Iowa] victory felt. And he said: "Just like I told my kindergarten teacher it was going to feel. I was like 'Oh... Point. Set. Match.'"
With all these obstacles, Myers concluded, Clinton's campaign finds itself in a fragile place. In fact, at one point in the interview, Myers caught herself slipping into the past tense when discussing Hillary's run at the White House.
"[Billie Jean King], when she played Bobby Riggs in the battle of the sexes tennis match in the 1970s, said that there was so much pressure she felt if she lost that she would set back her gender for 50 years," recalled Myers. "I don't think people feel that way for Hillary Clinton and that's a good thing. I don't think that in spite of the obstacles that gender has presented and the opportunity that gender has presented, it would have been historic for her to have been... I'm talking in the past tense. Look, I think the path for her is difficult, not impossible. She has to thread such a small needle from here on out. That's just reality."
As with the anecdote above, through all the bumps in the campaign road has been the subtext of Clinton's gender. And as Myers posits, sex has reared its ugly head multiple times in the presidential nomination.
Take the media. "You can still say anything in the press about a woman and really there is no penalty. That is not necessarily true about race, nor should it be," said Myers. "The things people have said about Hillary Clinton are mindless. Take Rush Limbaugh. And not just him, Chris Matthews can go on the air and say the only reason people vote for her is because her husband cheated on her. You could never say similar things like that about other candidates and not pay a penalty."
MNSBC, in particular, drew Myer's ire. The culture of the station, she argued, had allowed for misogynistic rhetoric, like when now-suspended correspondent David Shuster said daughter Chelsea Clinton had been "pimped out" to recruit superdelegates.
"I think what he said on the air is just what everyone says in the green room and behind the cameras over there," said Myers. "He just got caught."
Myers should know about the politics of gender. In the Clinton White House, she was paid less and held a lower title than her male predecessors. Her book, to that end, is an ode of sorts to the positive role that woman could play in public and private life if stereotypes were simply lifted. And in that regard, Myers summarized, women of all ages and political stripes feel something of an affinity to Clinton's candidacy.
"I think gender in some ways has been Hilary Clinton's ally, but in more ways it has been an obstacle," she said. "[Women] have felt this strong pull to both this idea of a woman president but also a reaction against what people instinctively feel is the treatment [of Clinton]. I think a lot of women are experiencing it very personally."
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