The E-Harmony Election
When did voting become like dating? And when did it become like dating yourself?
Posted Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008, at 5:34 PM
Every time you see a commercial that reminds you of your long-ago brush with violent crime, that time you were declined for health insurance, or the day your red phone rang at 3 a.m., you're being reminded that your own life narrative is more important than that of the candidate. And we are all so obsessed with finding a candidate who feels our pain, mirrors our experience, and validates our stories that we've forgotten that doing so is shrinkingour national political universe down to fit us. Anna Quindlen suggests this week that the campaigns jumped the shark even before the conventions. Which is not surprising, really; even 14-year-olds get bored after seven months of looking meaningfully into the mirror.
The problems with voting for the candidate in the looking glass are myriad. For one thing, it alienates us from candidates who are smarter than we are (too intellectual), more charismatic (too messianic), or even more famous (too much of a celebrity). For another, the voter seeking to validate his own life story is conflating political issues with personal problems. Men who see themselves as victims of an affirmative action firing in the '80s become the ancient mariners of affirmative action. Women who were asked to make coffee in 1991 are still reliving the humiliation.
This year in particular, women do stand to suffer disproportionately from behavior that plays into the age-old stereotype of the hormonally challenged, boil-the-bunny crazy lady. And the ultimate giveaway that all this has less to do with Hillary Clinton than with her voters is not just the fact that she cannot get them back onto the reservation. The real proof that this is about us is that the individual who stands to lose most if the Hillary Holdouts help to elect John McCain is, of course, Clinton herself. It's she who'll be held accountable if her followers don't fall in line. A glittering political career will be reduced to a punch line: Clinton will become the queen of the bunny-boilers. She who Sherpa-ed her flock to Crazyville.
We know, we know. It's not about anger; it's about issues. It's not about feminism; it's about the process. It's not about the primary; it's about Hillary being passed over for the vice-presidential spot. It's not about what Obama did; it's about what he didn't say when they did bad things to her. But that's the problem with umbrage. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
So the Hillary Holdouts are speaking out, making waves, being heard. And some proportion of them will ally themselves with the man who laughed and said, "That's an excellent question" when asked during the primaries, "How do we beat the bitch?" If they think they feel unheard, disrespected, and cast aside now, just wait until President McCain moves into the White House. Because not only will he not want to hear their complaints, but neither will we.
Melinda Henneberger is a Slate contributor and the author of If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians To Hear.
Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.
Photograph of Hillary Clinton with her supporters by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.