Tina Brown Continues Backhanded Compliments Of Hillary Clinton

Illustration for article titled Tina Brown Continues Backhanded Compliments Of Hillary Clinton

I'm not sure how to read this Tina Brown article about Hillary Clinton (and "The Woman Thing"). It's like Brown wants to compliment the Secretary of State, but she only knows how to express that via negging.


The premise of the article is that "Hillary seems to have found, in the heart of her chief rival's administration, an unexpected comfort level" — and there's probably a certain amount of truth to that; Clinton seems much more comfortable doing a job than campaigning for one. But as someone who supported her in the primaries in large part because I never bought the line that she was cold, uncharismatic or blinkered by ambition (nor the line that Obama was one whit more progressive), every time I see one of these "Now Hillary's really hitting her stride!" articles, I can't help thinking it's not Clinton who's changed, just the media narrative. And Brown's contribution to that is, as usual, so bizarrely backhanded, I hardly know where to start.

The first line seems as good a place as any: "Hillary Clinton has spent her entire career looking bug-eyed with incredulity when an interviewer asks her whatever question she most expects at that moment. Her theatrical bemusement was more convincing than usual on Monday's Today show..." Hey, check out how genuine Clinton seems — what a departure from her long history of being completely disingenuous! This is followed by a recounting of Clinton telling Ann Curry that she doesn't care much about the spotlight, and maybe that's "a woman's thing." Says Brown:

A woman's thing! In that phrase alone the secretary of State revealed what distance she has put between herself and the 2008 campaign trail. Mark Penn, then her strategist (or saboteur, depending on how you look at it), would have aborted that "woman's thing" thought before it was even conceived.

Now, you don't want to get me started on Mark Penn, but let's pause for a little reality check. The prevailing wisdom that Clinton was an unfeminine hardass who tried to divorce herself from her femaleness never came from her own actions, regardless of what bad advice she was getting. She was always a staunch supporter of women's rights, she often spoke of her experience as a woman and a mother, and not for nothing, even if she wanted to come across as androgynous, she was constantly fighting off criticism of her hair, her clothes, her "cleavage" and her "tears," not to mention being grilled about her husband's behavior and cast as an overambitious former first lady rather than a savvy politician in her own right. That the narrative of her Thatcheresque machoness survived as long as it did — pierced only by occasional "breakdowns" and minor neckline failures — is more of a testament to the media's stubborn insistence on that image than her own behavior or Penn's shittastic strategy. Now that there's no threat of her becoming president or anything crazy like that, we can all generously acknowledge her humanity and femininity. Hooray.

But of course, it's not as if anyone's saying that femininity was there all along. "It's as if," says Brown, "she has checked out of that tiresome phallic competition and acknowledged what's different-and valuable-about her own female nature." And what is "valuable about her own female nature," exactly? Oh, the fact that she's willing to step aside, offer the limelight to others, do her job quietly like the good little wonk she is, and forgo the credit. This is totally not a sexist interpretation of events meant to reinforce an underlying idea that Hillary is now somewhat admirable only because that famous ambition has been tempered! Brown thinks it's clever! "Everyone expected Hillary to fight for the limelight with Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke. But she was smart enough to let that booby prize be all his... If we don't know where she stands on Afghanistan, it's not because her views aren't strongly held. It's because she's smart and mature enough to give them to the president, not the press." And hey, knowing just how much criticism the president takes, she even had the foresight to lose the Democratic primary! Way to go, Hill!


Also, her new position "plays to all her strength as a superwonk policy cruncher" (read: nerdiness). "You can imagine how much Hillary digs" writing position papers about Afghanistan for Obama, because deep questions about foreign policy were "the kind of stuff she'd dig into at Wellesley over spring break." See how complimentary that is? Clinton's really, really smart and always has been! And also, being Secretary of State is much like being an overachieving undergrad. Or something.

Finally, what's the most important thing Clinton's accomplished as Secretary of State? Perhaps "sweet-talk[ing] the on-again, off-again Armenians and Turks into ending hostilities over massacres that took place during World War I" or something like that? Nope! "It took Obama's presidency to do what she could never achieve in the White House or on last year's campaign trail: She's got Bill under control at last. From the moment she entered Foggy Bottom, he's been as good as gold. The big dog's in his kennel and she's holding the leash." Oh, thank heavens! It was all worth it!


The weird thing is, I get the feeling Tina Brown secretly likes Hillary. She just seems constitutionally incapable of building her up without subtly (and not so subtly) knocking her down; of admiring Clinton's talent and success without pointing out that she's under Obama's thumb, less visible than she set out to be, and married to a guy everyone's still more interested in; of praising her smarts without coming off as a cool girl rolling her eyes at the straight-A keener. If Brown were trying to get a date with the Secretary of State, Mystery would be proud.

Hillary And The 'Woman Thing' [Daily Beast]

Earlier: Tina Brown-Style "Tide Of Trivialization" Threatens To Swamp Clinton Trip
What's More Important: Rape In Congo Or Hillary's Bad Hair Day?




Being a wonk myself, I'd be more than willing to take backhanded compliments from some nincompoop if it means I get to be Secretary of State.

Nerd secret: the people calling you a nerd/wonk in a bad way are probably dumber than you.