The Salt Lake Tribune labeled a Dec. 2 piece an “analysis.” Which means your whole attitude as a consumer of news has to shift. I had to gear up for more than a news story, push my shoulders into the high back of the barstool and dig in.
The headline read, “Clinton calm in the face of crisis.” Associate Press writer Glen Johnson then went on to solemnly analyze—laud, actually—Hillary Clinton’s composure in handling a hostage crisis on Nov. 30 at her Rochester, N.H., headquarters. Five hours after the siege began, a 46-year-old man with a history of mental illness was arrested. The man was charged with kidnapping and reckless conduct. No one was injured.
Much to his satisfaction, the reporter could write that not only did Clinton cancel a scheduled speech in Virginia; she ably worked the phones from her Washington home. She rolled through the chain of law enforcement command; got to the right people immediately. Apparently key to the peaceful outcome was the fact that Clinton coolly got hold of the New Hampshire governor, also a Democrat, in eight minutes.
The gist of the “analysis”: That Hillary Clinton has a real pair.
What, you didn’t know this? Any woman running for public office had better find herself similarly outfitted or risk being painted as too soft. The microscope is focused even closer on Clinton, being the first female ever to have a serious run at the White House.
It turns out Clinton did just fine in handling this problem. She kept her head, comforted the campaign staff and their families, and even referenced her own maternal fears in the tense hours waiting for the standoff to end. “As a mother,” she said, “it was just a horrible sense of bewilderment, confusion, outrage, frustration, anger, everything at the same time.”
The AP’s Johnson and other news analysts achieved their purpose, I suppose, of illustrating how a front-runner presidential candidate managed a mess and emerged the better for it. The subtext, of course, is a comparison to leadership during something like 9/11—though going there is a bit like comparing surviving snow shoveling to living through an avalanche.
Well, great. Now we know that Clinton can do crisis. Add this test to the rest of it—the nitpicking of her political mettle and personal stamina (as if she didn’t prove it well enough in standing by Bill throughout his extramarital romps). The double standard in measuring her leadership ability against the rest of the pack never seems to end. Clinton is leading that pack in most polls, though Obama is closing in, at least in Iowa. Still, she remains the alpha wolf, bounding ahead of the rest of the whimpering betas.
And, as Clinton herself said in the Democratic candidates’ debate last month in Las Vegas, the negative scrutiny from her adversaries isn’t because she’s a woman but because she is ahead.
Still, after reading all the ink measuring her humanity, her compassion, her moxie in handling the hostage situation, I wondered how the media might have covered the story under a man’s leadership. What if John McCain had been in charge? Do you suppose the ensuing news analysis might have read like this?
McCain, a much-decorated prisoner of war from the Vietnam conflict, is a genuine man’s man. Not surprisingly then, the Arizona Republican and Iraq hawk bit the bullet, threw down a shot of Maker’s Mark and remained cool in chaos. He worked the phones like a pro; all but proving to voters he is a resolute leader. What’s more, as so many men under pressure are inclined to do, McCain did not bellow out the F-bomb or punch out anyone weaker than he. Clearly, he is presidential material.
I’m not sure, exactly, what the Hillary watchers expect. And that includes, especially, the press. When her cell phone rang with news of the New Hampshire hostage taking, what did everyone think would happen? That Clinton would throw a hand to her forehead, her eyes would fill with tears and her voice would turn all weak and quivery?
Should she have succumbed to a sudden attack of the vapors? “Quick,” an aide might have shouted from somewhere inside the candidate’s office, “fetch my lady her fainting chaise!”
Honestly, people. Clinton has proved she won’t puddle up in a crisis. That said, I hear CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is working on a blockbuster. He’ll examine how Clinton finds time for Christmas shopping on the campaign trail.
One last thing: By the time many of you read this piece, Mitt Romney will have delivered his “Faith in America” speech to the hordes of Bible thumpers who consider him a cultist who doesn’t really know Jesus. I can’t imagine Romney delving into an explanation of the Mormon beliefs that truly perplex most Americans: temple rituals, baptism for the dead, the three kingdoms of heaven, how polygamy works in the afterlife and so on.
I’m expecting a generic address about what faith in God means in America, and that the family is the basic unit of society. And I also know this: Romney can give it his all, but he’s no John F. Kennedy.