Monday, February 18, 2008

Clinton Helped Make Her Own Raw Deal

I’m no Hillary Clinton fan, but I’ve started to question if she’s gotten a raw deal from the media. An excellent article in the most recent edition of The New Yorker makes the case that she has, but that it’s as much due to Clinton’s messaging mistakes as it is to media bias. She reveled too much and too long in her tough image and insider experience while Barack Obama easily positioned himself as likable and fresh.

The implications of Obama’s and Clinton’s respective meta-narratives for their press coverage have been profound. For Clinton, the inability to change the story line meant that any vaguely negative maneuver was interpreted in the darkest possible light, for it reinforced a preexisting supposition. For Obama, however, any criticism could be fended off as a manifestation of grubby old politics. And any act he committed that could be perceived as nefarious created cognitive dissonance

Name recognition is generally a boon for a candidate. But Clinton has much more than name recognition. She has character recognition, and that’s not so beneficial. Public figures do better when they hide their inner workings, but Clinton seems to have no hood, the mechanizations of her ambition and the faulty wirings of her insecurities clearly visible. Combine this with a lingering sexism that demands powerful women be masculine and then makes fun of them when they are, and it’s surprising we ever bought into the idea that she was a “sure thing” for the nomination.

She may yet win this race but there is no doubt that the campaign has gone very poorly. Her failure to close that hood or at least add some more horsepower to the old inner workings made it all too easy for the media and many voters to see her exactly as they’ve always seen her. The major media shouldn’t be so lazy but it’s unsurprising that they are. The voters are, I think, far more blameless. Clinton and her campaign have certainly done enough to warrant scorn and Barack Obama has presented a compelling enough case for himself.

So, it really comes down to a very odd situation: Yes, Clinton has gotten a raw deal, but it’s her fault for not seeing this coming and doing more early on to prevent it.

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