SEPARATED AT BIRTH: HILLARY CLINTON AND TRACY FLICK
Anybody who dares to philosophize about moral issues surely recognizes a distinct occupational hazard: you feel like a hypocrite whenever your values and your conduct fail to coincide, which is bound to happen with some frequency. In my case, I have always been struck by my professing to be “rationalistic” – note the name of this blog – when, in fact, I’m an extremely emotional creature. I like to see myself as “passionate;” it’s a positive-sounding word. But when your passions cause you to be resentful, angry, or disgusted by the behavior of others, it’s pretty darned hard to listen to that Voice of Reason. She gets drowned out rather easily.
For we who are both passionate and philosophical, perhaps the best we can do is to detect and unveil our own biases. So I’d like to devote this post to one of my own. Specifically, I’m referring to my intense allergy to Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
If there’s someone among us who were to chronicle all my comments about the Democratic front-runner during the past several months, s/he would surely find many good “reasons” for opposing her candidacy. I’ve surely suggested that she is polarizing, calculating, cold, often insincere, unwilling to apologize, and downright mean at times; she represents dynastic rule, rather than a return to democracy; her ambition clouds her judgment; she’s never successfully run anything bigger than a Senate office; she plays the gender card at a time when we need to unite and not divide. I could go on, but why bother? I’m not exactly revealing anything that hasn’t already been aired by the media.
So yes, there are plenty of good reasons not to care for Ms. Clinton as a candidate, but there are plenty of good reasons to fault the claim of any mere mortal to serve in the world’s most powerful position. Few have even come close to measuring up to its demands. My question is why do I find this particular person so distasteful, compared to the other candidates? You could point to sexism, but I tend to like many public figures who are women. It’s not her gender. Then what is it?
The answer didn’t dawn on me until I watched a funny little black comedy called Election. Released in 1999, this movie was widely acclaimed by critics. It starred Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, but it was Witherspoon’s performance as Tracy Flick that stole the show. Premiere Magazine, in its list of the 100 greatest acting performances in
Election focused on the least important political campaign imaginable – a race for student government president. Tracy Flick was a little miss perfect high school junior who felt that the presidency was nothing less than her destiny.
When the movie first introduced the election, Flick was running unopposed. She’d set up her little booth and gave out gum to anyone who signed her petition. Clearly, this was a girl who knew what she wanted, knew how to get there, and couldn’t imagine that anyone could stand in her way. Her campaign even had a cute little motto: “Pick Flick.” With the passage of time, her giveaways became increasingly elaborate, culminating in customized cupcakes for all voters. In her mind, she couldn’t imagine why any student would pick anyone else.
Then, one day, Flick got some competition. Paul Metzler, who was played by American Pie’s Chris Klein, was a prototypical boy next door. Tall, handsome, athletic, genuinely kind, and neither intelligent nor stupid, Metzler was extremely popular among his peers. As he began to gain more support, Flick became more and more angry. She must have been incredulous that anyone could vote for this boy, whom she must have seen as a moron, as compared to herself, a natural aristocrat. Here’s the way Witherspoon described what it felt like to play Flick: “She clenched her teeth and jutted her jaw forward, particularly when she was angry, which was ninety-five percent of the film. I just remember after the movie was done, my jaw hurt so bad. I had TMJ from holding my jaw so tight!”
Eventually, Flick’s anger got the better of her. She ripped up a Metzler poster when nobody else was around to see her. And then, to cover up the deed, she ripped up her own posters. Would she get away with it? Would she become SGA president? Would Broderick, the teacher who presided over the election, somehow find a way to bring her down to size? I’ll leave these questions unanswered, as I don’t want to spoil the film too much for those of you who haven’t seen it, which I’d urge you to do. Premiere Magazine may have gone a tad overboard in its raves, but that Flick character will stay with you. In fact, it stays with me whenever I see Hillary Clinton’s face on the screen.
The parallels between these women are endless, and they seem to grow more profound with each month Hillary spends campaigning. Like
We saw that in Election when Flick ripped up Metzler’s poster in a fit of rage and then coolly covered up the deed. But until recently, we didn’t see that “win at all costs” mentality from the
Perhaps six weeks ago, the tide turned. Obama and Edwards realized that it was time to take Hillary on – especially by pointing out that she is waffling on the issues. When that happened, and her rivals got a little bounce in the polls, Hillary lost it. No, she didn’t rip down any Obama posters (at least none that I’m aware of), but she did everything but. She directly questioned her rival’s character. She challenged him for being overly ambitious because of a statement he made when he was five. And one of her lieutenants even questioned Obama’s drug use – raising the specter that years ago, he wasn’t merely a user but also a dealer.
I think even most house cats don’t have claws that sharp. But
To get back to the point I made at the beginning of this post, I have to make a concession here. Tracy Flick is a fictional character and a stereotypical one at that. We can’t possibly exaggerate her features because those features, taken to the nth degree, make her what she is. But maybe, just maybe, I have turned Hillary Clinton into a stereotype when, in fact, she’s a complex human being who surely has a limit to her cravenness, and a quantum of compassion that Flick could only dream of having. Maybe, in other words, my biases have allowed my mind to under-appreciate what semblance of class Hillary truly possesses.
Moreover, I will also admit that the stereotype that Flick represents is laden with gender issues, and my disgust for Hillary might accordingly have something to do with her being a woman. So the fact that I don’t feel the same way about most other women politicians doesn’t mean that I’m not somehow holding Hillary’s gender against her, albeit subconsciously.
I’ll concede those points to Hillary’s defenders. And yet I don’t think they take away much from a point of my own. Many human stereotypes are gender-linked – such as the oily used-car salesman (Romney?) or the curmudgeon (Gravel?). But that doesn’t mean that these stereotypes don’t elicit emotion, or that they shouldn’t elicit emotion. The reason why the Tracy Flicks of the world are so distasteful is that they’re mean, unscrupulous, phony, arrogant, and are no more entitled to what they seek than the genuinely nice, but less ambitious, people they walk over throughout their lives.
Hillary Clinton may not be as extreme as Tracy Flick, I’ll grant you that. But she is reminiscent of Flick, pretty damned reminiscent, if you ask me. Democrats who might personally prefer people like Obama or Edwards but who back Hillary because she is more “electable” might consider