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Why Are We Critical of Hillary Clinton?


Published November 4, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated November 4, 2015 at 11:00 a.m.


There is a moment in the pilot of CBS' fantabulous new show "Supergirl" when our superhero cries. Zor-El has been sent to Earth from Krypton to look after her baby cousin Kal-El. But she's waylaid in the galactic equivalent of Siberia, and by the time she touches down on our planet, little Kal needs no protection. He's Superman.

Her mission scotched, Zor is raised in Kansas as Kara, a normal girl. Zor suppresses her powers, and Kara gets a day job.

But she's frustrated — a souped-up extraterrestrial trapped in a standard (though pretty) human body.

Then she sees a plane burning in the sky, learns her adoptive human sister, Alex, is on it — and grabs her chance. She runs, stumbles, then lifts off. The passengers are jostled as she gets her bearings. But she lands the plane safely.

Afterward, standing on the fuselage in her street clothes, her face beaming with the pride and pleasure that Cousin Kal is too macho to show, Zor-El is where — and who — she was meant to be.

Then she reveals to Alex that she, Kara, was her rescuer. And as families often do when children come out, Sis reacts badly. Tears spring to Kara's eyes.

Supergirl has all the same powers as Superman — but she has more: She's emotionally evolved. Her skin may be bulletproof, but her heart is soft.

On "The Late Show" the night of the pilot, Stephen Colbert asked Melissa Benoist, who plays Supergirl, if she likes the show's feminist message. "Of course I do!" she crowed. The audience ate her up.

The next night, Colbert welcomed another super-powerful feminist: Hillary Clinton. She was wearing orange shoes. She was funny. (Colbert, referring to their last exchange: "I was playing a character who didn't care for you." Clinton: "Well, I can say it now — it was mutual.") The audience loved her, too.

Clinton was feeling good — and why not? She'd just endured 11 hours of the umpteenth hearing in the three-year-long, $5-million-plus Congressional investigation of the killings of four Americans at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi — and come through unbowed and unscathed.

Cool, informed, at times even amused and bored, she sat back while the Republicans fulminated and the Democrats counterattacked. "Clinton came across not only as a grown-up," Amy Davidson wrote in the New Yorker, "but as the most normal person in the room." Vox called the hearing Clinton's "best campaign ad yet."

And she wasn't too shabby in the Democratic debate.

Yes, "Saturday Night Live" lampooned her reputed slipperiness. "I think you're really going to like the Hillary Clinton my team and I have created for this debate," Kate McKinnon said through a tense smile. Of course, Larry David didn't let Bernie Sanders off easy, either.

But, in real life, the debate was about policy. And, whether you like her politics or not, Clinton showed her chops.

Looking back to her last nomination campaign, I take this as progress. In 2008, everyone, including sympathizers, could talk of nothing but Clinton's personality — her warmth or coolness, honesty or dissembling; her ambition, whether condemning or defending it.

In Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Reflections by Women Writers, a 2008 collection of essays, Elizabeth Kolbert recalls covering Clinton's "listening tour," during her first New York senatorial campaign. The reporter was bothered by the manipulativeness of the tour, which allowed Clinton to appear concerned about New Yorkers' issues without taking any positions on them. "At the same time, I was bothered by the fact that I was bothered," Kolbert writes. "Sure, Clinton was disingenuous. [But] so was ... every other politician I had ever covered."

Jane Kramer also couldn't stop analyzing Clinton the person, and the woman. "Why do I keep thinking about what I think of Hillary?" she asks herself in the same collection. "I take Hillary personally — too personally." Virtually every contributor confesses to the same obsession, even as she is confounded or embarrassed by it.

I'm no exception. I've written about Clinton in these pages three times — rarely about her positions on issues. In 2008, I analyzed the meaning of her spontaneous tears, shed in a New Hampshire diner just before that state's Democratic presidential primary.

But, like almost everyone else — except, unaccountably, Newsweek — I neglected to mention what she was saying through those tears. "Some people think elections are a game: who's up or who's down," the magazine quoted Clinton as saying. "It's about our country. It's about our kids' future. It's about all of us together." She went on in this impassioned patriotic vein, tears leaking from her eyes all the while.

Commentators hailed it as the moment Hillary Clinton became "likable." The show of emotion apparently won her the New Hampshire primary. But she wasn't likable enough to win the nomination.

This time around, people seem to be judging Clinton on what she's done and what she says she'll do. But the obsession with her personality hasn't faded. In fact, it's hardened into something worse: hatred.

I understand the vitriol from the right. But the left, especially Bernie's people, seems to despise Clinton almost as much.

Hillary is humorless, they say. And Bernie is a jokester? Hillary is gruff. And he is a teddy bear? Hillary keeps repeating the same slogans. And Bernie thoughtfully explores new territory? Her positions have "evolved," while he hasn't changed his mind since the Eisenhower era — as if this were a demerit in her column and a plus in his.

I can't tell you how many have told me they find Clinton so unsavory that they won't vote for her under any circumstances. She is the lesser of the two evils, they say. Would they prefer the greater of two evils?

I can attribute this madness to two things: enduring sexism, including women's internalized sexism; and the power of the conservative brainwashing machine.

The thing is, Hillary Clinton is not evil. Far from it. Yeah, she's a moderate. Yes, (gasp!) a politician. But go to her website and watch her talk about the Charleston massacre at a national mayors' convention in September. Listen to her — in clips going back years — praise organized labor.

Or catch her kidding around with Colbert — and smilingly informing him that if she gets her druthers, he'll pay more taxes.

It is exciting — and important — to root for Bernie, in part because he's moving Clinton to the left.

It is fun to be thrilled when Supergirl, played by an adorable 27-year-old feminist, blasts a male supervillain into fiery oblivion. It is touching to watch the Girl of Steel soften to tears.

It is harder to support the steely, flawed human woman, the middle-aged, middle-of-the-road politician that is Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But this is the politician who is going to be the Democratic candidate for president.

Will you step aside while an army of real supervillains — led by Marco Rubio or Ben Carson, Paul Ryan, David Koch and John Roberts — musters to destroy everything you hold dear, from racial justice to the polar ice caps?

Supergirl wouldn't.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Waiting for Supergirl"