Hillary’s Shoutbursts

On Meet the Press this weekend, they debated whether Hillary Clinton is being held to a double standard when she’s criticized for shouting and not smiling enough. I agree about the irksome smile-more complaint , but it’s not sexist to say Hillary should shout less.

Truth is, most politicians in the television age – male or female — sound worse when they shout. Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis sounded absurd, like weak mean struggling to be heard. Howard Dean became (unfairly) famous for a shout-burst. By contrast, the most effective moments during Bill Clinton’s speeches come when he gets intimate. Ronald Reagan understood that when you’re on TV – whether in a studio or via a speech – you’re entering someone’s living room. Even Donald Trump delivers some of his most extreme lines in a matter-of-fact conversational tone.

There are exceptions. Bernie Sanders is one of the shoutiest politicians in years, and it hasn’t hurt him. Obama manages to raise his voice without making it sound like yelling.

But with Hillary, it’s not even close: she sounds strong, smart and effective when she talks softly. When she shouts, Hillary sounds like she’s trying too hard to be a bellowing populist, something she’s not. So if she discounts this criticism as being mere sexism she’ll be ignoring some sound advice.

P.S. Some of the comments questioned why I’m not bothered by Bernie’s shouting. I personally find Sanders’ shouting grating. But I suspect most people find it acceptable because he’s a socialist from Brooklyn calling for revolution. It would be weird for such a creature not to yell. Hillary is a stateswoman running her experience and pragmatism.

Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman is founder of LifePosts.com, a platform for online memorials and life milestones. He's a Washington Monthly contributing editor, journalist and author.