Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hillary Cried, or Why the Public Admires Politicians Who Suffered

The biggest shocker of the 2008 campaign was Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire primary win. Polling numbers said she was about 9 points behind on Monday night, then Tuesday she won. People tried to figure out why she won. Some said the turning point occurred at a women’s meeting in Portsmouth when Hillary was asked how she gets up in the morning every day to campaign. Battling tears Hillary answered, “It’s not easy.” The Wall Street Journal videotaped the scene and suddenly it was all over the news and the Internet. Many mocked Hillary Clinton, but others admired her. At a deep level the public connects with politicians who have suffered. We don’t want our politicians to have an easy life. We want them to confront challenges and rise above them.

Suffering humanizes politicians, making them easier for us to understand and to connect to. This is vital because politicians are far away from the average voter so we need to find a way to connect. Suffering knocks politicians off their high horse making us realize they’re not perfect; they’re like us. Suffering makes us sympathize with them. I’ve often noticed politicians have a defining personal challenge. It may not be the worst thing that happened to them, but for some reason the public focuses on that one challenge.

FDR’s challenge was that he became paralyzed from the waist down when he caught polio. Would he have become president if he hadn’t been paralyzed? FDR was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Rich, handsome, elite, spoiled, private school educated, blessed with the name Roosevelt (of Teddy Roosevelt fame), Roosevelt had had an easy life and a relatively easy time getting elected. When a wheelchair and crutches became a staple of his life, the public saw a man with a crippled body and high spirits. Roosevelt’s crippled body symbolized America crippled by the Great Depression and his positive attitude symbolized America’s spirit which cannot be crushed by any obstacle.

Likewise the public focused on George W. Bush’s battle against alcoholism. They focused on Hillary Clinton’s ability to save her marriage despite her husband’s infidelity which was a giant embarrassment because the press kept repeating “read all about it!” Bill Clinton’s defining challenge was trying to help his mother by confronting a violent step-father who abused his mother.

The Republican and Democratic tickets have four candidates and so far it seems the public has found a defining challenge for three of the candidates. The public has focused on Sarah Palin’s child with down’s syndrome, John McCain’s torture and years as a prisoner of war and Joe Biden’s losing his wife and child in a car accident. I don’t think the public has found a defining challenge for Obama. Perhaps that’s why people keep asking, “Who is Obama?”

I don’t know why some politicians have a defining challenge. People don’t get together in groups and ask, “What is this candidate’s defining personal challenge?” I believe the process is spontaneous. The process as I understand it is that each voter feels for a candidate, they have a stronger feeling about one challenge the candidate faced and that challenge, in the voter’s opinion, is the candidate’s defining challenge. When you add up all the voters’ feelings if there is one sympathy feeling that everyone overwhelmingly feels, then that is what the public thinks is the candidate’s defining challenge. What the public sympathizes with most is not necessarily the most difficult challenge the candidate has faced. It’s just that that is how the public feels.

People who face tough challenges are more sympathetic and more admired than people who lived an easy life. That’s why a defining personal challenge makes people like a candidate more. That may not make sense to the mind, but it makes sense to our feelings. We feel connected to those who experience challenges because we are constantly challenged in our own lives. When Hillary Clinton said “It’s not easy” people could instantly feel for her. It wasn’t easy for Hillary to run for president. For over 200 years sexist people have blocked women from becoming president. We have tried again and again yet sexist people have worked against us to block us from breaking the glass ceiling.

A sexist male-dominated media hurled hate speech at Hillary Clinton non-stop in an effort to convince the public not to allow a woman to become president. The sexist media hid damaging information about her male competitors in order to help men beat a woman in order to maintain male dominance. The DNC did virtually nothing to stop the sexist hate speech against Hillary Clinton. The DNC twisted the rules to help a male candidate at the expense of the only female candidate Hillary Clinton.

Women are the most oppressed group in the world in terms of numbers and degree of harm. In this country hate crimes against women and girls happen every day. Sexism motivates people to attack us with hate speech, brutalize us, and kill us. There are much more hate crimes against women and girls than against any other oppressed group in the United States. Hate crimes against us are a national epidemic, therefore it should be a top priority of the government to end male dominance.

So when Hillary Clinton said, “It’s not easy” that sentence clicked in the minds of the voters. In order to understand the sudden public shift towards Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire it is necessary to know about her “It’s not easy” speech. And about why it wasn’t easy for this brave woman whose hard work lifted women higher. Now the next step is to break the presidential (and vice presidential) glass ceilings. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!