Does Our Next President Need a “New Car Smell”?

Hillary Clinton and new car smell, Hillary Clinton and new car smell metaphor, media sexism and Hillary Clinton, women and cars, did President Obama say Hillary Clinton doesn't have a new car smellWhy would anyone want a new car smell in a president? This is the metaphor currently being used to describe Hillary Clinton.

It began when President Obama used it to refer to the next Democratic nominee for president. “I think the American people, you know, they’re going to want that new car smell,” he said. Democratic pollster Doug Schoen followed up on the metaphor when he said in a radio interview that it would be difficult for him to say that Hillary “has a new car smell.”

What exactly is a new car smell? It is, according to anthropologist Nick Shapiro, the smell of formaldehyde. More recently a study showed that the new car smell was a mix of off-gassing toxic substances in the interior of a new car associated with a myriad of serious health conditions. But Shapiro also says that the new car smell is the need of the aspirational buyer, the person who cannot afford a new car and associates the newness with something they are desperate to achieve – class status.

Not to be left out, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post jumped on the bandwagon in his column about a speech Hillary recently gave in Georgetown entitled “Hillary Clinton has lost that ‘new car’ smell.” Milbank’s piece reads like an old husband’s description of his wife who just didn’t do it for him anymore — “The ride and handling were stable. The acceleration and braking were adequate. But this car was not new.”

Ouch. Is Hillary a Buick as opposed to a Mini Cooper? Why do these men use a car metaphor to describe a woman who might run for president and has a very good shot at getting elected? Because they have a problem with watching a woman run for president. They are old, stuck in their ways and love the male status quo of the Oval Office.

A woman president is a threat to men who are accustomed to seeing only themselves reflected back to them from the most powerful position in the United States. A woman in the Oval Office challenges the historic male reflection to include women who have been traditionally paired with the objects men own and control — likecars. It’s rankling. So they go running for a symbol of male status from America’s post war years, a time when consumerism was lauded as the height of the American dream. Buy a house. Buy a car. Be somebody. Cars were referred to a ‘she” by the men who owned them in 1950s America. It’s not a new car if it doesn’t have that smell.

The new car smell is artificial and that is okay for some writers inside the D.C. beltway who grasp for shallow narratives when they can’t think deeper than a soundbite. They are desperate for the new car smell because they aspire to something they cannot have – authenticity.

The new car smell is toxic. It is the rotting sham underbelly of some members of a sexist American media who have lost their way and think a president has to smell new in order to be elected. It is an odd metaphor for our green sensibilities. Toxic substances are anathema to how we want to change our world.

I’m not surprised at Milbank who, in 2009, laughed himself silly in an online video where he compared politicians to flavors of beer, suggesting that should be drinking one called Hillary “Mad Bitch Beer.”

To the men who are yearning for that “new car smell,” I suggest they just buy a new car and leave the real politics to the people.

Jennifer Lee is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She has spent many years working on Hollywood films and used her free time (when she had it!) making her own films. Her latest film, “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” is being distributed nationally and more public screenings are upcoming! Jennifer was recently named Global Ambassador for the Global Media Monitoring Project.

To schedule an interview with Jennifer or talk with her about booking her as a speaker, she can be reached at

Image via It’s a Wonderful Life … blog

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