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Leading feminist says Clinton plays the 'victim card'

Edwards advisor Kate Michelman's salvo is latest on gender issue.

November 04, 2007|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A prominent feminist, allied with the presidential campaign of former Sen. John Edwards, accused Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday of "disingenuously playing the victim card" by infusing her campaign with messages about gender.

"When unchallenged, in a comfortable, controlled situation, Sen. Clinton embraces her political elevation into the 'boys club,' " Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, wrote in a posting on a blog of the liberal group Open Left.

"But when she's challenged, when legitimate questions are asked, questions she should be prepared to answer and discuss, she is just as quick to raise the white flag and look for a change in the rules," Michelman said. "It's trying to have it both ways."

The missive by Michelman, a senior advisor to the Edwards campaign, was the latest salvo in a week in which gender flared as an issue in the Democratic presidential contest. Her cutting comments were publicized by the Edwards campaign in a press release.

The issue erupted after the Clinton campaign complained that male Democratic rivals at Tuesday night's presidential debate in Philadelphia had subjected her to a "pile-on."

At the debate, Clinton appeared to give nonspecific answers on several topics, such as on whether she supported the controversial plan of New York's Democratic governor, Eliot Spitzer, to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Democratic rivals seized the moment as an opportunity to portray Clinton as a calculating candidate with chameleon-like views.

Clinton's campaign subsequently posted a video on her website called "The Politics of Pile-On" that showed clips of the men at the debate uttering her name in rapid-fire succession.

On Thursday, she gave a speech at her alma mater, Wellesley College, in which she spoke about her effort to break into "the all-boys club of presidential politics."

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a top rival to Clinton in the Democratic race, said of the New York senator Friday that when "people start challenging her point of view, that suddenly she backs off and says, 'Don't pick on me.' "

Michelman reacted similarly.

"At one minute the strong woman ready to lead, the next, she's the woman under attack, disingenuously playing the victim card as a means of trying to avoid giving honest, direct answers to legitimate questions," Michelman wrote of Clinton.

"It is not presidential," Michelman said, adding that women "know better than to use our gender as a shield when the questions get too hot."

Phil Singer, spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said Saturday that Edwards, who represented North Carolina, and the other candidates were fabricating an issue out of desperation.

"The other candidates aren't going after Sen. Clinton because she's a woman, they're going after her because she's leading in the polls," Singer said. "Voters will make a decision about whether John Edwards' pledges to be positive" were anything more than just a political tactic.

rick.schmitt@latimes.com

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