It is a rare person who, upon being fired or losing an election, cheerily concedes, “I sooo deserved that!” In more than 20 years of labor and employment practice dealing with hundreds of terminated employees, I observed only a few who acknowledged that they deserved to be fired. In theory, many people will say, “I’m my own worst critic,” but in reality, terminated employees overwhelmingly cite unfairness, discrimination, or supervisory error or incompetence when they are banished from the workplace. Failed candidates will claim “lack of money” (hmm, why don’t people want to give them money?), a “bad political climate,” negative ads and a slew of factors. Concession speeches rarely begin, “My opponent was a much better choice than I was.”
This is why there is a cottage industry in personal coaches, consultants and workplace psychologists. Whether it is David Gregory or Jill Abramson, the most ambitious, highly compensated, publicly recognized and obsessively focused on their career (a New York Times tattoo, really?) are often the least inclined toward self-reflection. What is obvious to their bosses, co-workers and audiences (e.g. lackluster interviewer, boss from hell) is impossible for some to accept. Critics may chuckle that an executive editor practiced in zealously investigating other peoples’ foibles is gobsmacked when the tables are turned, but it’s not just liberal journalists convinced that their employer is their “religion” who find it hard to come to terms with their public failings.
If your whole life has been singularly focused on attaining political power and you’ve sacrificed privacy, money, relationships and more to attain it while enduring nonstop scrutiny, it’s natural, upon facing intrusive questions and defeat, to assume that you are the victim of sexism or a vast conspiracy. It’s even more likely that you will fall into the victimization trap when so many cohorts are insisting that you are a victim. And yes, this brings us to Hillary Clinton.
We start with the left’s devotion to identity politics. Its political coalition depends on the reflexive self-identification of minority groups as Democratic (as opposed to the result of considering “What have they done for me lately?”), its nemeses are defined by their supposed intolerance for minorities and women, its agenda is premised on the notion that our problems are race- and gender-related (e.g. the infamous and phony 77-cents-on-the-dollar pay gap), and celebration of its “firsts” (African American president, woman nominee, gay athletes) subsumes actual accomplishment.
One reason conservatives are so entranced with and amused by her supporters’ inability to cite her accomplishments is that far from seeing Hillary Clinton as a victim, they see she has hugely and undeservedly benefited from being the feminist icon. “People are obsessed with the Clintons,” her supporters complain with a straight face, as if dwelling on a couple that live their lives in public and have fought tooth and nail to stay at the top of the political heap for a quarter century is evidence of their critics’ mental health problem. The president — and many political reporters — can say with all sincerity that she was among the greatest secretaries of state, ignoring the trail of errors and dearth of accomplishment that she left behind.
When people want to retrace her steps on a debacle in which four of her employees were killed, it is a “witch hunt” or “just politics.” When someone brings up her head injury (her husband confessed that her recovery took six months), he’s beneath contempt. Every error, from Benghazi security to Boko Haram’s exclusion from the list of terror groups, is attributed to others’ failings and circumstances beyond Clinton’s control or was impossible to have predicted, say her fans. Wasn’t she a mere three months ago telling women to stop whining?
We have gone from the smartest woman on the planet, the greatest feminist icon of her generation, to someone shielded from scrutiny and responsible for nothing. She’s a victim and a bystander in history. That’s a weird sort of icon.
Dean Baquet, who will replace Abramson, reportedly told female Times reporters upset over Abramson’s firing that putting women in high positions means that some of them get fired. Indeed, if nothing else, gender equality means that woman have the same “opportunity” to be insufferable bosses, lousy administrators, poor campaigners and unaccomplished politicians. It should make us appreciate the supportive bosses, masterful administrators, adept campaigners and accomplished politicians — of either gender — all the more.