Gwyneth Paltrow, in her highly publicized and ridiculed “Food Stamp Challenge” last week, unintentionally demonstrated the underlying problem that Americans have with Hillary Clinton.
And no. It’s not that they’re both blonde.
In case you missed it, last week, Gwyneth Paltrow was nominated by celebrity chef Mario Batali to take the “Foodbank NYC Challenge,” where participants try and see if they can eat for a week with the same budget that a person living on SNAP (food stamps) has… which they estimate to be about $29 a week. Aside that not only is that number disputed, and that the SNAP program was only meant to SUPPLEMENT a grocery budget, the challenge was an echo of an earlier version in 2013, and meant to raise awareness for the hunger and poor nutrition that people living on government benefits experience.
Paltrow partook in the paltry pantry plunge with a passion:
Having the media, especially the Washington Post, descend on her various faux pas is nothing new. Her celebrity lifestyle site, “Goop,” has become a virtual speed bag for reporters/comedians in training who want to demonstrate the utter disconnect between celebrities and normal people.
Let’s be honest: When you say that your blog is for designers and cooks strapped for cash while pushing the most expensive, top of the line products… or make comments about how single mothers working 9-5 don’t have it as hard as a multimillionaire movie star, you kind of bring it on yourself.
And when she gave up on the challenge just four days in, the ridicule only got worse. Some of it was actually legitimate criticism of her food choices. One drew attention to the “inexplicable number of limes.” (Seriously though. There’s SEVEN limes. Why?? Is scurvy a big fear in the Paltrow household?)
When this style of food stamp challenge was last run in 2013, with left-leaning senators taking selfies with their pitiful meals, some conservative lawmakers, and housewives, responded by tweeting pictures of what a huge difference that a little bit of crafty consumerism can make on a low budget:
Paltrow was accused of planning her week poorly on that kind of budget, and I would agree. I mean, if you’re strapped for cash, and need a cheap, filling food high in protein and calories, peanut butter is your friend. (The lack of peanut butter really bothered me for some reason.)
Across the board, the backlash to Paltrow’s endeavor was negative, and people were downright insulted. Especially to the people who DO live on food stamps, it just felt like a rich, white, blonde celebrity was patronizing them for publicity points. Their reaction was probably best summed up by a comment I saw on Facebook:
“You don’t know us, you don’t know our family’s struggle, and acting like you do just trivializes what we’ve done.”
But here’s the kicker:
Paltrow doesn’t really deserve any of this criticism.
Was it ham-fisted, poorly executed, and in the end, rather laughable? Yes, yes, and yes.
However, what reporters and the public alike don’t seem realize is that Paltrow’s spectacular failure just UNDERLINED the point she was trying to make from the beginning: Wealthy DON’T get the struggle that poor people go through. They literally cannot.
As far as shallow, pedantic “awareness raising” campaigns go, this one takes the cake. (Not literally, because, y’know, food stamps, but still.) The storm of media mockery created a discussion about food stamps and surviving on the government dole that Democrat senators could have never instigated on their own.
It was never meant to be a statement for people living with SNAP benefits. It was meant to be a call to action for the people who have never had to. She wanted to demonstrate that rich people cannot effectively relate to poor people. Even if you disagree with her, her challenge implosion was a good illustration for her argument.
It’s a pity that Paltrow didn’t do this challenge TWO weeks ago, or else Hillary Clinton might have learned an important lesson before she stumbled into her first week of campaigning for president:
If an obscenely wealthy person tries to act like one of us peasants, they will fail, and the public will hate them for trying.
During her first announcement week, we were treated to a hit parade of innocuous, vapid, but well-meaning gestures as Hillary Clinton embarked on a cross-country road-trip in her giant, glossy-black Chevy van, affectionately nick-named “Scooby.”
You literally have no idea how badly I wanted it to look like this instead. You don’t. She would have legitimately won my vote if her van looked like that. You think I’m kidding, but I’m being dead serious. You don’t even know.
And she definitely gave it the old college try:
She kicked it off with a super casual, social-media announcement that packed more diversity into two minutes than a late 80’s Saturday morning cartoon show.
She took a van to Iowa instead of a private jet.
She stopped and talked at coffee shops.
She ate at Chipotle.
She flew home coach.
She carried her own bags.
She tried. She tried SO HARD.
Unfortunately, people just didn’t buy it.
Oh, there were plenty of awkward gaffes that happened along the way: Not only was she unrecognized by the employees at Chipotle, but she didn’t leave a tip. Her van was spotted parked in a handicapped spot. Her “everyday American” audiences were actually hand-selected and screened. The “students” posing in her coffee shop photos were actually active Democrat party coordinators.
Her “hip” social-media announcement and attempted virtual groundswell felt less like Hillary desperately trying to recreate Obama’s natural appeal to the youth vote, but more like a retiree trying to wear skinny jeans in an attempt to convince the world that “they can be cool too!”
The Clintons on the Campaign Trail.
But none of these were anything but minor news fodder for more conservative publications. (Honestly, half of America has wrongly parked in handicapped spots at least once, most people don’t tip at Chipotle, and having friendly audience is pretty standard your opening week.)
No, people didn’t buy it for the same reason they scoffed at Paltrow’s Food Stamp Challenge: A well-established national figure, who’s spent the better part of the last twenty-five years making it very clear that she’s above the average citizen, suddenly trying to act like a populist champion comes off as more than a little insincere.
So what’s the difference between Paltrow and Clinton?
Short answer: Sincerity and consistency.
For all of her faults, Gwyneth Paltrow genuinely seems to have a heart for the causes she pushes, even if the causes are misguided and her attempts to help are… bizarre. She actually seems to care. On top of this, the idea of Paltrow helping the poor in the richest, whitest way possible is nothing new. She is literally (in)famous for it.
Paltrow has always presented herself as just your “regular person” with “regular people problems”…. who happens to have millions of dollars and enduring celebrity status. Goop.com hilariously, but consistently, tries to help the less fortunate with solutions only the rich can afford.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has only ever been consistent about ONE thing: wanting to become president.
Even before she had officially announced, Clinton was already being chided for hiring high-powered image specialists to change her public appeal. Now, this is pretty freaking common for politicians of every stripe. The reason it raised so many eyebrows is that the personality Hillary chose to work with is the diametric opposite of how she’s behaved for the better part of her public career.
Republicans knew a wealthy, corrupt, scandal-hounded, power-hungry Washington’s insider that had ridden her husband’s coat-tails to success and wanted even more.
Democrats knew a driven, strong, powerful, pant-suited woman who was never afraid to independently assert herself and was ready to make history wherever she went.
So, whether you think of her as the Wicked Witch of the West or America’s response to Angela Merkel, her new persona as just a regular ol’ grandma whose taking a break from being hip, cool, and perfectly average in order to casually run for president is… confusing
However, aside from her new-found personality, which literally did not exist two week before her announcement, people, especially Democrats, are taking issue with her remarkably fluid policies. (It’s just a given that Republicans will hate her policies no matter what they are.)
While some of her more ardent sycophants, like Michael Tomasky from the Daily Beast, believe that Hillary is the key to reversing the “rightward drift in this country since 1980,” others vehemently disagree, including others at the Beast. In an open letter to the candidate, David Freelander accuses Clinton of being a phony; just saying whatever Democrats want to hear and avoiding “rubber meet road” scenarios.
This sentiment has been echoed by Bernie Sanders and even Roseanne Barr, who both say Clinton is just microwaving old ideas and trying to pass them off as new, exciting, home-cooked meals of her own invention.
When Bill de Blasio is considering running against her in order to provide Democrats with a REAL “leftist alternative,” you know there’s a problem.
It’s not that the Democrats see Hillary as being too moderate. It’s that they don’t see her as ANYTHING… besides someone who wants to be president. She consistently gives off an air of complete entitlement, and has been running her campaign like someone who DESERVES the presidency. What Hillary doesn’t seem to understand is that this is not a unionized factory; seniority does not automatically mean promotion.
“You don’t understand. I put the time in. It’s MY turn. I DESERVE to lead you.”
She may BE the hope that progressives have been waiting for. They got a start with Obama, but gridlock, compromise, and generally unfulfilled campaign promises torpedoed that particular wave of hope and change. They’re gun-shy, and they want a candidate who will follow through, not someone who will treat the nomination as a coronation.
And Hillary is not showing signs of following through.
She’s already back to riding first class.
People are quick to say that it’s not such a big deal, but the problem is, when your campaign focuses such heavy attention on those little, scripted, “everyday American” moments, you’re going to be expected to keep it up.
Republican contenders haven’t had to deal with this particular sort of scrutiny because their campaigns have been almost universally issue-driven. Hillary is the only one who has placed such a huge emphasis on who she is as a person, because she’s trying to reinvent herself. But that’s coming back to bite her.
It’s not just about riding in planes, or even where you eat. It’s about WHY you do those “everyday American” things.
Obama didn’t just play basketball with college students for the cameras. He actually plays basketball. Bill didn’t learn to play saxophone just to get airtime on NBC. He actually plays saxophone. Regardless of politics, both of those presidents had extraordinary appeal and charisma, especially with young voters, because they felt REAL; they felt SINCERE, even if they weren’t.
Hillary, on the other hand, feels like someone just handed her a list of “Things Americans Do” and a list of “Things Democrats Like” and she’s reading them off to the cameras. It’s like she doesn’t even think about the crushing irony of what she says half the time.
She’s been attacking CEO’s for their unfair wealth, lamenting the mean-spirited nature of modern politics, and arguing that politicians need to stop with the massive flow of cash from questionable sources.
Meanwhile, conservatives and progressives alike are silently screaming “BUT YOU DO ALL OF THOSE THINGS!”
Hillary’s campaign is obviously a paper tiger when it comes to policy issues, which is why she NEEDS this to be a coronation. Once she gets into the general election, she’ll be able to fall back on the usual “Us. V. Them” rhetoric, declaring that liberals and moderates will HAVE to vote for her, because she’s their only choice. (Since Elizabeth Warren’s not making any more presidential overtures, they might be stuck with Hillary after all.)
But she can’t play those cards in the primary, and so until she actually goes into the ring with Republicans, she has to convince Democrats that she’s the populist hero they need.
Both Paltrow and Clinton have annoyed people by more common than they are, but with one, it’s amusing. With the other, it’s malignant.
Gwyneth Paltrow thinking she’s just like poor people is funny, in part, because she seems to think it’s true, and the media has gotten a LOT of mileage out of this harmless delusion. She actually believes it.
With Hillary Clinton, it’s very obvious that she doesn’t, and that just gives the whole facade a menacing air. Hillary leads anything but an average life, and her skin-deep attempt to convince people otherwise is insulting. Americans don’t like that. It’s perfectly justifiable to try and reinvent yourself for maximum appeal, but without ACTUALLY changing your behavior, it’s just so many nice curtains over a boarded-up window.
(Which doubles as a fitting illustration of Hillary’s policy on transparency.)
With Republicans like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, even if you think they’re completely insane, no one questions if they actually believe what they’re saying. In fact, the Democrat strategy against them seems to bank on the public taking them completely at face value.
With Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, not even her own base is sure she’s for real.
~ Louis Petolicchio lives and writes in Central PA, where he hopes to one day be rich enough to see the products featured on Goop as the bargains Gwyneth Paltrow clearly thinks they are. Follow him on Twitter!