Tuesday, May 24, 2016


David Brooks has been boring me lately -- these days I can't even be bothered to hate-read him most of the time -- so I wasn't going to address today's column about Hillary Clinton, titled "Why Is Clinton Disliked?" But it's inspired a lot of responses, so I'll tell you why his theory makes no sense.

Brooks writes:
But what exactly do so many have against her?

I would begin my explanation with this question: Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun?

... when people talk about Clinton, they tend to talk of her exclusively in professional terms. For example, on Nov. 16, 2015, Peter D. Hart conducted a focus group on Clinton. Nearly every assessment had to do with on-the-job performance. She was “multitask-oriented” or “organized” or “deceptive.” ...

Clinton’s unpopularity is akin to the unpopularity of a workaholic....

At least in her public persona, Clinton gives off an exclusively professional vibe: industrious, calculated, goal-oriented, distrustful. It’s hard from the outside to have a sense of her as a person; she is a role.

This formal, career-oriented persona puts her in direct contrast with the mores of the social media age, which is intimate, personalist, revealing, trusting and vulnerable. It puts her in conflict with most people’s lived experience. Most Americans feel more vivid and alive outside the work experience than within. So of course to many she seems Machiavellian, crafty, power-oriented, untrustworthy.
There are three people left in the presidential race, and only one has a positive favorable rating in public opinion polls. Quick: What does Bernie Sanders do for fun? Do you know? Do the people who like him know? Does Brooks know?

Donald Trump is viewed negatively by most Americans, but a lot of people really, really like him. Elsewhere in the column, Brooks says, "We know, unfortunately, what Trump does for fun." And what is that exactly? He has a reputation as a womanizer, but that seems to be mostly in his past. Yes, he plays golf -- but other than that, he conveys the impression that his idea of fun is doing deals and making money. So the people who like Trump like him because they think he works hard.

Bernie's fans think he's extremely focused on his political crusade, and they like him for it; they don't like him because they think he has a well-rounded life with lots of hobbies.

The difference is that Sanders, even though he may not exactly be a happy warrior, seems to draw energy from campaigning. Trump does too. They seem to be enjoying themselves.

Clinton doesn't. She seemed to have grace and panache when she was secretary of state (as Paul Glastris notes, at that time she was well liked and seen as a workaholic). Now she seems awkward. Politics doesn't come naturally to her. Public speaking seems painful for her.

I've cued up a clip of Clinton from last night's Rachel Maddow Show, and I'd like you to watch a minute of it. Watch Clinton as she gives a speech: Her face is stern and scowling and her gestures are stiff, even when she gets to an applause line about beating Trump.

And then we cut to another moment on the same podium: Clinton greets a political ally and there's sheer joy on her face. You can see the two of them are friends, and so you see Hillary as a human being. I'm assuming that second part actually came first, before Clinton gave the speech; Clinton was happy -- and then she had to do the part of her work she struggles with. But that real person is in there. In that happy moment, she seems likable. But it's clearly difficult for her to summon that person up when she's doing most of the work a candidate does.

If she has a problem, I think that's it -- and if you're inclined to distrust her, you can read what you want into that stern countenance. We're all told, in childhood stories and a great deal of popular culture, that evil people are transparently unpleasant. They scowl as they plot to do dastardly things. That's what Hillary-haters think she's doing. That's why they think she's scowling: because fairytale villains and villainesses scowl. Scowling goes together with deviousness and malign intent.

In real life, villains often have a great time. Trump is a terrible person, but some people think he isn't because he's enjoying himself. If you're conditioned to equate joy with beneficence, Hillary looks like a bad person. And, alas, that may help decide the election.


Orthodox said...

I used to think Brooks was such an intellectually dishonest guy that posing this kind of question and coming up with anything other than "there has been a media hatefest over her for the last 25 years" would just be SOP for a conservative hack like himself. Now, having read him for years, I think he's posing the question honestly, and tries to reach a conclusion honestly, and reaches the one he does because he really is an idiot. A stupid person's idea of a smart person.

ladyblug said...

I read that David Brooks piece before coming here and I laughed coffee out my nose! The man needs to retire!

AllieG said...

It's a Hobson's choice. If a woman candidate does not radiate earnestness and seriousness on the stump, she is doomed as she will be seen as "another dizzy dame" if she campaigns with gusto and smiles too often.
There's nothing preventing Clinton from buying some TV time to address voters as if they were the small groups she prefers, and she may well do so.

Nefer said...

I would think that if she seems uncomfortable with the schmoozing, gladhanding, public speaking, and general bullshitting needed for the public side of political campaigning, many people would empathize with her.

Lots of people can smile warmly at you and make you feel special, all the while picking your pocket or positioning that knife against your back just so.

Professor Chaos said...

Of all the possible objections to HRC, the fact that she works really hard is what Brooks thinks makes people dislike her? What color is the sky in Brooks' world?

Tom239 said...

Jonah Goldberg called Brooks on this over at NR.

An amusing difference between his posting and, say, this one is that Goldberg sees fit to say "With all due respect to Brooks" before he gets critical.

Chai T. Ch'uan said...

I think 90% of this is pure projection. To many Republicans, and most Trump supporters, yes, this is a personality contest, like in high school or on reality teevee. And to Brooks, Presidential elections really do hinge on who the voters want to have a beer with.
To many Democrats, and most Sanders supporters, it's the issues that we are voting on. Rachel knows this, and is usually better than this. I'm disappointed in her here.