Conduct Unbecoming…

A female presidential candidate (named Clinton)

Remember what happened to the presidential aspirant the press decided was The Angry Candidate four years ago? Surely, seasoned campaign reporters remember.

Today, The New York Times’ Patrick Healy strains to identify this year’s Angry Candidate in a “Political Memo” that begins as follows:

“Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton doesn’t sound angry or look angry or act angry…” but, nonetheless, I’m going to try to convince you that she is The Angry Candidate. Because while Clinton doesn’t actually appear angry, Healy writes, (emphasis ours) “if you transcribe her recent speeches in Iowa and reread them they do seem angry - or [did I say angry?] at least more negative toward other Democrats…” Yet seeming more negative toward one’s opponents with a month to go before the caucuses and polls showing a very close race strikes me as rather predictable behavior for any candidate- Angry or otherwise.

Healy continues: “[A]ttack-style campaigning is tricky political territory for Mrs. Clinton” (but apparently not for the other candidates). How so? Because “Iowans have to put up with so many candidates for so long that they grow even wearier when the politicians rip into each other”(Did I say “candidates” and “politicians?” I meant Clinton).

Then readers learn that “some [unnamed] Clinton advisers” have apparently shared their “concerns” with Healy—you know, as a service to the reporter, completely unrelated to any agenda they might wish to see communicated in the Times—that “voters may react poorly to attacks by a woman” and “about the impact of negative television commercials if she runs them. (No decision has been made, but scripts and footage are ready.)”(Clinton campaign, take note: some of your advisers really don’t want you to use those “scripts and footage.”)

Healy goes through the “various justifications” Clinton has offered for what he calls “her recent sharper tone” (“sharper tone,” as in Angry?) but notes, parenthetically, that Obama actually started it, or “went personal first” (though, apparently, not in an Angry way). A few paragraphs later Healy writes: “Notably, Mrs. Clinton’s tone has not changed” (wait, we thought it was recently “sharper?”). Instead, Clinton’s “political hits were delivered Monday in a mellifluous voice and a steady smile. Such performance skill can soften the attacks; the problem for Mr. Dean and Mr. Gephardt, four years ago, was that they struck some people as hotheads” (“some people” being, of course, the campaign press).

So Clinton is Stealthily Angry. Smilingly Angry. Not Hothead Angry. Understood?

How might Healy cement the impression that Clinton is The Angry Candidate? Get a denial from the Clinton campaign! “Clinton advisers say their candidate is hardly angry”(er, did someone suggest that she was? Ah yes, this reporter in his piece headlined, “Clinton Aims for Anger Without Making People Mad,” so Clintonian, really, wanting to be something without facing the potential consequences of being that thing) but that “she believes her rivals have misrepresented her views and their own; and she is correcting the record.” And, you know, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.