The pursuit of happiness on the campaign trail

PhotobucketThis is a sign that was held up at the Indiana Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last Saturday.  Stay classy, boys!  (Posted at No Quarter, via Corrente and Roxie’s World.)

It’s boring to write once again about the shocking misogyny expressed by such a large number of so-called liberals, progressives, and/or Democrats in this primary season.  (Boys and girls, it’s OK to be for Obama–that’s cool.  Just please try to talk more about the super-awesomeness of your candidate than you do about your irrational disgust for Hillary Clinton.)  Historiann will uncharacteristically leave alone the implication that a twice-elected U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate’s primary concern should be keeping her husband “happy.”  Instead, for a change, let’s talk about the sense of entitlement implied by the “she can’t keep me happy” part of the sign.

“Keep[ing] me happy” strikes me as a strangely shallow and self-centered way to pick a President.  “Keep me happy?”  How distant that seems from the noble dreams of 1787, when the nation’s founders strove to design a system that would allow civic interest to finish ahead of self interest.  Maybe I’m just a typical low-information Clinton voter, but I think a President’s duty is better described in three or four words as “serve the people’s interest” rather than “keep me happy.”  (Perhaps Clinton should offer to iron his shirt?)  After all, Thomas Jefferson (you know, one of the guys being honored at that Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner) declared only that Americans were entitled to leaders who would guarantee their liberty to pursue their own happiness.  (Maybe the man needs therapy–friends of mine who’ve done their time in therapy talk about how happiness is one’s own responsibility, not anyone else’s.)

Lest you think this is merely argument by anecdote, let me present you with another anecdote.  At Roxie’s World, you can read a story about an anonymous Obama-supporting Prius owner last Friday who was inspired to leave a scolding note on the windshield of another Prius that sports a Hillary Clinton bumper-sticker.  Here’s an excerpt:

I was saddened to see your Hillary 2008 bumper sticker.  Hillary Clinton represents the worst kind of politics and doesn’t understand anyone beneath her privileged social status.  How can you support her?  Please do the right thing + switch your endorsement to Barack Obama for President!  Obama’s the most progressive candidate that we’ve had the chance to elect in decades!  Plus Hillary’s already too far behind.  At this point, she (and her supporters) are helping John McCain more than anything else. 

You have to read the whole thing–and Roxie’s response.  Historiann has seen some offensive political bumper stickers in her day–the one that said “Osama is praying for you to vote Democrat” comes to mind.  The “abortion stops a beating heart” bumper sticker–inoffensive but for the fact that it was on a pickup truck with an infant and a toddler riding shotgun in the front seat not secured in car seats.  Well, we all have our little soapboxes and hobbyhorses, don’t we?  But I should hardly think that a “Hillary 2008” bumper sticker would merit such a condescending, scolding, and factually challenged note from a fellow Democratic voter.

And yet, that’s where we are, my fellow Americans.  Strange times, indeed!

24 thoughts on “The pursuit of happiness on the campaign trail

  1. Did you see Hill on the Bill O’Reilley show? She is doing the work of the right wing right now!! I think it’s an embarrassment — win at any cost, even if it means sharing O’Reilley’s views on what it means to be “American.” I am convinced the Clinton campaign has been pushing the Wright thing. And her campaign is using the types of attacks you, historiann, have criticized — questioning Obama’s masculinity, etc. Obama is correct that hers is the politics of the past — the Bush/Clinton politics of division and hate. And I venture to say she is more like Bush than McCain.


  2. Rad readr,

    Speaking for myself, I would like to thank you for posting such a wellreason response to Historiann’s post. Too often, people let their emotions get their best of them. Not you. I particularly like the way you equate Bush with Clinton. Classy.

    Whenever, you get back to the Planet Earth, please let me know.


  3. Hey, now–I disagree with Rad too, but he voted for Clinton in his state’s primary, BEW! I don’t know if he’s serious, or if he’s punking me.

    In the event you are serious, Rad: What is it that you saw in her appearance on Bill O’Reilly that you interpret as “doing the work of the right wing?” Obama was on Fox News Sunday week before last, and he specifically pushed right-wing talking points on charter schools, tort reform, and industry deregulation.

    Also, I don’t know what you mean when you say Clinton’s campaign is questioning Obama’s masculinity–when did she (or a surrogate) ever do that? Please provide evidence. (And: “More like Bush than McCain?” Please!)


  4. I’m afraid “happy,” in “keep Bill happy,” means sexually. The plain implication is that Bill screwed around because Hillary was unable or unwilling to satisfy him, which (as we know) is the chief, if not only, duty of a wife. The sign-holder certainly doesn’t believe that a woman President should “keep him happy” in this sense; what he means is “she’s a frigid/castrating bitch,” aand he doesn’t want such a woman in the White House. (He doesn’t want any woman in the White House, of course, and any woman candidate, even if her husband was a model of sexual propriety, will get some version of the same smear.)


  5. Yes, rootlesscosmo–I like your deeper explication du texte. Well done!

    However, the “keeps me happy” part now creeps me out even more. Are Presidents supposed to satisfy us sexually, too? That seems a bridge too far. As a straight woman, I’ve never been the least bit attracted to any President in all U.S. history. (Until we get President George Clooney, that is.)


  6. For the record, the lineups on the “summer gas tax holiday” feature Clinton and McCain v. Obama and Bush, so who knows if the left wing knows where the right wing is flapping these days? That windshield note is a screech. Why do Obamaites always talk/write/recite as if their Bluetooth earthings are permanently tuned to some talking points tape-loop in realtime from Headquarters? If you can’t even do guerilla street-hassling of the friendly opponents except by powerpoint bullets, what will your candidate be able to do once in office? Oh well, at least it didn’t have anything about doing the math, irreversible leads in pledged delegates and popular votes (minus FL/MI), or carbon footprint claims we can believe in. Is “progressive” now some kind of a calling center script, or what? Message discipline is great until it begins to sound like a straitjacket.


  7. BEW, that’s some sophisticated irony there. As historiann notes, I voted for Hillary, so it’s not like I am some “obamanite” or whatever little rhetorical flourish you want to throw out.

    But no, I’m not ribbing you all. Senatorella was all smiles on O’Reilley and when he asked her about Wright, she said, “I would not have stayed at that church,” something she had said before that. But now it is a campaign slogan. And all of this in the context of Wright being “un-American.” Can’t she just stand up and say Wright doesn’t matter?

    Should we talk bout Iran?

    Indy, you talkin to me?


  8. Perhaps Rad Readr is referring to the comment made by James Carville-that if Clinton gave Obama one of her cajones, he would have two. However, I think its important to note (as Historiann is always careful to do) that the candidates themselves aren’t responsible for everything their supporters say or do.

    Its not Obama’s fault that he gets votes from Dems who won’t support a woman, and its not Hillary’s fault that she gets votes from those who can’t fathom a black man as president. I would say its our collective fault if we don’t use this election as an opportunity to talk about how sexism and racism are alive (and in some places thriving) in our country.


  9. About the “keep me happy” part, that in some sense does seem to be what Clinton has made her campaign about. That 3 a.m. advertisement, for instance, and her pandering on the price of gasoline lately come to mind.

    Clinton has been moving further to the right the more this election goes on. This past week she sent out a mailer attacking Obama on guns, with a rifle prominently displayed on the front next to Obama’s head. I have a hard time thinking that anybody can take this sort of thing seriously, but then again, “Nobody ever lost a dollar underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

    And everyone here is right that it is coming from both sides. Right before the PA primary I saw a picture of a man holding a sign saying Barack “Hussein” Obama…Or as this single mom from rural Indiana said yesterday, “I am definitely going to try to go with Hillary. I almost feel like [Obama’s] the anti-Christ from the Middle East.”


  10. And I should add, when Hillary Clinton name-drops Farrakhan and Hamas in debate, as she did in Pennsylvania, it DOES pander to the racism and xenophobia of that single mom in Indiana.


  11. ej–you’re right, I saw that comment from Carville. Ick. (Kind of like people who use the word “seminal” without thinking about it.)

    And Rad–Clinton has several times said over a week ago that Wright didn’t matter.

    She can’t, however, prevent stupid “journalists” from asking her about it, and she hasn’t made it a campaign slogan. That’s a completely baseless charge. So far as I know, she has never brought Wright up on her own in a speech or interview–she’s been asked about it. More to the point, she hasn’t had to make an issue of it. The first law of politics is that when your opponent is busy self-destructing, don’t say anything, just get out of the way. (I don’t think Wright has “destroyed” Obama–it’s a figure of speech. But I’m sure that he will play very heavily in Republican campaign ads in the fall if Obama is the nominee.)


  12. However, the “keeps me happy” part now creeps me out even more. Are Presidents supposed to satisfy us sexually, too?

    I don’t think that’s what the sign means. I think it just means Hillary Clinton’s unwomanliness–already indicated by her entry on a political career of her own–is confirmed by the logic that says Bill wasn’t get his needs fulfilled in his marriage and so sought release (Germaine Greer used to talk about a “hydraulic theory” of male sexuality) elsewhere. It isn’t an argument from the duties of the Chief Magistrate, it’s an argument from the proper submissiveness of women.


  13. (Rootlesscosmo–I was kidding!)

    Your analysis echoes through the blogosphere tonight!


    They were inspired by:

    I still think there’s a strong element of narcissicsm and childishness in the sign implied by the use of “keep me happy,” but we can explore that another time.


  14. Yes, ej, the Carville comment was one of several that have to do with painting Obama in a certain way — Bill also got in on the action. And it appears that they are going for the Hill as strongman campaign.

    To get back to historiann’s original point — she expects and asks for a certain intelligence in the discussion and moving beyond a kind of low-level commentary and pandering. And while Hillary has been target of much sexism, etc., it appears she is willing to ride out the kind of how-low-can-you-go campaign.

    And now I want to apologize to BEW for responding to his post with a nasty line.


  15. Rad, we just disagree. I don’t think either campaign is “how-low-can-you-go.” They’re in a campaign! They’re going to criticize each other! They’re not in a Valentine fight! I saw a lot of commentary yesterday on “Obama going negative” in his final ad before the votes start today–but I didn’t think it was out of bounds.

    Yes, Clinton is emphasizing strength and toughness, but please note that it’s other people who have resorted to talking about testicles in reference to her “fortitude.” She doesn’t use that language, but apparently even many of her supporters can’t think creatively around the outdated notion that one has to have cojones to be tough. She clearly hasn’t authorized them to use that language, either: when she was introduced by a man in Indiana who praised her “testicular fortitude,” she corrected him immediately by saying, ““I do think I have fortitude, women can have it as well as men!”

    (Source on the “testicular fortitude” comments:

    The fact is that Americans like to see their Presidents as tough and strong, and as a woman, Clinton has to answer double for that. I think it was Bill Clinton who said that the people would rather follow someone who was “strong and wrong,” than the person who was right but perceived as not as tough. Mark my words–this “warrior” brand that Clinton is taking on is all about McCain and the general campaign. McCain is the marketer’s dream of a Republican presidential candidate (except for the fact that the marketer would probably prefer to run the McCain of 2000 rather than the McCain of 2008.) He’s got the whole Vietnam vet tough-guy thing going for him, but he’s the perfect Vietnam vet: instead of napalming villagers, McCain spent the war as a victim of the North Vietnamese, and endured years of torture and captivity that make him look purer and more heroic than if he had had the ususal tour or tours of duty.

    Obama gets a pass for not going to Vietnam himself, as he was only a preschooler when the war escalated. But, he’s still a man, and a man who never served, whereas Clinton as a baby-boomer female doesn’t have the same cultural expectations that she should have proved herself by serving in the military. (Gen X and Millenial generation women politicians may not get a pass on that, since our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have unfortunately offered plenty of opportunities for them to serve.) We’ll see what happens tonight–although I don’t think anything is going to fundamentally change, barring a surprise upset in either IN or NC. But Obama has got to think down the road–if he’s getting “beat by a girl” now, how will he take control of the narrative against McCain in the fall?


  16. Interestingly, the comments to your blog demonstrate what you seem to be talking about- why the “friendly fire”?
    Personally, I’m excited about both candidates and will happily support either. There are parts of each candidate that I’m not thrilled about however, I see them as fairly similar overall. I also can’t see where Dems who say they’d rather vote for McCain than Clinton are coming from. As for Clinton seeming right-wing, well, I’ve found in politics, with certain topics, the libs and conservative right wingers do make strange bedfellows. Beyond that, the brilliance of right-wing rhetoric is that they find something we all agree on (ie: we all like the idea of being free) and play on it (if you like ____________ than you must support ____________). I’ve met quite a few conservatives who are surprised when I agree with a general sentiment they’ve made- we tend to disagree when it comes to what should be done about x or what the cause of x is.

    I’m completely grossed out by the poster- and appreciate the analysis.
    Also, kuddos for the recent use of gender neutral pronouns (total side note)!


  17. “She can’t keep me happy” is a far cry from the nation’s response –not so very long ago– to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country!”

    Truly heavy sigh.


  18. What that sign was saying was that Hillary is somehow a failure as a woman, since her husband had to go elsewhere to find “pleasure”. When combined with the masculine rhetoric that her supporters have been describing her with, the result is positively medieval. Back then, when a woman acted courageously in the political or military sphere, she was described as a “virago”, literally a “man-like person”, not truly male, but not female either. This is the equivalent of how people are describing Hillary today, especially those trying to convey how dedicated and tough she is.

    The problem is that the term was coined because medieval society couldn’t conceptualize a normal woman in the political or military sphere. They didn’t belong there. They needed some term to describe these exceptions.

    As long as we continue to use masculine language to describe the actions of women, even in praise, we undermine their right to those very actions. I think the feminists need to get together and come up with some talking points for the Clinton campaign, so that Hillary can convey to her well-meaning supporters that there are other ways to praise her than invoking male genitalia. While all the men around her seem to find this amusing, its really a slippery slope…


  19. GayProf–obviously, he’s got a super-secret progressive agenda of unbelieveable awesomeness that will bring us all hope and unity! And, did I mention the awesomeness?

    ej: I’ve been thinking along your lines, except a few centuries forward. I hope that Clinton has been reading biographies of Elizabeth I, who in her day developed an excellent leadership style, albeit one that played on her sex and sexuality in ways that wouldn’t go over well today. (For example, I don’t think she can pretend to entertaining marriage offers to the Spanish prince, since she’s already married.) But, as you know, when heredity was more important, women as leaders wasn’t so outre–and in the early modern period, they had that nice, all-purpose term of “Prince” that applied to both male and female sovereigns.

    Actually, maybe being “une dame d’un certain age” might allow her to slide into the “Virgin Queen/Warrior” model of Elizabeth’s. You know, the “I have the heart and stomach of a king!” routine? Lord knows it’s about time for another Golden Age.


  20. The thread on Knitting Clio’s link is frightening, even if kind of juvenile. But what can you expect when Carville starts talking about cojones. This reminds me of a campaign in Ecuador some years back when the populist madman Abdala Bucaram said his opponent’s sperm was too watery. At least we know gringos also go for the low blow.


  21. Pingback: About last night… (and this afternoon) « Blurred Productions

  22. Pingback: Some good political advice from the non peer-reviewed internets | Historiann

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