September 25, 2013
Hillary: Like Any Good Rorschach
Like any good Rorschach test, New York magazine’s most recent Hillary Clinton cover offers plenty of fodder for critics and supporters alike. Those hoping that Clinton will get the last laugh in 2016 see a confident, carefree stateswoman. While her gray suit signals gravitas, her ebullient visage suggests that although she might want the presidency in 2016, she doesn’t need it. Conversely, Clinton critics (like those featured in Michele Mallkin’s “Twitchy” brigade) see the flattering picture as evidence of liberal media bias.
The Twitchy troupe may be onto something. The New York magazine cover functions as a visual rebuttal to the attack against Hillary’s presidential run that is beginning to coalesce on the Right. In 2008, she was attacked as a woman (a fact lamented by the Washington Post’s Marie Cocco soon after the conclusion of the Democratic primary and confirmed by subsequent academic research here and here). More recently, however, Hillary’s opponents have been working hard to characterize her as an old lady. In his response to the New York magazine profile, the Washington Times’s Wesley Pruden opined, “Hillary would be 69 on Inauguration Day 2017, not particularly old for a man not out of sight of his prime, but a woman in public life is getting past her sell-by date at 69.” Prudin’s specious claim is underscored by the visual the Times chose to pair with his column.
The nondescript file photo of Clinton is made meaningful by the column’s associated headline: “Hillary’s Roots Give Her Away.” Not only does the narrative characterize Clinton as an old bag/hag (take your pick!), but it also intimates a lack of authenticity. Of course, in the contemporary media landscape, being old is a far greater crime for women than is being inauthentic. It’s a powerful attack insofar as what has held women back historically in the presidential arena has been their lack of relevant experience in executive governance relative to men. Clinton, however, would be the most experienced contender in any field of presidential hopefuls one could imagine coalescing in 2016. So, the smart move would be to make her experience a liability rather than an asset.
Fortunately, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 persona has yet to come into focus—a fact highlighted by the style of a photo that accompanies the New York magazine cover story. In that shot by Christopher Anderson, the blur signals the media’s lack of clarity when it comes to Clinton and her presidential prospects.
This photo suggests that a dynamic and vibrant Clinton is poised for the (very long) 2016 presidential campaign. Time will determine on which version of Hillary Clinton the media will choose to focus.
— Karrin Anderson | @KVAnderson
(photo 1: Douglas Friedman/Trunk Archive. photo 2:**FILE** Hillary Rodham Clinton (Associated Press). photo 3: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine. caption: Hillary Clinton receiving the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, September 10)