This isn’t 1609, when you got popular entertainments Epicoene, or the Silent Woman, that rather unfunny comedy by Ben Jonson. Actually, it wasn’t that popular – it bombed when it was first performed by the Blackfriars Children, a group of boy players, but John Dryden liked it and after the Restoration it took off. Samuel Pepys noted it was one of the first plays legally performed after Charles II came home – as you recall, Crowell and the Puritans not only had beheaded Charles’ father, they had also banned all that play-acting nonsense. The play became a hit.
The joke was on the word epicene – an adjective for anything of and pertaining to both sexes, or to neither. It’s an insult.
In the Jonson play it seems that Morose, a wealthy old man with an obsessive hatred of noise, has made plans to disinherit his nephew, Dauphine, by marrying – and he has chosen an exceptionally quiet woman. But his nephew, not about to be disinherited, is messing with him. It’s a set-up. To the surprise of the old man, the bride, Epicoene, after the ceremony, turns into a loud, nagging harridan. Morose then consults two lawyers, thinking about divorce, but the lawyers are also plants – they’re working for the nephew. All parties come up with an agreement, and then we get the climax – the nephew strips the female costume from Epicoene. She is, in fact, a boy.
Morose gets what he deserves, nothing – not the ideal woman, and, in fact, not any woman. Of course an underlying theme is that vain and scheming women with intellectual pretensions are worthless – there are many of those in the play – as are nagging shrews, like the awful but entirely hypothetical Epicoene. All in all it’s a nasty piece of work – about as misogynist as you can get, and the scheming, opportunistic and thoroughly despicable nephew is the hero. After all, he’s a real man.
The play is, of course, beyond obscure, but those of us who had to deal with it in graduate school find ourselves recalling it now. It’s the ongoing and seemingly endless Democratic primary fight. Someone will tug at Hillary Clinton’s pants suit and all will be revealed – she’s really a man, perhaps John McCain, or Dick Cheney. She’s got that shrew thing going, along with the scheming. At best she does seem a bit epicene. Maybe the Jonson play will make a comeback.
Probably not – but she’s losing the nomination and it’s getting ugly, what with her playing the race card now. And on Friday, May 9, things got worse for her, with Obama picking up nine superdelegates and union endorsement:
Barack Obama all but erased Hillary Rodham Clinton’s once-imposing lead among national convention superdelegates on Friday and won fresh labor backing as elements of the Democratic Party began coalescing around the Illinois senator for the fall campaign.
Even her old friend George McGovern abandoned her for Obama, but she won’t give up – and many, who once thought highly of them, now despise both Hillary and Bill. A friend, who teaches marketing to graduate students at a prestigious business school, to sent along this comment:
David Brooks, last night on PBS news hour – I truly respect his world view and analysis – called McGovern’s form of switching, with a reprimand to Hillary, “over the top” and granted that people should let her come to her own comfort level with reality. That acts of kindness, at this point, cost you nothing.
But that brings up my BIG conclusion of this whole primary season: whatever good will was left in the legacy of the Clinton Presidency has now been tarnished beyond all repair for all to see – the inner mechanism of how they survived those White House years – pretty ugly.
This was the reply:
Hillary will never quit – and it is her right to do what she wants, to soldier on. But sometimes one’s right to do this or that is not “right” in the other sense – it makes little sense. But tell someone they have no right to do something and they’ll bristle, and do it, just because you said they have no right to do it, even if it is not the right thing. That’s where we seem to be.
And yes, the Clinton brand is now worthless. As a marketing guy, how would you revive it? Audi came back from the disasters of the early eighties, but it took all new products and two decades. Ford seems to be working hard on rebranding, without much luck. Some of us still remember the Pinto. What can the Clinton’s do?
Before he could answer this came in from a wise woman in Albany:
Re-brand Hillary? Easy!
New York (unless she screws up worse than she has so far) will re-elect her as long as she cares to run. She will become a Dean of the Senate, like Dirksen. She will be adept at bi-partisanship. She will chair hearings. I hope she goes on to something like this.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, was wary:
You’ve perfectly described her ongoing career in the Senate, and I can’t think of a higher position she’d aspire to after all of this. I suppose she could settle for the lucrative speaking circuit for awhile, but maybe President Obama will appoint her ambassador to some faraway place (“and feel free to take your husband with you!”), as might even President McCain, if it comes to that. Just as long as neither of those presidents makes her Secretary of State, I could probably live with it.
But all of that is unlikely. And one should recall how Ford dealt with their bad reputation. They said Quality Was Job Number One – now. Everyone knew they were kidding.
Perhaps one should listen to some women on this. In Slate, there was Emily Yoffe with Reversal of Fortune:
Try to imagine the Obama-Clinton race reversed at this point: She is the clear nominee, but he just won’t get out of the race and starts trying on different personas and makes increasingly incendiary racial comments.
Actually, it’s impossible to imagine because if the situation were reversed, Obama, as with all the other candidates who knew it was time to get out, would have gotten out, his dignity and reputation intact.
A while ago, the first time it looked as if Clinton was not going to make it… that even if she lost, Clinton was the first woman candidate to have run a serious campaign for the presidency, and the skill, intelligence, and strength she brought to the race would well serve future female candidates.
It doesn’t look that way now, however. The horrid, grasping way she is finishing this contest is harming the party and turning her into a reviled, even comical figure. Is she so devoid of an inner life that the prospect of returning to being a high-profile, multimillionaire senator fills her with dread because it means accepting she will never achieve the ultimate fulfillment of her ambition?
I suppose she can stay through next week to rack up the votes of her beloved “white Americans” in West Virginia and Kentucky and then still manage to graciously bow out. But, as Peggy Noonan wonders, is there anyone who can get her to accept reality?
Yes, Ronald Reagan’s former speechwriter, over at the Wall Street Journal, was wondering about that, and about the party elders:
They are in a Democratic club on Capitol Hill, slump-shouldered at the bar, having a drink and then two, in a state of what might be called depressed horror. “What are they doing to the party?” they wail. “Why are they doing this?”
You know who they are talking about.
The whole thing has come down to race and gender. And Noonan was watching two Democrats have at each other on CNN, as the results of the latest primaries rolled in:
Paul Begala wore the smile of the 1990s, the one in which there is no connection between the shape of the mouth and what the mouth says. All is mask. Donna Brazile was having none of it.
Mr. Begala more or less accused the Obama people of not caring about white voters: “[If] there’s a new Democratic Party that somehow doesn’t need or want white working-class people and Latinos, well, count me out.” And: “We cannot win with eggheads and African Americans.” That, he said, was the old, losing, Dukakis coalition.
“Paul, baby,” Ms. Brazile, who is undeclared, began her response, “we need to not divide and polarize the Democratic Party…. So stop the divisions. Stop trying to split us into these groups, Paul, because you and I know… how Democrats win, and to simply suggest that Hillary’s coalition is better than Obama’s, Obama’s is better than Hillary’s – no. We have a big party, Paul.” And: “Just don’t divide me and tell me I cannot stand in Hillary’s camp because I’m black, and I can’t stand in Obama’s camp because I’m female. Because I’m both…. don’t start with me, baby.” Finally: “It’s our party, Paul. Don’t say my party. It’s our party. Because it’s time that we bring the party back together, Paul.”
Noonan had it right – here’s the video clip. It was as nasty as the Jonson play. And Noonan reports it:
White Americans? Hard-working white Americans? “Even Richard Nixon didn’t say white,” an Obama supporter said, “even with the Southern strategy.”
If John McCain said, “I got the white vote, baby!” his candidacy would be over. And rising in highest indignation against him would be the old Democratic Party.
To play the race card as Mrs. Clinton has, to highlight and encourage a sense that we are crudely divided as a nation, to make your argument a brute and cynical “the black guy can’t win but the white girl can” is — well, so vulgar, so cynical, so cold, that once again a Clinton is making us turn off the television in case the children walk by.
“She has unleashed the gates of hell,” a longtime party leader told me. “She’s saying, ‘He’s not one of us.'”
It is not that women should be silent – this isn’t 1609 – but that they shouldn’t be this, so vulgar, so cynical, so cold, as she says. Men shouldn’t be those things either.
And Noonan spoke to one of the superdelegates and got this:
It’s not math anymore; it’s psychodrama. If she can’t have it, no one can have it. If she has to tear the party apart, she will.
Nancy Pelosi can’t make her drop out. The Clintons think the speaker is for Obama anyway, her San Francisco district went for him 70% to 30%; they’ll dismiss her. Chuck Schumer can’t do it – he’d offend women in New York. Harry Reid can’t do it – he’ll offend women, period. If black political figures go to the Clintons and make a plea, they’ll be dismissed as Obama partisans.
So who, she asked, can do it? Only a woman:
White women have been Mrs. Clinton’s most reliable base of support and readiest crutch, the superdelegate said. And maybe they’re the only ones who can break through, both to Mrs. Clinton and to the country, and tell her to stop. “If it’s a man, she goes back to gender: Men are always picking on me, you just don’t want women in power. If it’s a black, it’s YOU betrayed us, how can you call on me to get out after what I’ve done for you?”
Sometimes to fix a problem you do need a woman. That seems to be the case here.
Andrew Sullivan (since he is openly gay you can refer to him as epicene), has this to say:
One request at least: can we retire from the discourse the notion that there is anything even faintly admirable about the Clintons’ refusal to accept that they have lost the nomination. This isn’t tenacity or pluck or spunk. It’s vindictive, sore-loser narcissism. And someone senior in the party needs to call it like it is.
And see UCLA’s Mark Kleiman, who, after reading words of defense of Hillary in the New York Times, offers this Note to Paul Krugman:
If you actually wanted to help Barack Obama (who is, as you note the presumptive Democratic nominee) you would give him advice in private and praise him in public. Telling him that he shouldn’t disrespect white people is neither necessary nor helpful. You might at least pretend to believe that some of the people who voted for your preferred candidate were voting for her, rather than against him.
It is getting nasty.
Of course you can look at it another way. Conservatives, who like Hillary and are still fighting the cultural battles of 1968, see things a different way. At the National Review, Charles Krauthammer here says the whole election is really about about the red-blue, Vietnam-era, divide:
The line of attack is clear: not that Obama is himself radical or unpatriotic, just that, as a man of the academic Left, he is so out of touch with everyday America that he could move so easily and untroubled in such extreme company and among such alien and elitist sentiments.
Clinton finally understood the way to run against Obama: back to the center – not ideologically but culturally, not on policy but on attitude.
Yes, it is the late sixties, and Nixon is muttering something, again, about the vast, silent majority. We must not forget them.
Yeah, well, things may not be that simple. See Richard Florida in the Boston Globe here, discussing what he calls the country’s psychogeography:
Interestingly, America’s psychogeography lines up reasonably well with its economic geography. Greater Chicago is a center for extroverts and also a leading center for sales professionals. The Midwest, long a center for the manufacturing industry, has a prevalence of conscientious types who work well in a structured, rule-driven environment. The South, and particularly the I-75 corridor, where so much Japanese and German car manufacturing is located, is dominated by agreeable and conscientious types who are both dutiful and work well in teams.
The Northeast corridor, including Greater Boston, as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin, are home to concentrations of open-to-experience types who are drawn to creative endeavor, innovation, and entrepreneurial start-up companies. While it is hard to identify which came first – was it an initial concentration of personality types that drew industry, or the industry which attracted the personalities? – the overlay is clear.
So it’s not 1968, and it’s not even the same America. Things are changing, and the Obama folks, in over one hundred locations across the country, are rolling out the “Obama Vote for Change” – the idea is to register and mobilize voters. Clinton can be as feisty as she wants. She’s irrelevant, as Marc Ambinder explains:
The Obama campaign calls its “Vote for Change” voter registration drive a mere voter registration drive. Nothing to see here, folks, except for ordinary people helping ordinary people gain the franchise.
But it’s more than that. The Vote for Change program will lay the foundation for Obama’s general election get-out-the-vote efforts. Obama aides won’t say much more, but I gather that the campaign is constructing an incredibly elaborate online interface to allow its more than a million donors and volunteers to directly persuade their neighbors through a variety of media. Names gathered from the voter registration effort will be merged with names gathered through Obama’s primary efforts and the names off of the Democratic Party’s integrated voter file as well as lists purchased from outside vendors.
On election day, Obama might have more than a million individuals volunteering on his behalf. That should scare the beejeesus out of the McCain campaign and the RNC.
It should scare Clinton too. She’s arguing historical voting patterns, while he, as Matt Stoller notes, is consolidating the elements of the party and streamlining the message, and making the Democratic Party his. There’s no need to rip off the costume and reveal who she really is. That play is over. The curtain fell long ago. The theater is empty.
Oh, she might be the next Vice President, or not. Over at the New Republic, Michael Tomasky thinks not:
A former president married to a current vice president who really thinks she should be president creates the potential for way too much mischief that could undermine the president.
At his Atlantic blog, Matthew Yglesias just hates the idea:
Then there’s this – “[Clinton] would also bring some national security street cred to the ticket, which is an Obama vulnerability that I suspect is being underappreciated at the moment.”
This reflects, I believe, an incredibly damaging mindset that’s been crippling the Democratic Party for years and the prospect of excising this mindset is the single most appealing thing about the prospect of Obama being the nominee. Clinton’s “street cred” on national security consists, of course, of being massively wrong on the most important national security issue of her career. Paradoxically, a lot of folks find her massive wrongness on this hugely important issue reassuring…
Yeah, that happens, the “serious people” who got everything wrong about the war – William Kristol and the rest – are still on television, offering further serious analysis, and writing columns for the major newspapers. Everyone else, eben if right back then and right now, is a damned hippie.
Maybe not – at American Prospect see Scott Lemieux on Hillary Clinton:
Admittedly, this is the kind of counterfactual that’s impossible to prove, but my guess is that if she had voted against the war Clinton would be the Democratic candidate. Given the closeness of the race, her inherent advantages going in, and that the war had to be a liability, it’s hard to imagine that she wouldn’t have prevailed without the Iraq albatross. Whether or not Clinton’s support was sincere – I don’t think it really matters – sometimes getting big policies wrong really is politically damaging.
Or it is, in the end, irrelevant. The real problem is, like in the Jonson play, some nasty person sold Morose a bill of goods.
But it’s not too late. This is not 1609, after all.