Why are so many women — especially white women — voting for Hillary Clinton? Not because they are so very supportive of her becoming the first female president. I think it’s because they feel sorry for her. And this time, it’s not because she’s craftily played the victim card, which she’s done on more than one occasion. This is real pity.
In the last few days, Clinton’s vulnerability has become painfully real, as her wrinkles and the bags under her eyes deepen. On primary night, her calculated cackle turned into a hacking cough. And she looked like she was running, not only out of money, but out of clothes. That acid-yellow jacket glared out at TV cameras in state after state. She has taken to wearing colored beads that clash with her nondescript pant suits. Perhaps her color-coordinated accessories were misplaced in a suitcase left behind in a primary state she felt she was going to lose.
Who could have guessed back when Hillary entered the race — and so smugly declared in a flower-bedecked living room that she was “in it to win it” — that she would be so low on cash in February that she would have to dip into her own pockets? And that her crack staff, who at one time were thought to be running such a perfect campaign, would be going without pay for a month? Of course, Hillary has backtracked on that story, saying the money is rolling in once again and her staff is back on the payroll.
And who would have thought that she would need to keep Big Bill — the “best politician of our time” — completely out of sight? Nowadays, her public proxy is daughter Chelsea. The newly straight-haired Chelsea is the one reaching out to younger voters and shoring up Hill’s appeal to women. On primary day, Chelsea called the co-hosts of The View and cajoled them into saying nice things about her mom.
The trouble is, what was supposed to be a stately procession to the nomination is turning into a snarly high-school election between the hardest-working girl and the coolest guy. And Obama sure is cool. He looks so sleek and sharp, loping down the Capitol steps, checking out his messages on his Blackberry. Although he catches fire in front of a crowd, at most other times he seems unruffled and offhand.
He has proved to be a natural, and that is what Hillary, always trying so hard, is not.
Although her tears in New Hampshire might have been a trifle calculated, I can believe that in private, surrounded by her staffers, Hillary really is welling up these days with frustration and rage. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Even her supporters acknowledge how tough it has become. On primary night, Jack Nicholson’s endorsement — “She never gives up, she never gives in” — seemed as sympathetic as it was enthusiastic.
And it is Hillary’s disappointment, the fact she is making such an effort and it isn’t working out, that women are now responding to. This time she isn’t the victim of someone else’s bad behavior but of her own shortcomings and the bad luck of having a more charismatic opponent. And that can make women, who might have found her “smartest woman in the world” pose hard to take, a lot more willing to be supportive.
They know what it’s like to lose out to a younger, trimmer rival. Whoopi, Joy, and Sherri, the Democratic co-hosts on The View, seemed to be saying they liked Obama, but they had voted for Hillary because she needed them. I am sure a lot of women will continue to feel this way until the Democratic nomination is decided. And I still think Hillary may be the nominee — but, after this prolonged tussle, she will be a much-weakened candidate. After all, how can she go back to playing the tough, decisive, experienced professional when her greatest support comes from those who think she needs propping up?