I wasn’t much impressed by Hillary’s speech last night. Over the last four days, a parade of citizens from all walks of life testified to Hillary’s goodness and brought me around to thinking she’s got this one in the bag. Then she stepped up to accept their nomination.
Of course, I hold her to a different standard than most of her followers. I’m a man. But I have my opinions.
Men, especially white men, are Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem. White men constitute around 34% of the electorate, and they are Donald Trump’s biggest bastion of support. An early summer poll by ABC/The Washington Post found Clinton trailing Trump by 4 points among white men with a college degree, and 14 points among those without.
It’s easy enough for a man to come to a verdict on Trump. He’s either a crazy motherfucker or he’s going to make America great again. And we all know what that means: Restore our manhood.
But there are a number of complicating factors to consider when a white man has to decide whether to vote for Hillary. First and foremost is her husband, Bill, whom we didn’t much like in the first place.
For those old enough to remember, Hillary came into the public eye as the feisty spouse who wasn’t going to just sit back and bake cookies like Tammy Wynette while the press pilloried her husband over his infidelities. She proved that when she lashed out at Bill’s accusers during the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Privately she seethed at his stupidity, but she soldiered on and won a Senate seat in New York. We like that kind of grit.
Then she ran for President herself, losing out to Hope and Change in a primary battle against Barack Obama. Obama didn’t get a majority of our votes. (57% of white males voted for John McCain.) But he won our respect. He played basketball. He told a good joke. He lifted America out of the greatest economic collapse since The Great Depression. And he appointed Hillary his Secretary of State, which seemed like a gracious gesture at the time.
Her tenure as Secretary of State complicated things again. Yes, she visited some 112 countries representing the United States in dark days when Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Gaza and Iraq were going through their internet-fueled Arab Spring. Obama got all the credit for the good things: bringing our troops home, keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran’s hands, hunting down bin Laden. And what did Hillary get credit for? Benghazi.
Bill Clinton and other speakers artfully threaded a new narrative through our collective memory at this convention. They told the story of the Hillary nobody knows, a woman who has dedicated her life to improving the lot of children, the disabled, immigrants, and, of course, women.
The best visual of the week was the moment when a photo of the 44 drab men who have occupied the Oval Office shattered to reveal her buoyant face on the Jumbotron. The female delegates swooned, cried and waved signs saying “History.” And even the men had to admit it was a cool graphic.
Then President Obama set her up in one of those speeches only he can give. He endorsed her as the most competent man or woman to ever seek the office and eviscerated Trump like he was sliming Salmon in Alaska. Bring on the nominee!
A Terrible Speech
In the Pantheon of great orators, Hillary’s bust will never grace the main hall. She’s given thousands of speeches, none of them memorable. She speaks in the cadence of a White house tour guide with all the modulation of Siri reading the phone book. When she wants to make a point, she shouts. And she delivers an applause line like it’s cold pizza in a cardboard box.
But her acceptance speech might have been one of her worst. Before the largest unfiltered television audience she will have this election cycle – debates are another, but they let reporters into those — she wasted the opening five minutes thanking her daughter Chelsea for the introduction and Bill for conversations that filled her with joy in the good times and “tested us” in the bad. She went to thank Obama for his friendship, Joe Biden for, well, being Joe Biden, Michelle, Tim Kaine, Bernie Sanders, and young people in general.
“I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause,” she said. In her mind, that means making the Democratic Party platform happen.
Hold your breath and see if you can get through this paragraph without keeling over. She then outlined her plans for more jobs, higher wages, immigration, clean energy, gun control, drug addiction, mental health, prescription drugs, children with disabilities, money in politics, Flint’s drinking water, climate change, profit sharing, a minimum wage, unfair trade deals, affordable health care, social security, small business, technological innovation, student debt, trade schools, family leave, income inequality, racial strife, voting rights, LGBT rights, worker rights, defeating ISIS, reforming the criminal justice system, and building America’s infrastructure.
The problem with a Hillary Clinton speech is she tries to cram in so many good causes they wind up smothering each other, and none get more than a sound bite of explanation. There is no arc to her narrative. Her speeches are all notes, and no harmony. They’re bullet points taped together with bumper stickers like “Stronger Together” and “Love trumps Hate” and “Keep America Safe.”
There were reports earlier in the week that Hillary was home fine-tuning the details of her speech. “It’s true,” she confessed. “I sweat the details.” My suspicion is she was just shuffling the PowerPoint deck and practicing her pauses. Her big ideas are just a lot of small plans that, as Daniel Burnham famously said, “have no magic to stir men’s souls.”
The Reluctant Feminist
I’m a man who came of age in the first wave of feminism. I read “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (and came away thinking those women sure know a lot more about their anatomy than we do). I supported the women’s movement in college, but I also supported the football team. We men are easy that way.
I admit I’ve been distracted by a woman’s appearance, her smile and her willingness to put up with my jokes. That’s part of the whole pheromone thing that keeps the human race going. But I never patted a girl’s butt, or whistled as she walked past a construction site, or made her take a twirl in my office to get a job.
I never worked for a large company where unequal pay was built into the salary structure. I worked in the film industry — over, under, and alongside women — and we all thought we were underpaid. But I know the pay gap is real.
It wasn’t until I had children and a wife with a job that maternity leave, day care, and women’s health issues crossed my radar. Over time, I came to understand things boys took for granted (high school sports, military service, business opportunities) weren’t available to girls in the same way.
So I get that Hillary was on to this early, and she not only brought it to the national conversation, she helped get something done about it. And her success fundamentally leveled the playing field in America.
But I have grown sons now who take all that for granted. They are a key demographic in this election: 30-somethings, unmarried and focused on building their own careers.
They’re not one of the unemployed blue collar workers who painfully watched their factory jobs go overseas. They’re in the 95% of white men who are employed. (Maybe not as gainfully as they – or I – might wish.) They too see a future in technology, clean energy, and innovative start-ups that will change America. But they also watch a lot of TV, and when they look at “The Apprentice” they think to themselves, “Someday, I’d like to be that guy.”
Earlier this week, I was talking with my son about the convention, and he told me, “Enough of this woman stuff. What’s she going to do for me?” And I don’t think Hillary gave him any answers.
I like to think I’m more broad-minded than that. I’m a man. I can live with complexity. I think making America better is a team sport, and I don’t mind making a woman team captain. I wish Hillary inspired me more. But I’ll still probably vote for her.
Because the other guy is an asshole.