Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Hillary Faces Dilemmas of US Macho Culture while McCain has to Embrace Change

On the morning of another crucial day in the race for the White House, both Hillary and John McCain face decisive contests. I'd like to mention two analyses which I've recently seen which I felt had the ring of truth about them.

Shirley Williams observes that the US political culture is very macho. This creates a problem for any woman seeking to succeed within it. Firstly, she is seen as weak unless she talks tough but if she does so, as over Iraq, then her own supporters are alienated- as has happened and will continue to happen quite possibly in the Texas and Ohio primaries. Secondly, if she comes over all girly and feminine, she risks alienating the mass of voters on whom she relies to vote her into power. Seems like, for a woman, right now, it's too difficult to make it- though Hillary carries some extra baggage, of course, like her husband's over colourful biography, in addition.

McCain is on the cusp of clinching his nomination and now faces a contest, probably, against Barack Obama. In the ST last Sunday Andrew Sullivan suggested McCain should not emphasise his experience and record as a legislator. This is because this election has turned out to be one of change If he plays the experience card Obama will trump it with his youth and change ones. He is better advised to go easy on the 'surge'; if it fails he looks bad- if it succeeds Obama can realistically call for withdrawal. Sullivan concludes:

Don’t run on experience. It hasn’t worked with Clinton and it won’t work for him. In McCain’s case it speaks for itself. Why downplay this obvious asset? Because this is a “change” election. If the economy continues to tank, it’s going to be even more of a change election. Remember the Bill Clinton mantra in 1992? “Change versus more of the same.” It worked. And it will work even more this time, since the number of Americans believing that the country is on the wrong track is even higher than in 1992.

Hilary - could you?
All i can say is that the surge is not working
My students are encouraged by me to read as many of your posts as possible as examples of how US politics are perceived in the UK.

Your analysis (albiet 'borrowed' from other sources) is mostly accurate. However, (especially given the outcome of the most recent primaries) I do feel that your views fail to credit the essential conservatism of the US electorate, even in a contest which, as you so rightly observe, is essentially about 'change'.

Research currently in progress by a number of my students (and these involve intensive 'deep' polling)all point to a fairly comfortable Presidential win for McCain against a Clinton campaign that will flounder in the South when the choice is between parties rather than within them.

'Change' in the American context is not as direct or as easily defined as some of the recent UK press have suggested. Your 'Independent' went way over the top after the initial Obama successes. It has always been, in my view, the case that Obama represents a 'flirtation' with 'change' in the ongoing context of celebrity and image yet comprises little more than this when placed in the 'real' circumstances of a 'real' election. Furthermore, my research seems to be indicating that the turnout in this election will not reach anything like the figures seen in 2004 - this will not be 'the most important election of your life.' There are a number of reasons for this:

- Iraq: just 'another thing'. No upper-level appeal either way in poll returns and therefore will not be a 'clincher' between a McCain / Clinton stand-off. The debates will barely mention it beyond a careful skirting around pre-arranged synpotic overviews of causation and phased withdrawal.

- Economy: For those that vote, its a no-brainer. And no fall-out for the Republicans given that Bush has never really been associated with entrenched economic strategy.

- Section: At the final hurdle, the South will fail to endorse a female Liberal from the East.

Thank you for reading.
Thanks for your full and fascinating comment. I guess, from what you say, that you are university teacher in USA and that your students are doing polling as partr of their studies. I have long suspected that we underestimate the 'conservatism' of the US voter- how else could Bush be voted in for 8 years when Iraq was going on for the last occasion? I do take seriously your suggestion that obama is merely a 'flirtation' with change and have also suspected the US is not ready, in terms of attitudes to racism, to accpet a black president just yet. Ditto re waht you say about Hillary and the deep South.
But this contest has astonished everyone so far- not least myself by last night's results- so it's still unclear how deep the call and desire for 'change' goes. We'll find out eventually but your carefully explained reservations are something I will bear in mind right up until that Tuesday in November.
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