Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Age Lines

Rush to Judgment
Published: December 19, 2007

What does it take to get Maureen Dowd to write a column sympathetic to Hillary Clinton? How about a tag-team drive-by attack by Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh insinuating that the 60-year-old Hillary Clinton looks like a 60-year-old woman and that is somehow a Bad Thing.

When men want to put down a powerful woman in a sexist way, they will say she’s a hag or a nag or a witch or angry or hysterical.
Dowd observes that these attacks haven’t stopped Hillary as her campaign team finds way to soften her image, if not her age lines.
But some conservative pundits who disagree with a woman on matters of policy jump straight into an attack on the woman’s looks or personal life.

And so the inevitable came to pass this week when Rush Limbaugh began riffing about an unflattering picture of Hillary in New Hampshire that Matt Drudge put up on his Web site with the caption, “The Toll of a Campaign.”
Rush Limbaugh uses this as the jumping off point for a trademarked bloviating rant on how the office of the Presidency prematurely ages its occupants. At one point he almost wistfully regrets:
Do you think a bloated president could win? We had plenty of fat-guy presidents. Do you think one could get elected today? There's not a prayer!
But the line that draws Maureen’s ire is:
Observing that Hillary is stuck with a looks-obsessed culture and that the presidency ages its occupants, including W., Limbaugh observed that “men aging makes them look more authoritative, accomplished, distinguished. Sadly, it’s not that way for women, and they will tell you.”

And Hillary, he noted, “is not going to want to look like she’s getting older, because it will impact poll numbers, it will impact perceptions.” So, he added, “there will have to be steps taken to avoid the appearance of aging.”

He said that voters lean toward attractive men, too, and that since TV, it’s less likely that a bloated “fat-guy” president would get elected — recalling that some were gauging whether Al Gore would run by checking his weight.
I wonder if Dowd isn’t referring to herself in the third person here. From her May 23, 2007 column, “Pass The Clam Dip” she had these observations of the earth-sized Al Gore:
It’s no wonder Al Gore is a little touchy about his weight, what with everyone trying to read his fat cells like tea leaves to see if he’s going to run.

He was so determined to make his new book look weighty, in the this-treatise-belongs-on-the-shelf-between-Plato-and-Cato sense, rather than the double-chin-isn’t-quite-gone-yet sense, that he did something practically unheard of for a politician: He didn’t plaster his picture on the front.

The Goracle does concede a small author’s picture on the inside back flap, a chiseled profile that screams Profile in Courage and that also screams Really Old Picture.

Diane [Sawyer on “Good Morning America”] was not so easily put off as he turned up his nose at the horse race and the vast wasteland of TV, and bored in for the big question: “Donna Brazile, your former campaign manager, has said, ‘If he drops 25 to 30 pounds, he’s running.’ Lost any weight?”
In her defense, Dowd concludes that it shouldn’t matter what Al weighs if he wants to weigh in on the campaign.
Mr. Traub said that, as he followed the ex-vice president around, the Goracle was “eating like a maniac: I watched him inhale the clam dip at a reception like a man who doesn’t know when his next meal will be coming.”

If Al Gore is really unplugged and uncensored, as Tipper and his fans say, then he is no longer bound by the opinions of gurus, mercenaries and focus groups. He can be himself, and inhale away and still run if he wants.
But back to Hillary, the double standard where men are “distinguished” and women are “well-preserved” makes Dowd fume:
Women are still scrutinized more critically on their looks, which seem to fluctuate more on camera, depending on lighting, bloating and wardrobe.

Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and John Edwards almost always look good, and pretty much the same, in dark suits or casual wear. Fred Thompson always looks crepuscular and droopy. Often Hillary looks great, and sometimes she looks tired, heavier or puffier. Jim Cole, The Associated Press photographer who took the offending shot, said that there were several other pictures that day where she looked “radiant.”
As a case in point, Wonkette, the usually kick-them-when-they’re-down snarkfest, puts together a more flattering picture of Hillary and compares it to recent photos of other candidates in their early sixties and Senator Clinton doesn't fare too badly.

Maureen compliments Hillary and her handlers on the consistency they have brought to the former First Lady’s image.
Since this is the first time we’ve had a woman who was a serious contender for president, it’s been an adjustment to watch her more changeable looks, and to see the lengths she goes to get the right lighting and to make the right wardrobe choices. She has a much more consistent look than she did as first lady, when she made a dizzying — and disconcerting — array of changes in her hair and style.
Dowd concludes by saying that if you are going to attack Clinton, go for her apparent lack of substance, not her appearance.
Hillary doesn’t have to worry about her face. She has to worry about her mask. Back in the ’92 race, Clinton pollsters devised strategies to humanize her and make her seem more warm and maternal. Fifteen years later, her campaign is devising strategies to humanize her and make her seem more warm and maternal.

The public still has no idea of what part of her is stage-managed and focus-grouped, and what part is legit. It’s pretty pathetic, at this stage of her career, that she has to wage a major offensive, by helicopter and Web testimonials, to make herself appear warm-blooded.
And nothing gets Dowd hotter under the color than cheap shots at women of a certain age who manage to remain relevant as they age gracefully.

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