3/15/2007

Strangulation by Triangulation: Hillary

One of Hillary's greatest weaknesses is the fact that she seems impersonal on the campaign trail. People often lament that she fails to connect with people because of her perceived lack of warmth. Male politicians are often able to overcome this even if they are ridiculed. Freshman Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland is a perfect example of this. Al Gore came tantalizingly close to doing the same thing six years earlier.

But for Hillary, as a female, fair or not, the consequences of her personality are a bit different. As recently as the 2004 election, Dick Cheney was lauded for being a no-nonsense tough guy even though he was as warm as a lump of coal in a West Virginia coal mine. However, Hillary is pilloried as being "cold" or "distant." People have even talked about the pantsuits she wears on the campaign trail and deride her as being "unfeminine" because of it.

Be that as it may, there is a far more important weakness Hillary has to contend with. It's the fact that she has a tendency to contort herself in order to avoid offending anyone and alienating their votes. She does not want to anger any particular constituency. She won't apologize for her Iraq War vote, which angers the left. But she criticizes President Bush's management of the war, which angers the right. It's like she habitually tries to play both sides of the field. That is a perfect example of "triangulation," a political maneuver perfected by her husband.

For example, a few months ago Hillary advocated pulling the U.S. military troops out of Iraq. Sounds like a typical lefty position, right? Well, she also advocated increasing the military presence in Afghanistan, which makes those on the right take notice. So she's both in and out of the "hawk" and "dove" camps at the same time.

Her latest foray into triangulation concerns gay rights. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace recently said that it was his "personal belief" that "homosexuality was immoral." That's his opinion. Whether it's appropriate for someone of his position to state such an opinion is a different story.

Hillary, however, would offer as strong a condemnation of his remarks as she could without actually endorsing the opposite view:

Clinton's spokesman, Philippe Reins, said the New York senator "obviously" disagrees with Pace and that everyone, including the general, "has the right to be wrong, but should not inject their personal beliefs into public policy."Then Wednesday night, the campaign released a statement from the senator herself, saying, "I disagree with what he said and do not share his view, plain and simple." It is inappropriate to inject such personal views into this public policy matter, especially at a time in which there are young men and women in such grave circumstances in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and around the world," Clinton said.
You'll notice that you can find nothing in Clinton's remarks that tell you exactly what her opinion is on the issue. All she says is that she "disagrees."

Does she support homosexual rights? Does she think homosexuals should serve in the military? Does she think homosexual acts are immoral? Why doesn't she just come out and say it?

Because of triangulation.

Hillary is a perfect example of a 7-10, the title of this blog. She has the gay community sitting on the 7-pin and the conservative evangelical community sitting on the 10-pin. She offers these carefully parsed statements (bowling balls) which allow her to allay both constituencies (and convert the 7-10 into a spare) without alienating either one (and thus leaving an 8- or 9-count).

Hillary's very good at this game now. However, the game of politics is not won by converting 7-10s alone. Sometimes you need to throw some good old-fashioned strikes to get your constituency riled up and draw buzz to your campaign. Playing it safe all the time makes it seem like you have no core convictions and that you're nothing more than a panderer. I believe Obama is capitalizing on this, which is why Hillary keeps checking over her shoulder to see if he will overtake her. Such overcaution feeds into the negative caricature of Hillary as being cold, calculating, unempathetic, and unauthentic. (And unfortunately, "unacceptably unfeminine.")

In short, Hillary had better hope that her triangulation doesn't lead to her being politically lost at sea in the Bermuda Triangle of having no core supporters. The gay community is the latest group to pick up on this...

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5 comment(s):

notverybright said...

You've put your finger on precisely what I dislike so about her. It's all calculation, and stands in sharp contrast to the apparently-sincere Obama straightforward approach. Stop with all the machinations already.

Domingo said...

Do your research. She clarified her remarks on her Senate site: "I disagree with General Pace completely. I do not think homosexuality is immoral."

http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=270721&&

(By the way, Obama messed up this one, too, and also had to release a clarifying statement.)

As for Don't Ask Don't Tell - she came out against it in 1999.

On marriage equality, she is a pragmatist. She understands the rest of the country probably is not there and gets stuck at the word "marriage."

Obama and Edwards both say they oppose marriage equality because of their faith. I'm sorry, I'll take a pragmatist over a Baptist anyday. (I know Obama is not Baptist, but I was going for the rhyme.)

Anthony Palmer said...

It is possible that she released this statement after I made this post. (I am posting from Japan until the end of the month, so I am 11 hours ahead of EST.) Having said that, it is good for her campaign that she clarified her remarks. But the fact that she even needed to clarify them fits into the caricature people have about her.

Silence Dogood said...

Clarification coming later or not, this is exactly what Mr. Palmer is speaking of I believe. The press et cetera will remeber her first remark on the statement, and she too knows, this will be the one that makes the news headlines. This is where the calculation comes in, and the back page retraction/clarification is enough to catch the trawlers who go to here site thinking "she coudln't have meant that" and those who felt she was already on board with their views from her initial statement think "well she is Ok with me, why investigate further" I do find her cold and calculating.

Steve Johnson said...

I have never found her to be cold, at least not more so than the average politician. And I know we need someone who is more than just the average politician to be president material, but I definitely feel that the criticism she receives is unfair. And I agree with your implication that a lot of it has to do with the fact that she is a woman.