Washington Post Democratic-shill-masquerading-as-a-journalist Dana Milbank is trying a new tact: if you think Hillary is a lousy campaigner, you’re a sexist. In fact, he came this close to saying that there’s “a special place in hell” for anyone who doesn’t find Hillary Clinton a treat for the eyes and ears.
Of course, he began his column–it is called “The sexist double standards hurting Hillary Clinton”— with a statement designed to make me break some teeth: “Much of Hillary Clinton’s difficulty in this campaign stems from a single, unalterable fact: She is a woman.” No, almost all of of Hillary Clinton’s difficulty in this campaign stems from a single, unalterable fact: She is an untrustworthy liar who can’t stop lying.
Never mind quibbling over that. Here is Dana’s argument in brief:
“The criticism is the same as in 2008: She doesn’t connect. She isn’t likeable. She doesn’t inspire. She seems shrill. “She shouts,” Bob Woodward said on MSNBC this month, also suggesting she “get off this screaming stuff.” Joe Scarborough, the host, agreed: “Has nobody told her that the microphone works?”…That’s not about Clinton; it’s about us. “It is a subtle kind of sexism that exists that we don’t recognize,” said Newton-Small, who literally wrote the book on the matter… “When women raise their voices, people tend to get their hackles up. People I talk to at Clinton events put her in a maternal role: Why is she screaming at me? Am I in trouble?”
Wrong. In fact, laughably wrong. In fact, political-correctness mongering in the First Degree. Clinton is engaged in fields, advocacy, politics and leadership, where effective communication skills and tools are essential, and her job, indeed, is to communicate in ways that her intended audience finds persuasive and easy to listen to. She can’t say, as Milbank tries to on her behalf, “Enjoy or you’re oppressing me!”
It’s not, as Milbank claims, a double standard, but a single standard of the kinds of voices and speaking styles that communicate effectively. Unfortunately, female voices did not evolve to facilitate mass communication. Traditionally it was men who shouted orders in battle and commanded attention and authority. Lower registers are better for that. Sorry. It’s not sexist, it’s true. Typical men’s voices sound better on the radio, over microphones and in auditoria; they also sound better, project better and communicate emotion and nuances better at high volumes. If a female speaker can’t manage to overcome some of the built-in disadvantages of her gender, that’s her problem, and her failing. If a woman is determined to be a firefighter but isn’t strong enough to pass the strength tests, then the solution is for her to hit the weights, bulk up, and get stronger, not to cry sexism when she is told that she can’t lift enough gear. (Not that crying sexism isn’t exactly how unqualified women get to be firefighters—and Marines– now, but I digress.)
Milbank, in failing to make even a wisp of a rational argument, claims a double standard “that condemns her but not Sanders, who bellows at the top of his lungs.” Who needs to condemn Sanders? He’s an awful speaker, unlistenable…unless you already like him and what he has to say. In Bernie’s case, his horrible speaking style isn’t an issue (yet—wait until the general election) because 1) he’s winning, and 2) people like him anyway. Is there anyone who denies that Bernie’s volume, cadence and accent is enough to cause migraines under extended exposure? The man is portrayed on SNL by Larry David, for heaven’s sakes, and many, many people have noted, as if it wasn’t obvious, that listening to Bernie is like having Jackie Mason yelling in your ear. I don’t recall Sanders supporters arguing that if you don’t like Bernie’s voice, you’re anti-Semitic. Bernie, however, comes from an earlier, more hardy generation that didn’t use minority status or gender to stifle legitimate criticism.
Lots of politicians have serious speaking weaknesses, and it hurts them too. Mario Rubio is handicapped by that lisp. Ben Carson’s mumbling, semi-comatose style may be the worst I’ve ever seen from a politician, even an amateur one like him, and it will continue to undermine him. Would Obama or Reagan have reached the White House if they spoke like the Bushes, or Jimmy Carter, or LBJ? Never. And those Presidents would have been far more successful and persuasive if they had learned how to speak in public to please and persuade.
Absolutely: campaigning is more difficult for women not gifted with an unusually good voice for public speaking. The solution, as with other weaknesses that impede ambition and success, is to 1) acknowledge the weakness (and not accuse someone of sexism for pointing it out), 2) get some training, and 3) get some training, you lazy fool. If Hillary wants to improve her speaking style—it’s never too late—I could refer her to some female teachers right here in Washington, D.C. that could have her sounding like Glenn Close, Greer Garson or Christine Baranski in a few sessions.
Women across occupations and professions sabotage themselves by not correcting speech pathologies that are especially common to their gender. Too many women affect high-pitched, cuddly, baby-doll voices in their teens—boys like it!—and then can’t, don’t or won’t shake the habit later. Vocal fry is a current fad, and it makes smart women sound like Valley Girls. I’ve heard TV reporters use it, and if they don’t stop, they will be stuck doing on-the-scene weather reports until their voices drop an octave. I tell young women whenever I can to get some vocal coaching. It will help them in every facet of their career and lives. Almost none of them do.
Here is what Jackie Kennedy sounded like, and she was beloved. You wouldn’t win a lot of debates talking like that, though: it’s debutante-speak. You’ll get the idea quickly:
Jackie’s voice had no support; she placed it in her head rather than her chest. It’s breathy–Jack liked breathy (“Happy birthday…Mister President…). That’s still not how anyone wants their leaders to sound, and shouting wouldn’t help. Jackie could have learned an effective speaking style and method, though, if she had decided to enter politics.
Hillary’s main problem, however, is exactly the reverse of what Milbank ludicrously claims. If more people liked and trusted Hillary Clinton, her speaking style wouldn’t be as important. NPR’s Diane Rehm finally retired last year after forcing her listeners to endure her ruined voice for more than a decade. She had vocal cord spasms, and no one could ever enter broadcasting with a shaky, annoying voice like that. Rehm, however, already was an established PBS star when her voice went bad, and most of the listeners who already loved her didn’t care. (I, however, couldn’t stand listening for more than a few minutes.) Not enough people love Hillary ,though, for her speaking style not to matter. The only way she can persuade them to like and trust her is through her speaking skills, and the sad fact is that they are inadequate for the task.
It isn’t that people who don’t like Hillary are unfairly criticizing her speaking, it is that Hillary’s speaking deficiencies make it more difficult for those who already have doubts about her to change their minds—and sexism has nothing to do with it.