POLITICS AUGUST 14, 2013
Here’s a fun game that helps us understand what’s at work in the topsy-turvy New York City mayor’s race, where Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has surged to the lead in a new poll, ahead of the establishment favorite for the Democratic nomination, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The game is: Do these quotes refer to Quinn—or Hillary Clinton in 2008?
1. "She’s doggedly stuck to the fundamentals of the campaign game plan devised last winter: emphasizing her record… talking about…small-bore policy initiatives, and wooing female and Latino voters."
2. "For activists and lefties, she’s a disappointing, old-school machine pol."
3. "The [candidate] who gamely took the stage on Saturday was either sincere and self-serving, depending on your point of view, as well as calculating and cautious to a fault. The net result was that it wasn't always easy to tell just what she was trying to say."
4. "She remains a vulnerable front-runner [and] she’s grappling with the same weakness she’s had the whole race: Many voters have a visceral dislike for her."
5. "On the stump she's robotic ('I don't do spontaneity,' she once said) and almost wholly charmless...Her friends insist that she's far different in person, and I believe them. The one time I talked to her, she was warm and good-humored--her guffaw was genuine..."
6. "She’s stiff on-camera, and even when she’s advocating a good idea, [she] can lapse into soapbox cadences."
7. "The most problematic strain… is the free-floating distrust that was best summarized by a civically attuned television-writer friend of mine. ‘I just find her the most obviously politician-y of the politicians,’ he said."
8. "To keep women's votes… [she] has to make sure they see her the way Bryant does: articulate, smart, qualified, and a woman to boot - and not the way her opponents cast her…: too calculating, cautious, controlling and connected to a certain previous administration."
9. "'It’s understandable that voters want their elected officials to have core values,'" she tells me. 'And for me, it’s about fighting for progress for all people. I’m just who I am. This idea that I’m going to walk around and think about being more authentic—that’s not how it works. You go out there every day and talk to [voters], you engage with them. And then you try to work with them to put policies in place that are gonna help them. I hope that’s where the authenticity is most demonstrated—in the work, in the results.'"
10. "Looked at from one angle, she can be the tough trailblazer, weatherer of a thousand storms. From another, she can be the personification of icy, calculating ambition."
11. "Part of [her] problem here is clearly the specifics of her candidacy, the perception that she is a party hack, a bureaucrat with no inspiration, a brassy or aggressive personality without redeeming brilliance or vision."
12. "In a telling phrase, Goldenberg identifies [her] as being an extended ‘accommodation to entrenched power.’ She is a woman who instinctively identifies with authority rather than its opponents. Goldenberg reckons that if she [is elected], she is unlikely to be radical or innovative. She would be hardworking, cogent and risk-averse."
13. "It is clear that [the columnist] is struggling to be fair, to somehow ‘humanize’ [her], to drum up some dynamism or originality in her candidacy, but the article is oddly flat. She writes, ‘she bursts into her lusty laugh with the snort at the end.’"
14. "It's not the first time in the campaign she's tried to humanize herself," said [x]. "She can't afford to lose votes because people don't connect with her."
What does the echo tell us? Yes, that women candidates are easily tagged with certain labels by the political press. But also that the Quinn campaign does not seem to have fully grasped the lessons of Clinton's 2008 run. One of which was that liberal-leaning Democratic primary voters do not seem to take all that well to women candidates who tuck away their liberal instincts to run an uber-cautious campaign on a platform that amounts to "it's my turn," offering themselves as carrying on the legacy of a larger-than-life man who preceded them. It remains to be seen whether Clinton herself has absorbed the lesson—though watching Quinn's struggles in New York surely offers a reminder that it bears heeding.
Answer key: 1) Quinn, 2) Quinn, 3) Clinton, 4) Quinn, 5) Clinton, 6) Quinn, 7) Quinn, 8) Clinton, 9) Quinn, 10) Clinton, 11) Quinn, 12) Clinton, 13) Quinn, 14) Clinton
Alec MacGillis is a New Republic senior editor. Follow him @AlecMacGillis