How Not To Attack Anybody

So Gloria Steinem went on the stump for Hillary Clinton and provided pretty much a textbook on how not to go after one’s political opponents.  At the same time, Steinem manages to reinforce a pattern from the Clinton campaign that has played out time and again throughout the course of the primary season.

The pattern in question is the one in which a high profile Clinton surrogate levels an attack that would be out of bounds for the Clinton campaign, and then the Clinton campaign, after having the benefit of the attack being voiced mind you, comes in to perform damage control and make it clear that Hillary herself would never think such a thing.  The only new twist here is the fact that Obama is not the only target going here.

The most severe and ill conceived notion put forth by Steinem was the belittling of McCain’s time as a POW.

“Suppose John McCain had been Joan McCain and Joan McCain had got captured, shot down and been a POW for eight years. [The media would ask], ‘What did you do wrong to get captured? What terrible things did you do while you were there as a captive for eight years?’” Steinem said, to laughter from the audience.

McCain was, in fact, a prisoner of war for around five-and-a-half years, during which time he was tortured repeatedly. Referring to his time in captivity, Steinem said with bewilderment, “I mean, hello? This is supposed to be a qualification to be president? I don’t think so.”

There are a couple of interesting things that are just off here.  The first, of course, is riffing on McCain for being a POW; not a very good idea. Just because Family Guy got away with it doesn’t mean you get to during the course of a presidential campaign.

Simply put, there are a lot of folks out there with POW-MIA flags up at their homes, there are a lot of folks both liberal and conservative who have a great respect for the military, and indeed of John McCain’s service more specifically, and denigrating his time as a POW will only make one look petty, anti-military, and un-American.  There is something to be said about the idolatry of the military in this country, I will grant Gloria Steinem that point, however; service members as a whole do also deserve our respect.

Indeed, I’m a little peeved about this comment Steinem makes about the military:

“I am so grateful that she [Clinton] hasn’t been trained to kill anybody. And she probably didn’t even play war games as a kid. It’s a great relief from Bush in his jump suit and from Kerry saluting.”

To the Observer, Steinem insisted that “from George Washington to Jack Kennedy and PT-109 we have behaved as if killing people is a qualification for ruling people.”

I was in the military for ten years and I never killed anyone.  Never even learned how.  In boot camp, I did a couple of days’ worth of target practice, but we’re talking about with a gun that had a laser attachment on it so you weren’t even using real bullets.  The sentiments above show how little Steinem understands about the military, how she pigeon-holes it into a world view that she chooses to adopt but does a disservice to the scope and breadth that military life provides.

So, Steinem’s remarks about McCain and the military in general might be great for the ultra left anti-war crowd now, but would prove to be like slow fed arsenic in a general election.

To be honest, I think Obama has about the right strategy going against McCain in light of his time as a POW.  You commend his service, as Obama has at times.  You even show a little grace and suggest McCain is true American hero.  But then you tie McCain’s stances as close to Bush as possible which isn’t all that difficult.

The greatest part about this strategy, I believe, is that not only is it effective… it’s true.

Steinem also wrongly suggests that had McCain been a woman, his story would be maligned by the press and the sexist public.  This is not necessarily true; remember Jessica Lynch?  Her story was embellished and glorified to the point where, upon getting out of the Army, Jessica felt the need to publicly correct the tale and set the record straight on heroics she did not perform.

McCain wasn’t the only focus of Steinem’s speech, though.  Obama was not forgotten as she pulled out the very mature which-identity-demographic-suffered-more argument to suggest that the idea that racism is viewed as more serious than sexism could explain Obama’s lead over Hillary.

This is a charge that frankly continues to piss me off; this insane assertion that not supporting Hillary Clinton is somehow sexist.  It is an insult to those who have based their opinion on the merits of the candidates and not on gender or race.  Further it is itself a charge steeped in the kind of identity politics that I believe only makes us weaker.

Yes, Obama will bring up things such as race and gender, but if you listen (and you don’t even have to listen very carefully), he does so in the context of how all these different identity groups are coming together and working together despite racial, generational, or gender divides.

Then there’s this:

There is, she said, “a great deal of pressure at play for her to act like her gender and give in.” Several shouts of “No!” came from the crowd. Steinem went on: “It’s a way of reinforcing the gender roles, right? Men are loved if they win and Hillary is loved if she loses…But maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of an open convention that actually decides something. After all, it was an open convention in New York City that gave us Abraham Lincoln.”

Again, I’m going to have to disagree.  Indeed, I think it’s about right that had the roles been reversed, and Obama had been the candidate to suffer eleven losses in a row with the momentum at his opponent’s back, he would be the one asked to step down.  And this far more so than what we are seeing in regards to Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, the general consensus is that she has tomorrow to wrestle this election in her direction before the real calls for her ouster begin.  True, there are those who are already calling for it, but the fact that there are so many who are giving her at least this one chance is a testament to the regard that most seem to have for Hillary’s political capabilities.

Clinton is getting, essentially, a benefit of the doubt that few other politicians would be afforded.  And yes, there is a wish from many that she should step down if she loses Texas or Ohio tomorrow, but that is not because she is a woman who should know her place, but instead because if this nomination fight goes on for too long and gets too ugly, it would have the effect of essentially handing the White House over to John McCain.

And the closer comes courtesy Howard Wolfson:

“Senator Clinton has repeatedly praised Senator McCain’s courage and service to our country. These comments certainly do not represent her thinking in any way. Senator Clinton intends to have a respectful debate with Senator McCain on the issues.”

A mea culpa so commonly seen throughout this campaign it almost has that “I’m Hillary Clinton, and I approve this message” ring to it.

5 Responses to “How Not To Attack Anybody”

  1. attack politics is retro chic and obsolete nowadays

  2. Pug says:

    Gloria Steinem has always had a tin ear. Why the Clinton campaign would allow her to act as a surrogate is hard to understand.

  3. Um… maybe because their ears are a little tinny too?

  4. terry says:

    I’m horrified and embarrassed for my gender by those remarks from Gloria Steinem.

    The Clinton campaign is either incredibly stupid or incredibly arrogant. I’m not sure which is worse.

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