Okay so I don’t usually post about politics here and I certainly don’t have a vote in the upcoming US elections. It’s been hard to escape it though or the ways in which it intersects with pop culture. No, I’m not talking about Melanianade (which is everything!)
but about Election.
Back in July (July 21st 2016), when Senator Al Franken said to reporter Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC about the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, “She works every day, she never comes unprepared; he always comes unprepared”, my brain, as it does, made a leap from Hillary Clinton to Tracy Flick.
Flick was Reese Witherspoon’s character in the satirical 1999 film, Election. In the film, a high school election is the back drop for all kinds of political shenanigans. The story is told from the point of view of Jim McAllister, a well-respected teacher played by Matthew Broderick. He really hates Tracy Flick. He’s not alone in this; there’s always the sense about Flick that she is prominent and capable but not liked.
But Jim McAllister, Broderick’s character, dislikes her so much, he decides to block her otherwise pretty clear path to student body president by urging the more likable Paul (played by Chris Klein) – effortlessly popular, infinitely unqualified – to oppose her candidacy. He’s overseeing the elections so really shouldn’t get involved. But he finds Flick so insufferable that we, the audience, kind of do too… for no clear reason. Well, okay, she’s the kind of Type A-plus-plus-plus-plus overachiever whose earnestness and self-importance instinctively rub people the wrong way. Plus, she’s not above mean-girling anyone who gets in her way. It’s more complicated than that though; turns out McAllister’s colleague’s life had been ruined by an affair with the teenage Flick – that point muting any sympathy I might have for him. But to McAllister’s mind she is an evil vortex sucking all goodness from the world.
During the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Hillary’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, spoke to the hyperbole that’s been used to shape the Caricature Hillary who stands in stark opposition to what he described as #therealdeal Hillary. Guarded is one of the nicer adjectives I’ve seen used to describe the presidential aspirant. Her rival on the other side takes joy in calling her Crooked Hillary. It all adds up to a perception of her as …an evil vortex sucking all goodness from the world. Much like Tracy Flick, many dislike her without even being able to articulate why (Benghazi! emails! Bill cheated?!), and those who like her have to lead with disclaimers like I know she’s a politician but, I don’t expect her to be perfect, it’s not just because she’s a woman, lesser of two evils, and so on.
But likability issues aside, Flick is up against a nice-enough but unqualified, dumb as a box of rocks jock (no disrespect to jocks) and Hillary is up against …well. Both are visibly frustrated that this is even a race.
There’s been no strong rebuttal re her qualifications – President Obama asserted uncontroversially during the DNC that the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State was more qualified than both him and her husband when they had applied for the job. And we know she works hard, that she’s tenacious, that she doesn’t bend easily much less break (11 hours, people) – her opponent, in contradiction of his own assertions re her lack of stamina, said in the second debate that he admires her tenacity (“she doesn’t give up…she’s a fighter”).
Hillary stands poised, if she wins, to potentially break the political glass ceiling – well, as refers to women in American politics (countries like India, Israel, Germany, Brazil, Liberia, England, and Jamaica are among those that already installed female leaders). This comes less than a century after American women earned the hard fought right to vote (well, white women, who were enfranchised with the 19th amendment to the US Constitution in 1920 while blacks of both genders didn’t access full voting rights until the 1965 Voting Rights Bill). It’s a moment that theoretically should stir enthusiasm. But there is, at best, tepid acknowledgment of the moment. Some, after her more than 30 years of public life, still need time to get to know her better (this is a reference to live interviews with some of the female undecideds during the MSNBC DNC coverage), like she’s auditioning for the role of best girlfriend instead of president. During that coverage, a reporter contextualizing polling to that time, said, “… most Americans feel like they don’t necessarily know her, don’t necessarily trust her, don’t necessarily like her.”
So, for all she’s accused of, Hillary’s biggest crime seems to be that she’s not as likeable as people apparently need their politicians to be. Sure she knowns her way around global politics and the ins-and-outs of how government works but …I don’t know if I like her, like her…seems to be the mindset among this set. She’s too full of herself, too entitled, too smug by far (shades of Election and McAllister’s repulsion at Tracy and all earnest, high striving, high achieving, less than perfect girls). A variation of this is the I know what she does but I’m not sure I know who she is argument. I have to wonder though if being defined by what you do, your work, is a bad thing to have in someone for whom work is going to be life for at least four years. I mean, assuming she gets the job, which is still a very big if.
Honestly, I don’t think Hillary is Tracy, not really, surface comparisons aside, but I do think some of the criticism of both is gendered in that “ruthless overachiever” is not typically a deficit in politics…if you’re a man.
One significant departure from the Hillary is Tracy narrative is the moment in the film when Tracy, in a fit of rage, tears down all of Paul’s posters. But only because Hillary is so guarded, it’s hard to imagine her acting out publicly in a fit of rage. If she does have Tracy type rage-outs, it’s possibly in a soundproofed room with no cameras, where she can shoot darts at orange oompaloompas undisturbed and laugh freely and bigly to her heart’s delight.