The late sixteenth century may have been the great golden age of English drama, but life for all but a few lucky Jacobean players was desperately precarious (the word ‘career’ in this period retained its older sense of something a horse does under you when it tries to bolt). A government statute of 1572 branded players as ‘rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars’, and, unless they could acquire the protection of a patron, they were exposed to the whim of the authorities. The Puritan City fathers in London detested theatres and all they stood for, and endlessly, bad-temperedly, angled for them to be closed down; breeding grounds for bubonic plague, incitements to sedition, lewdness, frivolousness, time-wasting. Between 1603 and 1612, London theatres went dark for nearly eighty months, often for long stretches of a time, forcing actors into other work or out on the road. In the harsh theatre closures of 1592-93 (when even Shakespeare attempted to find another job, as a courtly poet), as many as 200 players were cast out of work.
As Henry James had written of her after Bernhardt’s London debut in 1879, “she is a celebrity because, apparently, she desires it with an intensity that has rarely been equaled, and for this all means are alike to her.” These words were not intended by James as praise, but Wilde took them as career advice.
When Bernhardt returned to England in 1880, after touring America, he showed his fealty to his new mentor by casting an armful of flowers at her feet as she stepped off the ship and onto terra firma. The press coverage of this act of adoration was huge and, best of all from Wilde’s standpoint, as much about him as about her. Not that Bernhardt held a grudge. She was a regular guest at parties thrown by Wilde at Thames House, on one occasion leaving her autograph on a the paneling in the living room. (Bernhardt’s English was spotty, so she and Wilde conversed in French.) Wilde was euphoric about the autograph, his friendship with “the Divine Sarah,” his rise in society, and, most of all, the attention he was getting from the press. But he knew the next phase of his project [of making himself famous] would be even more critical to his future success: from now on he---not Miss Bernhardt or Mrs. Langtry---would have to be the work of art on display.
Sarah Bernhardt (left) as the Prince of Denmark in a short film of the duel scene from her 1899 production of Hamlet.
I was pretty proud of myself for suggesting to Mrs K that she could cast girls in some of the men’s roles. I didn’t think it was an original idea. I was proud of myself for knowing that it wasn’t an original idea. I knew all about Sarah Bernhardt and how she’d starred as Hamlet back in 1899. I don’t remember if I knew that it wasn’t an original idea when Bernhardt alased over poor Yourick’s skull. Fifty-four years before that, in 1845, in a production of Romeo and Juliet at London’s Haymarket Theatre, an actress and impresaria named Charlotte Cushman cast herself as Romeo to her sister’s Juliet. And this sort of sister act became a theatrical tradition. In a comment on the first part of this post George Roberts reported that in 1896 his great-great-aunt Esme Beringer played Romeo opposite her sister Vera, George’s great-grandmother, as Juliet.
So casting women in men’s roles is nothing new and nothing rare. A few years back, Helen Mirren played Prospero, gender-swapped as Prospera, in a film version of The Tempest directed by Julie Taymor.. The trailers and online clips didn’t make it look very good to me but not because of the gender-swap and certainly not because of Mirren. Too much weirdness, not the least sign of whimsy. But I don’t like the play much anyway. The Public Theater is staging Taming of the Shrewwith a cast of all women. That strikes me as either a stunt on the Public’s part or a statement by the director, and I don’t go Shakespeare’s plays for the directors’ statements. But a woman playing Pertruchio as Petruchio or Petruchia? Why not? (Well, except that a Petruchia makes Kate’s final speech quite a conundrum.) As far as I’m concerned, that’s the answer to Tina Packer’s lament that actress who love Shakespeare have been shortchanged by the Bard, and it’s easy enough to pull off. You don’t have to do any gender-bending nor, on the other hand, do you have to require actresses to play the parts as men.
There are male characters who could be played by a woman without her having to be a convincing male impersonator. I even recommend not bothering with beards and mustaches or attempting whatever’s the opposite of a falsetto. The younger male characters, particularly, could be played fairly straight. So to speak. Hal in Henry IV. Octavius in Antony and Cleopatra. Romeo. Whatever traces of her femininity she failed to hide would contribute to the character’s youthfulness. And then there’s Richard II who’s usually played with more than a trace of femininity. (Actually, often as effeminate, but I think that’s a mistake.) I’m not sure how I’d react to an actress as Falstaff, Macbeth, Othello, or Shylock, but it would be interesting to find out. You might need the facial hair and false baritones for them, though.
I could definitely accept a female Lear.
Or a Queen Lear.
And like I said, you don’t have to have your actress play the part as a man, if the play is taken out of period and set in the here and now or in a time and place that never really existed. Kent in King Lear would be a good candidate. These days a king’s top advisor, strong right hand, and chief bodyguard could be a woman but Game of Thrones provides an excellent model as well for a Lear set in a world of sword and sorcery in the form of Brienne of Tarth. And while I’m not particularly interested in casting as a political statement, I can be intrigued by casting for psychological insight, that is, as a way of exploring an aspect of the character’s character and affecting the dynamics of his/her relationships with other characters. Mercutio could be played by a woman as a man, easily enough, but a Mercutio played by a woman as a woman opens some interesting possibilities.
Mercutio is a brawler and a duelist. And a hothead. He accuses a friend of having a head as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat but he's describing himself. He dies because he provokes Tybalt into the duel Romeo's trying to avoid. This is no problem for an actress playing Mercutio as a man.
But it's really no problem for an actress playing "her" as a woman either, if she plays her as an ultra Tom-boy like Starbuck in Battlestar Galactaca or Black Widow in The Avengers and the production's set in a time and a place where she could go about swaggering and boasting and getting into fights she can win handily because she's faster with her fists and deadlier with a blade than any of the gang of men she hangs out with. Her quarrelsomeness and belligerence might stem from her feeling she has to prove she’s tougher than all the guys. Mercutio as written is a Roaring Boy but she could just as well be a Roaring Girl.
There's an interpretive question for any actor playing Mercutio, though. Why does he make so much fun of Romeo for being in love?
The simple answer is right there in the text. Romeo famously cries that he is fortune’s fool. But that’s later. At the start of the play he’s a fool for love. Falling in love is what he does. The play opens with him infatuated with a girl of the moment named Rosaline. There's no reason for Mercutio to take this romance any more seriously than the previous ten. And being in love makes Romeo boring company. He’s always “groaning for love.”
Add to this that Mercutio is young man and has a young man’s easy cynicism and sense of entitlement. As far as he’s concerned, life is meant to be fun and part of the fun is lots of casual sex. Undying love for one girl puts a damper on that.
But many actors and directors read more into it. They believe Mercutio’s jealous.
Their Mercutios are gay and in love with Romeo themselves. I can see it. I have seen it. I don’t think it’s there but why not?
The thing is that if your Mercutio is a young woman then it’s going to be there whether you want it or not---it being her unrequited love for Romeo---because audiences are trained to look for sexual attraction between pretty male and female characters, so you might as well run with it.
The ridiculous and incomprehensible and therefore nearly unplayable Queen Mab speech makes a little more sense if it’s played as Mercutio showing off flirtatiously for Romeo. There are different kinds of flirtatiousness producing different sorts of inherent sadnesses, depending on whether Mercutio is a man or a woman, but the flirtation and the sadness are still real and still true to life and therefore true to Shakespeare who was always true to life.
To make Mercutio’s story the story of his or her unrequited love for Romeo might be to put too much Mercutio into the play and there’s already close to too much of him as he is. There’s too much of everybody in all of Shakespeare’s plays. That was a part of his genius. Characters with just a single speech reveal their entire backstories and give you glimpses into the comedies and tragedies of their lives with that one speech. The point is that you could make the gender switch and the play would still be Romeo and Juliet. It would still be Shakespeare’s play.
You can play this game with just about every male character. What if, say, Iago was a woman? She’d be a lesbian, but that doesn’t have to mean anything. On the other hand, it might. Iago’s hatred of Othello seems so evil because it is motive-less or far in excess of its ostensible motivation, his (her) resentment at having been passed over for promotion. But at one point when asked by his stooge Roderigo why he wants to ruin Othello’s life, Iago says he suspects his wife of cheating on him with Othello.
Usually this is taken by directors and actors playing Iago as just something Iago says to shut Roderigo up. He doesn’t believe it himself and, considering how indifferent he seems towards his wife, probably wouldn’t care if she had. Which by the way raises the possibility he’s a closet case and his unacknowledged sexual attraction to Othello or Cassio or both is what’s twisting him up. Now imagine the complications if it’s a woman jealous of her wife whom she suspects of cheating on her with a man and that man, the manliest man in all the Mediterranean.
Then there’s the possibility that Iago is in love with Desdemona himself…or herself.
I like the idea of a nearly motive-less Iago, whether he’s a she or she’s a he. But I hope you can see where I’m going with this.
Casting women in men’s roles, even if you then swap the genders, doesn’t make the plays less or even all that different from what they already are, because there’s so much human in them. Whatever aspect of human nature you go looking for, Shakespeare’s put it there for you to find.
By the way, Mercutio never meets Juliet on stage which opens up an intriguing opportunity for doubling, with different effects depending on whether the actress playing Mercutio plays him as a man or a woman, but that would defeat the purpose of giving more good parts to more actresses.
Which is one reason I’m not keen on the idea of casting men in the women’s roles. Another reason is that there’s no reason to do it except to make some sort of statement and like I said I don’t go to the theater to hear the director make a statement.
Plus, men in drag are still something of a joke, even in our more enlightened day and age. (That was a sarcasm.) . A very good actor can make an audience forget that he’s a man in drag. Laurence Olivier is said to have made a fetching Kate in a production of Taming of the Shrew when he was fifteen. But why bother except to make the statement or the joke? And the statement has become a cliché and the joke isn’t funny to anyone but the Brits.
Anyway, that’s how I’d deal with it if I ran the world. Cast as many good actresses as I could in whatever roles they could do the best jobs with. And there are many male characters who could be played by a woman without the director or the actress having to worry about the gender or the politics, again depending on the setting, characters defined by their jobs or the role in the plot rather than by their sex or their romantic relationships. The gravedigger in Hamlet. The porter in Macbeth. Justice Shallow in Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Jacques in As You Like It. Cassius in Julius Caesar.
There’s an old tradition of casting girls as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The great Victorian actress Ellen Terry got her start in the theater as a little girl playing Puck. But even earlier than that, in 1840, an actress and producer known as Madame Vestris cast herself as Oberon. But why not an actress as Bottom as well, played as either a man or a woman. What is bottom but a vain, self-aggrandizing, self-infatuated blowhard, and men don’t have a monopoly on those traits. If she’s played as a woman that adds some sexual confusion to Titania’s falling in love with her, but Titania’s falling in love with a donkey not a person and it almost doesn’t matter if the donkey’s male or female. The joke isn’t on her anyway. The joke is in how quickly and easily Bottom takes to being both a donkey and petted favorite of a queen. It’s perfectly natural to him for a weaver to be treated like a monarach and waited on hand and hoof by fairy servants of whatever sex.
The point is that it doesn’t matter how she gets to it, an actress has the great pleasure of delivering this speech:
When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer. My next is “Most fair Pyramus.” Heigh-ho! Peter Quince? Flute the bellows-mender? Snout the tinker? Starveling? God’s my life, stol'n hence, and left me asleep? I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream—past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had—but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called “Bottom’s Dream” because it hath no bottom. And I will sing it in the latter end of a play before the duke. Peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall sing it at her death.
Ok, I’m done. I’ll let Puck, boy or girl, bow us out now
If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber'd here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream, Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend: And, as I am an honest Puck, If we have unearned luck Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue, We will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call; So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.
As I was saying yesterday, mourning doves aren’t among my favorite birds, but they have their attractive qualities, not the least of which is their mournful morning cooing and who-who-whoooing. Grackles, on the other hand, have almost nothing to recommend them.
Eight a.m. and I’m hard at work in my summer office. That would be the front porch, for those of you new to Mannionville industrial and retail complex. Not much people activity, except for me, but lots of bird activity. No sign of the catbirds who live in our bushes but I expect one or more will be along shortly to remind me who really owns the place. But right now I’m being watched by a mourning dove perched on a telephone wire. He or she is busy with grooming its feathers but since that doesn’t seem to require studious attention, the bird’s keeping an idle eye on me as if I might somehow make myself interesting and interrupt the boredom. Mourning doves aren’t among my favorite birds mainly because even though I know better I think of them as just a kind of pigeon, and, while it’s unfair to call pigeons as they’re often called “rats with wings,” the phrase just pops into my head when I look at a mourning dove. Makes it hard to give them the admiration they deserve.
Pigeons, by the way, the gray and brown gluttons you feed in the park type, aren’t officially named pigeons. They’re rock doves. But they’re pigeons, not doves. Cornell’s Ornithology Lab doesn’t bother being polite about it. They flat out call them pigeons. Rock pigeons. Mourning doves, though, are doves, and being watched by this mourning dove reminded me I’ve been saving an article from the New York Times to share with you since March and this morning is a good time to finally get around to it. Here you go:
They’re almost never cast that way. They’re almost always all female. Usually they’re played by young women dressed like Tinker Bell. Often they’re played by young teens and even little girls. Which has resulted in the odd production in which, thanks to a director who refused to change a word in the script, Bottom addresses an obviously girlish fairy as Master Peaseblossom.
The reason for this gender rearrangement is that when Shakespeare wrote the play women were not allowed on stage. Female roles were played by boys and the number of boys who were good enough actors to play adult women like Rosalind or Lady Macbeth was limited. Shakespeare’s company seems to have had only two or three or at most four at any given time. There are four significant female roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Doubling on the part of all members of the company was routine but Midsummer requires one of those boys, whoever was playing Titania, to be onstage with the fairies. The popular conception of fairies in Shakespeare’s day wasn’t anything like Tinker Bell. It may have been that fairies were imagined as being like the elves in Lord of the Rings and middle-aged male faeries would have been easy for Elizabethan audiences to accept without a second’s thought. On the other hand, the play is set in ancient Athens and it’s likely that many people who knew their mythology, which naturally would have included ‘Shakespeare himself, would have equated the fairies with wood nymphs, so I think Shakespeare would have written them as all female if it had been practicable.
But ever since women were allowed to take the professional stage (in England that happened with the Restoration), directors who decided to cast strictly according to the script would have had casts of at least a dozen men and four women, which means explaining to a lot of actresses why they’d be out of work. It also means forgoing the box office appeal of having pretty young women onstage dressed like Tinker Bell or, as has been done in some more daring productions, not dressed at all.
But this post isn’t about about nubile actresses in a various stages of undress, or about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, specifically, or even about Shakespeare, exactly. It’s about this fact:
Only 17% of speeches in Shakespeare’s plays are by women.
Shakespeare’s ability to distil human nature into an elegant turn of phrase is rightly exalted – much remains vivid four centuries after his death. Less scrutiny has been given to statistics about the playwright and his works, which tell a story in their own right. Here we analyse [sic; British, donchew know?] the numbers behind the Bard[.]
Mostly the article is the reporters playing counting games. How many characters die by being baked into pies. (Two.) How many times Shakespeare uses the word “love” (1,640.) Which play is performed the most. (Looks like A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream: 2,058 productions between 1959 and 2015.) Which character’s the most talkative. (Hamlet. You didn’t even have to think about it, did you? He has 358 speeches.) And what percentage of all the speeches in all the plays did Shakespeare give to his female characters.
This is fun and the graphics are amusing, but it was something in this passage that caught my attention and sparked this post:
Shakespeare may have been widely championed as a visionary, but this description can’t be applied to his record on gender equality. On average men are given 81% of speeches, while 17% go to women and the rest are made up of unknowns or mixed groups, according to Open Source Shakespeare. Women tend to come off worst in his tragedies: Timon of Athens features just nine speeches by women, compared with 725 by men. And yet the population of Shakespeare’s England was roughly 53.5% male and 46.5% female. “It's been rough on women actors with a passion for Shakespeare these 400 years,” says Tina Packer, the actor and artistic director at Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts.
I’ll give whoever wrote that a pass on trying to spice up a game of trivial pursuit with a bit of 21st Century gender politics, but the implication that Shakespeare was somehow being willfully sexist in excluding nearly half the population from his plays fudges the practical reality. The reason there are proportionately few speeches by women in Shakespeare’s plays is that there are proportionately few women characters and a main reason for that is what I was saying above. There are fewer women’s roles than men’s roles in all Shakespeare’s plays because he didn’t have enough actors who could play more of them them. The actual population of England at the time was irrelevant to his purposes. He had to write for the company he had.
Certainly sexism was at work. Shakespeare appears to have been less misogynistic than the average Elizabethan man, but he wasn’t enlightened to the point of being far ahead of his times in his attitudes about the roles women should play in life and on stage and the opportunities that should have been available to them. But it was his times more than his own attitudes that determined how many female characters there are in his plays.
Women were almost entirely excluded from public life (with one notable exception) and the majority of Shakespeare’s plays---the histories and the tragedies---focus not just on the public lives of his main characters but on the public life of England. (Every one of Shakespeare’s plays is set in England, just sometimes he calls it Rome and sometimes Venice and sometimes Illyria.) There are a plays in which characters’ private lives interfere with and determine public affairs, and it’s worth noting that several of those plays include some of Shakespeare’s strongest and most vivid female leads---Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, Hamlet---but all his plays that aren’t comedies or one of the problem plays are heavily populated with military officers, government and church officials, soldiers, and the occasional king or prince who for one reason or another finds himself leading an army into battle.
(One of the saddest scenes in all Shakespeare is in a play in which we’re given a glimpse of things working the other with a character’s public life intruding tragically into his private life, Julius Caesar. It’s the scene in which Brutus’ wife Portia comes out into the garden where Brutus is brooding the night away as he hardens himself to assassinate Caesar. She tries to get him to talk about what’s so obviously worrying him but he pushes her away, breaking her heart. It’s a great part for an actress but it’s really just an extended cameo.The only other female character is Caesar’s wife Calpurnia and she’s a victim of the same exclusion from her husband’s public life and consequently also a cameo role.)
Shakespeare might have included a few more female characters if he’d had the actors but the they’d have been---like most of the male characters, actually---minor characters with little to say.
But, as with Midsummer and nearly naked actresses, explaining---never mind excusing---the sexism of Shakespeare’s times isn’t the reason I’m writing this post.
It’s that quote at the end of the passage from Tina Packer, the artistic director at Shakespeare & Company up there in Massachusetts:
“It's been rough on women actors with a passion for Shakespeare these 400 years”
Shakespeare wrote many splendid female leads. Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Beatrice, Rosalind, Katherine, Viola, Portia (the other Portia, from The Merchant of Venice. “A Daniel come to judgment!”), Juliet. It can be debated forever whether these characters are as iconic, as culturally influential, as dramatically interesting, as profound as their male counterparts like Macbeth, Hamlet, and Lear, and whether sexism is at work in our seeing the men as the greater roles, more challenging and therefore career-defining in a way the female leads haven’t been for great actresses who’ve played them. Every great stage actor’s Hamlet is seen as a high---or low---point in his career. People whose parents and grandparents weren’t even born at the time will talk about Barrymore’s or Gielgud’s or Burton’s Hamlets. A great actress’ Rosalind is rarely even brought up in appreciations of her career. For the record, I would love to be able to go back in time and see Redgrave’s and Mirren’s Rosalinds,
(I left Olivier’s Hamlet out up there for the obvious reason. Everybody’s seen it or ought to have.)
But it’s when you get past the leads that the difference really shows.
There are no great female villains on the order of Richard III or Iago. (The Macbeths aren’t villains. No, they’re not. To start with, they both have consciences.) There are no significant second female leads and supporting characters. No female Mercutio, Horatio or Laertes. No Kent. No Enobarbus. No Philip the Bastard. The melancholy Jacques of As You Like It isn’t much of a character, he’s almost nothing more than an attitude, an annoying attitude, except that he is defined by that one speech, but it seems unfair that an actress shouldn’t get her moment in the spotlight pronouncing all the world a stage and all the men and women in it merely players.
There are very few show-stopping character parts for women. No drunken porters or cheerfully philosophical grave diggers. No clowns. No comic servants.
Shakespeare simply didn’t write enough female roles for all the actresses who love his plays and want to act in them.
This is something that bothered me back in high school.
I was a little over-eager in those days and overly ambitious on behalf of our drama club and I regularly pestered our wonderful and wonderfully patient teacher and adviser with ideas and suggestions for our next production. I was in thr process of reading my way through the drama sections of both our school library and the public library and I was full up to the back teeth with plays I thought we could do, all of them chosen because they contained parts I wanted to play, dramas, comedies, new plays, old plays, my favorite Shakespeares:
Macbeth. (I wanted to play Macduff.) Henry IV. (I wanted to play Hal.) Julius Caesar. (I wanted to be Brutus but would have “settled” for Marc Antony.) King Lear. (Edgar. Or Edmund. I was flexible.) Romeo and Juliet. (Mercutio.) Othello. (Iago.)
Mrs K didn’t point out that we didn’t have actors capable of playing Macbeth or Falstaff or Othello or Lear or, well, Brutus, Iago, or Mercutio. Instead she said what she said to some of my other suggestions like Mister Roberts (Ensign Pulver.), if we put on those plays, it would be unfair to the girls in the club. Too many would be left out.
It took a while for that point to sink in. But it did sink in and I eventually began looking for plays that had more than one or two good parts for actresses.
This wasn’t all due to a raised consciousness on my part. It dawned on me that if I’d wanted to spend a couple hours everyday after school in the company of mostly guys I’d have gone out for sports.
I found more than a few but I still wanted us to do at least one of my favorite Shakespeares.
And I hit on a solution.
Why not just cast some of the girls in the men’s parts?
Friday night. June 24, 2016. Posted Friday night, July 1.
At B & N. My favorite barista's working. She's a nice kid. That's how I think of her, as a nice kid, although she's in her early 20s. She's attractive, not a stunner, but pretty in her way. Not in the habit of wearing makeup at work that I've noticed, although I try not to notice these things anymore. Saves embarrassment all around. But tonight as she served me my coffee our eyes met and I saw that she was wearing heavy black liner and mascara and I...noticed.
She has absolutely beautiful eyes.
But I think I did a good job of hiding it and kept up my disguise as just a friendly but befuddled old man with nothing but coffee on his mind.
Reminded me though of when I wasn't a friendly and befuddled old man, back when I was a rookie college teacher and the young women in my classes didn't seem so much like kids.
I was determined from the first day not to...notice. And I was pretty good at not noticing. In fact I was proud of how I was able to keep my eyes to myself. But I hadn't yet learned the trick of taking my glasses off at the start of class, and one day in the middle of making some point I...noticed.
One of my students, a nice kid except that right at that moment I was suddenly not seeing her as a kid, had worn a skirt that day. A very short skirt. If she'd ever worn one to class before I hadn't noticed. But that day I did.
And I noticed she had gorgeous legs. I mean, gorgeous!
Stopped me in mid-sentence.
And she caught me!
And she smiled. She saw how embarrassed I was and found it funny. That was better than her finding it anything else but I was still mortified.
In those days I used to pace the front of the classroom when I lectured. I dropped my eyes and fled back to the podium where I buried my eyes in my notes for the determinedly short time it took me to regain my composure. When I had, I went back to pacing as if nothing had happened, although I was careful not to look her way and just as careful not to look as though I was being careful not to look her way.
Probably didn't fool her.
But that was probably the day I learned to take my glasses off.
Just went up to the counter for a re-fill. I was careful not to look the barista in the eyes and careful not to look like I was being careful not to look her in the eyes.
I think I pulled it off.
After all, these days I really am just a befuddled old man with nothing much more on his mind than his coffee.
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I love this story from Hillary Clinton’s memoir Living History for a number of reasons, among them the historical irony of three future Democratic nominees for president meeting when only one of them was realistically looking at a chance that would happen, one of them was only beginning to dream and scheme, and the third apparently and likely had no clue as to what her own future would bring. But what really makes me smile is remembering Jimmy Carter’s smile back when he was still full of hope and promise and had reason to smile like that and when that smile brightened the mood of the whole country in those first years after Vietnam and Watergate. Hard to remember that it wasn’t Ronald Reagan who first made people feel that it might really be morning in America again. Hard to remember that Reagan’s failed campaign to take the nomination away from Ford in ‘76 was a mean-spirited one. But as Mom Mannion observed, Carter’s fate was sealed when he stopped smiling like that. Like this:
Bill Clinton’s first election victory as Attorney General of Arkansas in 1976 was anticlimactic. He had won the primary in May and had no Republican opponent. The big show that yea was the presidential contest between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
Bill and I had met Carter the year before when he gave a speech at the University of Arkansas. He had sent two of his top lieutenants, Jody Powell and Frank Moore, to Fayetteville to help in bill’s 1974 campaign., a sure sign he was surveying the political landscape with an eye toward a national run.
Carter introduced himself to by by saying, “Hi, I’m Jimmy Carter and I’m going to be President.” That caught my attention, so I watched and listened closely. He understood the mood of the country and bet that post-Watergate politics would create an opening for a newcomer from outside Washington who could appeal to Southern voters. Carter correctly concluded he had as good a chance as any, and as his introduction implied, he certainly had the confidence necessary to undertake the ego-mangling of a presidential campaign…
At the end of meeting, Carter asked me if I had any advice for him.
“Well, Governor,” I said, “I wouldn’t go around telling people you’re going to be President. That could be a little off-putting to some.”
“But,” he replied with that trademark smile, “I am going to be.”
Just another old-style pol: Hillary Clinton on the night she became the first woman to clinch one of the two major political parties’ presidential nomination, June 7, 2016.
Like I would know, but I suspect that a lot of Bernie-voting young women who claimed they didn’t care if we elect the first woman president this time out are finding out that they do.
Also like I would know, but I’ve believed all along that the majority of Bernie’s voters are good liberal Democrats who voted for Bernie because they wanted a more liberal nominee or at least a more outspokenly and less defensively liberal nominee than they perceived Hillary to be. Now that it’s over, I expect that they’ll be just fine with voting for her and not just against Trump. It may take time, until the convention if not all the way to November, but they’ll come around. Most of them. Some never will. That’s the way it goes every election.
A twitter acquaintance who tweets under the handle of Seedsdown sent me this link to a post by Laffy who blogs over at Radio or Not. Laffy’s a stalwart Bernie supporter and is of course feeling mightily disappointed these days. But it sounds like Laffy’s working her way there. Her friend, radio broadcaster Angie Coiro, whom Laffy quotes in her post, hasn’t started yet and may never get there.
Yes, like it or not, Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee; a woman can finally claim that victory and that’s a ‘uuuuge deal. While I’ve never been an identity voter or even a single issue voter, I fully and enthusiastically acknowledge that this is a biggie, it’s historic, and a long overdue accomplishment.
It’s a bit of a stunner to be a feminist of so many years, then sit with distress and disappointment at the country’s first woman major-party presidential nominee.
That’s where I’m sitting – not sure how to process this long wished-for benchmark, when the mark has been made by an old-style politician. Old style in her questionable sincerity and her lack of transparency. Old style in her connections to the monied and the power mongers.
Different set of genitals – which yes, does have historical significance – but mostly the same old shit.
I can tell you this: if you told 20-year-old me that one day I’d be disappointed that the old, established white guy couldn’t overturn the powerful woman who bore the black president’s stamp of approval, I’d have laughed you out of the room.
Before I get to the idea of HRC as an old-style pol, about Bernie as a new-style one…
I like a lot of Bernie’s politics. Of course I do. It’s the kind of liberal politics I learned at the knee of that great old-style Democrat Pop Mannion. That’s why Bernie’s never stuck me as particularly new-style. As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, he’s a throwback. Much of his “socialist” rhetoric was old-hat when he came of age politically in the 1960s. As far as what he’s actually stood for, he’s not much to the left of Walter Mondale, Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, or, for that matter, Lyndon Johnson. I’m not criticizing. That he’s in their company is high praise and I’m glad he’s there helping to renew the spirit of their old-style politics.
But he didn’t start this. The renewal has been going on for the last seven and a half years, led by the most successfully progressive president since LBJ.
The only thing that puts Bernie to the left of Barack Obama is that the president has had to actually get things done while all Bernie’s ever had to do is vote the right way.
Scott Lemieux ranks Obama's along with Lincoln's, FDR's, and LBJ's as one of the "handful of American presidencies under which there were major shifts in American policy in a clearly progressive direction". Democrats experiencing “Buyer’s Remorse” are imagining the President could have governed as liberally as FDR and LBJ did without having their overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress. Some of them think he had that. They’re forgetting---or ignoring---that during the very short time between July 2009 (Cf. Al Franken) and February 2010 (cf. Scott Brown) when Democrats held both houses of Congress with a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate those 60 seats included those of Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Kent Conrad, and Byron Dorgan.
Not a single one of them is in the Senate anymore. And I’d say good riddance, except that only Lieberman's and Conrad's seats have been taken over by Democrats and only Lieberman's by a true liberal. The rest have been replaced by Republicans, and that’s cost the party the majority. Still, I think it’s made the caucus more liberal and it’s likely to get more liberal after the election. And I think it’s freed up President Obama not to have worry about being undermined by members of his own party.
But back to Bernie. With Hillary now the presumptive nominee, the last four Democratic nominees have been her, Barack Obama, John Kerry, and Al Gore. Squinting in from far off to the left, they may look center right to you. To most Democrats they look like what they are, good old-fashioned liberal Democrats. And recapping the lists, Clinton, Obama, Kerry, Gore, Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and Lyndon Johnson, and throwing in Franklin Roosevelt for good measure, the only way Bernie doesn’t fit right in is he’s made a point of not being the kind of party man and woman all of them, with the possible exception of McCarthy, are and were. Which has limited his effectiveness as a legislator and turns out to have hurt him badly in the primary. What makes him sound more liberal is he’s been promising to spend more than they did and has put items from their wish lists on his to-do list with no solid or sound plans to pay for any of it, a rather too familiar form of old-style liberalism.
“Soak the rich!” is a stirring battle cry but it’s hardly newer than “Remember the Maine!”
In short, when I’m feeling kindly towards him, I see him as a nostalgia act. When I’m in a meaner mood, I see him as a self-promoting grandstander trying to claim credit for ideas and programs countless Democrats have put forward and fought for for over a century. Most of the time, though, I see him as something else old-fashioned, a tax and spend liberal of the most egregious and stereotypical sort. Nothing new-style in that.
On top of which, it’s hard for me to see what’s new-style about a canny old pol who’s managed to stay in Congress for twenty-five years by making opportunistic alliances with the kind of old-style Democrats Coiro disdains.
As far as it goes, Bernie himself has come late to his own revolution.
Meanwhile, it baffles me how the first woman nominated for president by either one of the two major parties can be said to represent old-style politics. The very fact of her is revolutionary in itself.
It appears that it’s the money that marks Clinton as old-style in Coiro’s mind. That and her connection to the “power-mongers” whoever they are. I don’t know how they expected Bernie to run a competitive campaign in the fall without his making his own connections to the monied and the power-mongers. Same way he was going to get his Social Democratic agenda through a Republican-controlled Congress, I guess, but never mind. Bernie people fixated on the money are right that all that dough coming in does give the rich access and influence that the rest of us can’t hope to have except by relying on the good-hearts and commitment to democratic and Democratic principles of individual politicians. And Bernie’s supporters, encouraged by Bernie himself, have talked themselves into believing they can’t rely at all on either Hillary’s good heart or her commitment.
I believe I can, because I have. For the eight years she was my senator. She disappointed me a number of times. I expect she will again from time to time as President. Name a great liberal politician who doesn’t have black marks next to their name. But never mind me and whatever I may represent among her supporters. Among many others, millions of women and children here in the U.S. and around the world have relied on her good heart and commitment to help make their lives better...to help give them lives.
In their assessments---dismissive assessments---of her credentials as a “progressive”, Bernie supporters, again taking their cue from Bernie himself, have tended to ignore the work she has done since law school on behalf of women and children. (Their ignoring it, by the way, is another reason Bernie has lost. Women have noticed.) But of course women’s issues---family issues---are progressive issues and her feminism goes hand in hand with her progressivism. When that’s added to the equation, there are significant ways Hillary is to the left of Bernie.
Another thing old-style about Bernie is he seems to share the old-style Left’s indifference to women’s issues or, at any rate, the old-style’s Left’s habit of thinking that everything will taken care of by their economic agenda whether specifically addressed or not. Not just women have had some problems with that notion and that’s led to Bernie having problems getting their votes.
There is a way in which Hillary is undeniably an old-style politician. She’s been in politics for a long time and has been a party loyalist doing the kind of old-fashioned field work that helps win Democrats elections and that has meant dealing with some very old-style politicians . Here’s a story about a type of old-style politician she had to deal with back in 1976 when she and Bill went to work for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign:
Upon [Bill’s and my] return to Fayetteville, Carter’s staff asked Bill to head the campaign in Arkansas and me to be the field coordinator in Indiana. Indiana was a heavily Republican state, but Carter thought his Southern roots and farming background might appeal even to Republican voters. I thought it was a long shot, but I was game to try. My job was to set up a campaign in every county, which meant finding local people to work under the direction of regional coordinators, mostly brought in from around the country. The Indianapolis campaign office was in a building that housed an appliance store and a bail-bonding firm. We were right across the street from the city jail, and the neon sign flashing “Bail Bondsman” still hung above the Carter-Mondale posters in the front windows.
I learned a lot in Indiana. One night I had dinner with a group of older men who were in charge of the Democratic Party’s get-out-the-vote efforts for Election Day. I was the only woman at the table. They wouldn’t give me any specifics, and I kept pressing for details about how many phone calls, cars and door hangers they planned to put out on Election Day. All of a sudden, one of the men reached across the table and grabbed me by my turtleneck. “Just shut up, will you. We said we’d do it, we will, and we don’t have to tell you how!” I was scared. I knew he’d been drinking, and I also knew all eyes were on me. My heart was beating fast as I looked him in the eye, removed his hands from my neck and said, “First, don’t ever touch me again. Second, if you were as fast with the answers to my questions as you are with your hands, I’d have the information I need to do my job. Then I could leave you alone---which is what I’m going to do know.” My knees were shaking, but I got up and walked out.
That’s from her memoir Living History and anyone who wants to talk knowledgeably about her heart, her commitment, her politics and political education needs to read it.
That story is forty years old. The sexist Hoosier bully is probably gone from the earth. But you think his style of politics doesn’t live on? Never mind the sexist bully the Republicans are going to run against her. There are plenty of other people, and not Republicans and not just men, for whom the idea that a woman can have personal agency let alone be President of the United States is still so new they can’t even begin to fathom it.