Hillary Clinton can duke it out when she needs to. Or duchess it out. That was on display during the most recent Democratic debate when she confronted Bernie Sanders’ persistent charges that she is tainted by her financial ties to Wall Street and the political “establishment.” His accusation, she spit out, was “a very artful smear.” “Smear” is one of the most brutal pejoratives in the campaign game.
With Martin O’Malley no longer cluttering the stage, it was just Bernie and Hillary, mano a womano. And she played the female card: “Sen. Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment.”
More power to her. However, less of it to her defenders, who are offensive when they say that her gender somehow shields her from the brutal grinder that anyone must go through while running for the most powerful office in the world.
My dozen or so regular readers might be aware that I like to quote the journalists’ cliche “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” In other words, be skeptical of the claims from anyone you’re covering. That certainly must include the first mother, who has a strong chance to be America’s first woman president.
That should seem obvious, but there’s a crescendo growing from Hillary Clinton supporters, mostly her female supporters, that she is getting unfair treatment, particularly from male critics and reporters, being subjected to a double standard. Allow me to speak as just one person who has covered the Clintons for a long time: That is a crock.
First of all, some of us, meaning me, will be ecstatic when a woman shatters the White House glass ceiling. The question is will this one be preferable to her opponents. Let’s be honest, many of my journalistic colleagues gave Barack Obama an easy ride the first time around in 2008, largely because they were seduced by the story arc that ended with a black president of the United States. There were other obvious story arcs, one of which concluded with Hillary Clinton taking the oath of office on Inauguration Day. And here she is again. To be frank, she’s not always a terrific candidate. Any reporter worth his or her salt is going to take her with a grain of salt, mainly because of her lawyerly dissembling and word parsing over touchy ethics controversies. That’s particularly the case for those of us with long experience covering the Clintons.
It’s the same leery approach we must take to Bernie Sanders’ grandiose promises of change, and Donald Trump’s bigoted demagoguery. It also goes for the theocratic smarminess of Ted Cruz, or the theocratic bumbling of Ben Carson. We must be just as hard on the chameleonlike nature of Marco Rubio, the Chris Christie bullying, Jeb Bush dithering and John Kasich trying to expropriate the “compassion conservative” label that worked for Jeb’s brother, W.
Of course, it’s OK that women will be rooting for candidate Hillary Clinton in the same way blacks overwhelmingly support Barack Obama. It’s hard to get elected in Boston if you’re not Irish, and we certainly understand the pull that Canadians would feel from one of their own, Ted Cruz. (OK, that last one was a cheap shot.)
Those of us who are professional skeptics shouldn’t cheer for anyone. By the way, that goes a long way toward explaining why politicians, who prefer sycophants, don’t like us. Hillary sure doesn’t. Bernie is disdainful. Ted Cruz trashes us; Ben Carson, too. Jeb usually criticizes us, but you see what that’s gotten him.
It’s hard for candidates and their true believers to understand, but the path to the White House is not supposed to be a cakewalk. It’s really constant pie in the face. That’s not a double standard for women, it’s just standard equal opportunity skepticism.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.