Republican front-runner Donald Trump quickly mocked Clinton’s quip. “Hillary Clinton is a joke. . . . I’m watching television, and I see her barking like a dog. She’s barking like a dog. And everyone says, ‘oh, wasn’t that wonderful, wasn’t that wonderful, isn’t that cute, isn’t that great?’ If I ever did that, I’d be ridiculed all over the place!”
A meaningless skirmish on the campaign trail? No doubt. But the episode brings to mind what Clinton has called “the talking dog syndrome” in American politics — when people are impressed that women are able to express themselves well in public. In her 2003 memoir, “Living History,” Clinton recalled speaking before a joint session of the Arkansas House and Senate in the early 1980s to make her case for school reform during her husband’s tenure as governor:
For whatever reason — probably a combination of skills and lots of practice — public speaking has always been one of my strong suits. I laughed when Representative Lloyd George, a legislator from rural Yell County, later announced to the assembly: “Well, fellas, it looks like we might have elected the wrong Clinton!” It was another example of a phenomenon I call “the talking dog syndrome.” Some people are still amazed that any woman (this includes Governors’ wives, corporate CEOs, sports stars and rock singers) can hold their own under pressure and be articulate and knowledgeable. The dog can talk! In fact, it’s often an advantage if people you hope to persuade underestimate you at first. I would have been willing to bark my whole speech in order to guarantee education reform!
In the memoir, Clinton writes that she once again encountered the phenomenon a decade later, when early in the Clinton administration’s efforts to reform health care she testified before House and Senate committees in Washington:
I was happy to have had the chance to speak publicly about our plan and pleased that the reviews were generally positive. Members of Congress applauded the testimony and, according to news reports, were impressed that I knew the intricacies of the health-care system. This gave me hope. Maybe my testimony had helped people understand why reform was so vital. . . . While many members genuinely appreciate the finer points of the health care debate, I realized that some of the laudatory responses were just the latest example of “the talking dog syndrome,” which I had learned about as First Lady of Arkansas. . . . Much of the praise centered on the fact that I hadn’t used notes or consulted my aides and that I generally knew my stuff.”
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