How will Republicans attack Hillary Clinton should she get the nomination? Karl Rove, President Bush's political brain and Republican party uber-strategist, offered a clue in his first missive as a writer for Newsweek. He calls Hillary "a Democrat who calculates almost everything, including her accent and laugh," and advises that anyone running against her will benefit from being "direct."
Rove apparently believes that the best attack on Hillary is that "authenticity" thing that pundits have been bringing up against her forever. Her supposed lack of "true north." How vulnerable is Hillary to this attack? The answer is pretty vulnerable, but not because she's a phony. The authenticity rap against Hillary is coming straight out of the stereotype handbook, and most of the pundits putting it forward probably don't see their own bias.
For proof, consider what Professor Frank Flynn at Stanford discovered about two years ago. He altered a Harvard Business Case study about a woman named Heidi Roizen, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Half his class got the study using the real name of Heidi, and half got the study with the name Howard substituted. Here's what happened according to Professor Flynn:
"Before class, I had the students go online and rate their impressions of "Roizen" on several dimensions...the results show that students were much harsher on Heidi than on Howard across the board. Although they think she's just as competent and effective as Howard, they don't like her, they wouldn't hire her, and they wouldn't want to work with her. As gender researchers would predict, this seems to be driven by how much they disliked Heidi's aggressive personality. The more assertive they thought Heidi was, the more harshly they judged her (but the same was not true for those who rated Howard)."
Sound familiar? There's fairly ready agreement that Hillary's just as competent and effective as her male competitors, but she's also assertive and aggressive when needed. Of course, for men being assertive or aggressive is expected and unremarkable - and a key leadership trait. But for women, the behavior that's necessary to reach for any high level position, and certainly needed in the stratosphere of presidential campaigning, is offensive.
Ironically, Hillary's critics readily agree that she is genuinely ambitious, aggressive and direct, and those behaviors lead them to see her as unlikeable, difficult, unfriendly and not trustworthy in her beliefs. These critics would, no doubt, find her more authentic all around if she came across as self-effacing, indirect and passive, because her behavior would comport with their stereotyped view of women. But no one wants a leader, much less a President, like that.
Those people who have convinced themselves that Hillary is a phony might try a little experiment. In their own minds they should change her name to Henry and see if they genuinely hold the same beliefs about her(his) authenticity.
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