Hillary the Hermit Crab

parry-giles fullOne of the pleasures of reading Hillary Clinton in the News is the trip back to yesteryear to see the freaks and embarrassments who made up the American media’s infotainment complex at the turn of the century—and to wonder that so many remain employed today.

Open to just about any page and you will find the gems of “insight” and “analysis” that author Shawn J. Parry-Giles unearthed in pursuing the story of how the press of the 1990s and early 2000s treated Clinton. Perhaps you will also admire that anyone would willingly submit themselves to long-term exposure to Toby Jugs like Chris Matthews in the name of scholarly research:

In answering this question, some suggested that Hillary Clinton really was incapable of forging such independence—her political viability was forever tethered to her political husband. During a June 7, 2000, episode of Hardball, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews compared Hillary Clinton to a hermit crab:

That’s the crab that finds its protection and its identity by hiding under a shell . . . Is that what [Hillary Clinton] is, a hermit crab, somebody who doesn’t have a separate identity or doesn’t have the sense of self-confidence to lead their own careers, but has found this crab, this shell, Bill Clinton . . . that she’s chosen to hide behind for thirty years as kind of protection and identity?

In response to Matthews’s psychological assessment, Laura Ingraham, author of The Hillary Trap, defined Hillary Clinton’s marital comportment as a behind-the-scenes power grab: “Hillary has siphoned off her power the old-fashioned way, by sticking with a man who could give her social status, social prominence, and at the end of the day, a large, large slice of political power pie and that’s what Hillary has gotten out of this.”

That Hillary Clinton’s political identity was tied to her husband’s led some to challenge the legitimacy of her campaign. They contended that her fame derived from her husband’s career rather than her own achievements. Conservative radio host Oliver North, on the MSNBC show, Feedback, argued most unabashedly in April 2000 that Hillary Clinton’s “never done anything. She’s accomplished nothing.”

In discussing views about Clinton’s marriage and career, NBC News discussed a poll among women voters from June 2000, where more than 50 percent of the respondents viewed Clinton more negatively. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin gave voice to some of the complaints from career women especially, suggesting a level of “resentment” linked to “the fact that they have to climb the ladder step by step to get where they are. And there’s a sense that Hillary has catapulted over the top of everyone else in New York to run for office, in part, on the basis of her marriage and her celebrity as opposed to simply her accomplishments.” First Lady Hillary Clinton thus would forever be known as Bill Clinton’s wife in the Clinton partnership, disavowing the possibility of a credible role reversal within a logic steeped in patriarchy. This news coverage reinforced once again the entrenchment of gender roles and news frames in the nation-state.