OPEN UNIVERSITY JANUARY 28, 2007
by Linda Hirshman
All weekend the websites and papers were full of coverage of Hillary Clinton in Iowa. In addition to being a citizen myself, I am interested in Clinton's campaign, because I have been working on a project on women as citizens for a while. My hypothesis is that American women, believing that politics has no ultimate meaning, raised on a steady diet of the authenticity of private feeling and in retreat from communal ties to the single family dwelling, were the actually incarnation of, pardon the gendered language, Nietzsche's last man.
Before Senator Clinton arrived in Des Moines, I indulged myself in some speculation, about what a campaign dependent on support from such women might look like. I concluded that she would have to deploy a weird combination of conventional suffering female autobiography herself and super macho toughness on her opponents to stand a chance with that particular segment of the electorate. To my astonishment (and delight), on her first foray down the campaign trail, that seems to be exactly what she is doing. It is driving Frank Rich crazy. It will be interesting to see if she can keep it up.
The star turn in her big speech in Iowa Saturday was her statement that she "was going to ask people to vote for me based on my entire life and experience ... the fact that I'm a woman, the fact that I'm a mom, is part of who I am." The Telegraph reports that Chelsea, not exactly Nancy Pelosi's grandchildren-producing machines, but still an offspring, is about to reappear on the campaign trail.
The candidate had the good sense not to reveal the War Room Hillary at the same event as mom, but at another appearance that very day, "mom" showed her readiness to play with the big boys in the world of attack politics, sharing her strategy in the most graphic terms: "When you're attacked you have to deck your opponents."
Now that I have had that rare academic experience of seeing my scenario played out in the arena, I wonder if she's going to learn to be a little more discreet about her tougher side. Counterpunches can always come from somewhere deep in the campaign rather than from the candidate herself. The most interesting thing about the macho mama is the somewhat ambivalent response--"some laughter and applause." But the loving mama got exactly what Hillary had to be hoping for. "You go, girl!"