Hillary Clinton’s perception gap


My attention was drawn to this good piece about Hillary Clinton by this from my good friend Mike Fitts:

I had to smile at that, and respond, “The more open-ended the better, even though that really got on ‘s nerves…”

By which I meant that the task-oriented Cindi went into a meeting with a source with goals in mind. The more experience-oriented Yours Truly went into them to see where they would go — the more unexpected the direction, the better. I liked learning things I hadn’t expected to learn.

Given that I was so free-form, Mike was a particularly valuable member of the editorial board. He enjoyed the experience of finding out where, for instance, Joe Biden would go next as much as I did (I think). But he was also organizing what he heard into a structure that enabled him to help guide our discussions later so that they were more efficient, more fruitful. (I wrote about this in a column when he left the paper, “Mike Fitts helped us make up our minds.”)

So, when Mike tells me that a piece is worth reading because it takes the best you get out of a wide-ranging interview and goes it one better, I pay attention.

The piece is very good, and very insightful, and it’s hard to explain why in fewer words than the entire piece. The author, Ezra Klein, admits that the explanation of why people who personally know Hillary Clinton think a lot more of her than those only know her through media is… inadequate. At least at first. The thing is, she listens.

Yeah, I thought the same thing. So did Klein:

The first few times I heard someone praise Clinton’s listening, I discounted it. After hearing it five, six, seven times, I got annoyed by it. What a gendered compliment: “She listens.” It sounds like a caricature of what we would say about a female politician.

But after hearing it 11, 12, 15 times, I began to take it seriously, ask more questions about it. And as I did, the Gap began to make more sense.

Modern presidential campaigns are built to reward people who are really, really good at talking. So imagine what a campaign feels like if you’re not entirely natural in front of big crowds. Imagine that you are constantly compared to your husband, one of the greatest campaign orators of all time; that you’ve been burned again and again after saying the wrong thing in public; that you’ve been told, for decades, that you come across as calculated and inauthentic on the stump. What would you do?…

It’s right about there that I started to get it…

You know how impatient I get with people who are all excited that Hillary Clinton would be the first woman to be president? That’s because their explanations for why that matters are ridiculously inadequate, and it comes off as identity purely for the sake of identity (“a president who looks like me!”), and y’all know how much I dislike that.

The problem with feminism is that it makes like it matters to have women in office while simultaneously insisting that you believe that there’s no important differences between men and women — which of course means that it shouldn’t matter.

But a feminist friend once said, meaning to be kind, that I was a “difference feminist.” And perhaps I am. And Klein does a good job of explaining why Mrs. Clinton’s gender makes her a different sort of candidate, and why I should care about that:

Let’s stop and state the obvious: There are gender dynamics at play here.

We ran a lot of elections in the United States before we let women vote in them. You do not need to assert any grand patriarchal conspiracy to suggest that a process developed by men, dominated by men, and, until relatively late in American life, limited to men might subtly favor traits that are particularly prevalent in men.

Talking over listening, perhaps.

“Listening is something women value almost above everything else in relationships,” says Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown linguist who studies differences in how men and women communicate. “The biggest complaint women make in relationships is, ‘He doesn’t listen to me.’”

Tannen’s research suggests a reason for the difference: Women, she’s found, emphasize the “rapport dimension” of communication — did a particular conversation bring us closer together or further apart? Men, by contrast, emphasize the “status dimension” — did a conversation raise my status compared to yours?

Talking is a way of changing your status: If you make a great point, or set the terms of the discussion, you win the conversation. Listening, on the other hand, is a way of establishing rapport, of bringing people closer together; showing you’ve heard what’s been said so far may not win you the conversation, but it does win you allies. And winning allies is how Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination.

Given where both candidates began, there is no doubt that Bernie Sanders proved the more effective talker. His speeches attracted larger audiences, his debate performances led to big gains in the polls, his sound bites went more viral on Facebook.

Yet Clinton proved the more effective listener — and, particularly, the more effective coalition builder. On the eve of the California primary, 208 members of Congress had endorsed Clinton, and only eight had endorsed Sanders. “This was a lot of relationships,” says Verveer. “She’s been in public life for 30 years. Over those 30 years, she has met a lot of those people, stayed in touch with them, treated them decently, campaigned for them. You can’t do this overnight.”

One way of reading the Democratic primary is that it pitted an unusually pure male leadership style against an unusually pure female leadership style. Sanders is a great talker and a poor relationship builder. Clinton is a great relationship builder and a poor talker. In this case — the first time at the presidential level — the female leadership style won….

Anyway, you should go read the whole thing.


9 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton’s perception gap

  1. David Carlton

    Done that. Ezra Klein, I think, has done a terrific job of explaining to me just why it is I like Hillary Clinton, but also how maddeningly flawed she is. His explanation of her often jaw-dropping carelessness about stuff like the e-mail server or the GS speeches–that she isn’t more careful because she figures the media will damn her if she does and damn her if she doesn’t, makes a lot of sense, especially since the part about the media is *true.* But that still doesn’t excuse it; character, as one of my old grammar-school teachers said, is what you are in the dark, and a good middle-class Midwestern Methodist girl should know that. It’s especially maddening in that Klein makes a good case for her *good character.* When it comes to her calling she’s serious, hard-working, caring, and smart (She knows her Max Weber!). Given her overwhelming superiority to the (cough!) alternative, it’s her election to blow (Please don’t!).

  2. Assistant

    I think you need to consider the source. Ezra Klein is a propagandist, one of the founders of the infamous JournoList, the once secret listserv used by ~400 left-wing journalists, activists, policy wonks, and other B-Ship candidates to coordinate propaganda, political messaging, and the like. He’s the founder of Vox:

    “According to Klein, the mission of Vox is “fixing the news” by “delivering crucial context alongside new information.” The website routinely promises to deliver literally “everything you need to know” about a given topic—authoritative, ideologically neutral assessments, in some cases delivered in two minutes or less.”

    That’s worked out real well as Klein’s observations on the Constitution demonstrate:

    “My friends on the right don’t like to hear this, but the Constitution is not a clear document. Written 100 years ago, when America had 13 states and very different problems, it rarely speaks directly to the questions we ask it. The Second Amendment, for instance, says nothing about keeping a gun in the home if you’ve not signed up with a “well-regulated militia,” but interpreting the Second Amendment broadly has been important to those who want to bear arms. And so they’ve done it.”

    So I choose to regard every work he writes as balderdash, a concoction he dreamed up to support whatever position he’s pushing at any given instant.

    Step back for a moment from Klein’s latest pseudo-analysis and consider the oodles of loot the Clintons have amassed in their personal account, their charitable foundation, and the missus’s campaign chest. It’s rather shameless, no? I don’t begrudge folks making a great living, but what have the Clintons created? There’s no Amazon, no Facebook, no iPhone, just influence and intimidation.

    That’s why she’s got support, not because of some supposed feminine rapport that she channels so exquisitely. Besides, there are enough accounts of her nasty disposition to make any reasonable person wonder about her. But that’s just me.

    Consider the source.

    1. Vito Corleone

      “I don’t begrudge folks making a great living, but what have the Clintons created?”

      It makes no difference, it don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand. But your business is a little dangerous. In any event, I want to congratulate you, Ms. Clinton, on your new business and I’m sure you’ll do very well and good luck to you. Especially since your interests don’t conflict with mine.

    2. Doug Ross

      It’s fascinating to watch Hillary supporters try to humanize her. She’s a lovable introvert”. She’s a listener. She’s a great relationship builder. Watching the narrative unfold as the story is disseminated through the liberal echo chamber is a textbook example of confirmation bias. She is what you want to believe she is because the alternative (truth) would be too hard to accept. What if instead of an introvert she was just someone who didn’t like other people? What if instead of being a listener she was simply someone who had already made up her mind? What if instead of being a relationship builder she was just a ruthless Machiavellian person?

      She may be a good listener but she has earned millions talking… without ever actually doing anything.

  3. Doug Ross

    Latest polls out of Florida and Iowa (two key states) show Trump leading in each.

    If he wins Florida, election night is going to be a late nighter. If he wins Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan, it’s going to be very close.

    Hillary can’t hide much longer. She’s been in bunker mode ever since Bernie dropped out.

    1. Doug Ross

      The message for Hillary supporters is that you can’t just hope for Trump to lose. Hillary has to demonstrate something that shows she should win. Trump is campaigning hard, every day.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, fellas, all of that said, what did you think of the piece?

    I thought it was good. He made me appreciate the listening thing, which is not an easy thing to do. Because my initial reaction to it was the same as his: LISTENING? BFD. Is that all you got?

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