When facing George H.W. Bush, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis learned this lesson too late, after he failed to fly into a vigilante-style rage in response to the question: "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?" Dukakis' reply -- "No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life" -- whacked his approval ratings from 49% to 42% overnight and helped deny him the election.So, the gender card is being played when a candidate doesn't realize he should play it? Or is Faludi patching over her sketchy argument by making it seem as though Bush I asked the "if Kitty Dukakis were raped"? (CNN news anchor Bernard Shaw asked the question in a debate. And no one wanted to see Dukakis "fly into a vigilante-style rage." We just wanted to see some human feeling and not a robotic incantation of his stand on the death penalty.)
The gender card was also played, Faludi argues, in the 2004 election, with Bush II's "Wolves" ad. Here's the ad — which I admit is absurd, but find the gender card:
Give up. Here's Faludi:
In "Wolves," set in a forest invaded by a pack of wolves (read: terrorists), a trembling female voice-over claimed that Kerry had voted for cuts in U.S. intelligence "so deep they would have weakened America's defenses -- and weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm." "Wolves" engaged the American terror dream, which the GOP was going to vanquish with a cowboy swagger.Was that woman's voice "trembling"? (It is so easy to accuse Faludi of sexism for hearing a woman's voice and imagining it is trembling.) Really, where is the gender card? Both men and women are concerned about security. And there's nothing in the ad about cowboys. There isn't even an association between cowboys and wolves. Cowboys don't fight wolves.
Faludi also cites Bush II's ad "Ashley's Story." Let's take a look:
This ad is deeply sentimental (and incredibly effective), but again, how is it playing the gender card? It may be that woman are generally more responsive to this ad than men are, but there is gender difference everywhere. Trying to appeal to women with women's voices, images of children, or — God help us — tinkling piana music, is not playing the gender card. Candidates craft messages for various constituents, but it's not playing a card unless you are basing an argument on gender, such as saying, as Hillary Clinton does, that her being a woman is a reason to vote for her for President or that she is being attacked because she is a woman. That is unusual, and that doesn't happen all the time.
Now, let's look at Faludi's other point, that Hillary Clinton is playing the gender card well:
So far, the only person who has a lock on rescuing women is the one female candidate. Her approach departs from the old male version. In the old model, helpless women were saved from perilous danger by men; in the new, women are granted authority and agency to rescue themselves.Soooo.... HC "has a lock on rescuing women" but "women are granted authority and agency to rescue themselves." So is Hillary rescuing us or not? Or is she the one granting the authority and agency to rescue ourselves. If so, what does it mean, and how is she doing it?
And what is "perilous danger"? The opposite of safe danger (or perilous safety)?
Oh, why did I assign myself the task of wading through this morass? Fortunately, I am going to grant myself the authority and agency to rescue myself from this Women's Studies rhetoric and note that Faludi doesn't bother with coherence. She simply swirls up an evocative, emotional verbal melange which, I would say if I indulged in Faludious reasoning, amounts to playing the gender card, since it stimulates the female mind more than the male.
But let's get a grip reason and slog to the end of the Faludi swamp:
Understanding the distinction [between the "old male... model" and the new Hillary model] is essential to an evaluation of current American politics.Okay. Somehow, Hillary is going to represent individuals taking responsibility — authority and agency — for themselves, as distinguished from the "male model" of expecting someone to rescue us. That doesn't sound like what Hillary normally talks about, but Faludi sees this distinction "on vivid display." Where? Well, Bush signed the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act ant then failed to finance "women-run nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan." Get it? And Bush "sought to roll back women's progress on many fronts, from reproductive rights to employment equity to military status." Vivid? Or murky? You decide.
And what's Hillary Clinton doing that distinctly different from the bad old "male modle"? Let's see if Faludi has something vivid here:
This year, as always, the presidential candidates must contend with the rescue formula, complicated by the fact that Bush has so devalued its currency. In this climate, Hillary Clinton can do what her male counterparts cannot. She is, indeed, reaching for the gender card, as her accusers claim. It's just different from the one they imagine. She is auditioning for the role of rescuer on a feminist frontier.What on earth does that mean? Is there anything there but the blunt fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman?
She returned to Wellesley to tell female undergraduates that she was there to free them; she was there to help them "roll up our sleeves" and "shatter that highest glass ceiling." As such, she latched onto a crucial element of presidential races past, and possibly to come -- that at the core of all American political rescue fantasies is a young woman in need.
In the general election, whoever the candidates may be, they will be tempted, perhaps required, to show just those bona fides. Clinton may be the only one who can do so without betraying the signature of a disgraced cowboy ethic.
The argument seems to be that Bush is a man who ran for President by calling attention to his manliness, then, because he did a bad job, he gave manliness a bad name, so the cure is to have a woman President. If she's saying anything other than that, I can't strain it out of the godawful mud of her writing. And that argument is stupid and offensive. If there is some other argument to be found in there, please tell me what it is.