If Angela Merkel Doesn’t Have to be Likable, Why Does Hillary Clinton?

Angela Merkel Hillary Clinton likability Hillary Clinton Paradox

Americans and Germans may want different things in their leaders. One person quoted in TIME’s cover story about Angela Merkel said Germans “find charismatic leadership worrying.” Apparently, Americans can’t live without it … at least when it comes to Hillary Clinton.

When people describe German Chancellor Angela Merkel, plenty of phrases come to mind that have nothing to do with her personality.

She’s been a player on the global political stage for decades and Chancellor of Germany for ten years. Adjectives to describe her range from “prudent, pragmatic, and down to earth,” to “resolutely dull.” Merkel, TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2015, is the woman who has almost single handedly kept the European Union together and managed a major global immigrant crisis. TIME’s profile says of Merkel, “Her political style was not to have one; no flair, no flourishes, no charisma, just a survivor’s sharp sense of power ….”

Some call her “Mutti,” German for mama, so there’s an acknowledged warmth factor there, but no one has ever suggested that in order to lead, she would also have to be likable or authentic in the way that American voters apparently need from Hillary Clinton.

When we talk about Clinton, a strong and accomplished woman who has a pretty good shot at becoming the first American woman president, it seems that we can’t get over our bizarre need for some of those flairs and flourishes that we equate with being “likable.” You don’t have to look far to discover the endless lists of articles on this whole ‘Hillary Clinton isn’t likable’ thing or some on-air media handwringing session on whether we love her or love her not, and whether Clinton can win without voters feeling like they could kick back with her with, say, over a nice glass of Chardonnay and chat about the return of The Gilmore Girls.

While recent Pew research shows that voters believe men and women can be equally qualified as political candidates, research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation digs deeper into what that means, concluding that in order for Americans, especially women, don’t consider a woman candidate to be “qualified,” she must also be likable. As for men? No likability qualification required. Can you say “Donald Trump?”

Which all makes me have to ask – what is our problem?

We know the dreaded likability question has dogged Hillary Clinton since she ran for president in 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama uttered the now-infamous four word slam, “You’re likable enough, Hillary.” Fast forward to 2015, and the media are still stuck in likability mode. For example, The Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie recently felt compelled to ask Clinton why she has trouble connecting with voters, ignoring the connections she’s clearly made with crowds who turn out to see her. And cable talking head shows use the topic as regular fodder when it’s a slow news day.

The larger question on this whole is she or isn’t she likable question is this – Why do women voters hold women candidates to a different standard? It’s not about Hillary; it’s about us. I believe it’s because women are so hard on themselves in their daily lives when it comes to living up to our culture-driven quest for perfection, that we insist that a woman leader on national level must also be on the same perfection driven journey for us to believe in her. And if she isn’t, we see that as a judgment against ourselves that we can’t forgive, regardless of how objectively qualified she is.

Americans and Germans may want different things in their leaders. One person quoted in the TIME story said Germans “find charismatic leadership worrying.” Apparently, we can’t live without it … at least when it comes to Hillary.

American likes charisma. And we like the illusion of perfection. We’ve proven that to ourselves with Clinton and Reagan and Kennedy and George W. Bush, even though history told a different tale about how perfect or likable they were. The question we have to ask ourselves for 2016 is whether we can ever get over it and look to candidates’ actual experience and qualifications, especially in a woman who wants to be president?

Joanne Bamberger is the author/editor of the just-released Amazon bestseller, “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox” (She Writes Press). She is also the publisher/editor in chief of The Broad Side, an award-winning digital magazine of women’s commentary.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License/Jacques Griessmayer

  • Mark Able Jones

    Hillary Clinton supported policies like the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, a $152 billion handout to special interests; she favors health care mandates and equates that to health insurance; she called universal health care a fantasy even though every other developed nation has it in some form; she voted for the USA PATRIOT Act, twice. She supported the bank bailouts but not a corresponding bailout for the hardworking Americans who lost their retirement funds; she supported the Crime Bill, which is responsible for putting so many nonviolent offenders in prison and breaking up families; she helped dismantle welfare; she kept a private email server in her basement in order to skirt the freedom of information act; she calls herself a moderate one week and a progressive the next. She voted for Iraq war against the advice of numerous political scientists. She voted against a Dem amendment that would have stopped our use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. She pushed the DNC to overturn the rule against accepting lobbyist donations. In August 2016, she attend 37 mega-donor events, and 12 public events–who do you think she will represent?

    You make it seem like Hillary is disliked solely because she of her gender, when many of the same people who dislike Hillary would love to vote for Elizabeth Warren. While some Americans may dislike Hillary without reason, the fact is that she is disliked because her policy choices are consistency at odds with what the American public says it wants (according to polls). No one cares that she is a woman.

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