It’s a case of the psychopharmacological meeting the psychohistorical.
Researchers have long held that we respond to stress by either getting ready for battle or by surrendering. Psychologists call it the “fight or flight” syndrome, and it has been part of the medical canon for more than 50 years.
Now, however, a new study suggests that women react quite differently to stress. Instead of “fight or flight,” women are more likely to “tend and befriend,” that is, they turn to their families and friends when confronted with stress. In a study to be published in Psychological Review , researchers state that the different reactions may be based on hormones. Estrogen released during times of stress, they say, enhances the hormone oxytocin, which is found in women when they are in childbirth or are nursing. Meanwhile, men under stress tend to produce lots of testosterone. That’s why so many high-powered men snap at their children when they come home after a hard day in the office.
All of this is just theory at the moment, but New Yorkers should have little trouble believing the conclusions. After all, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton could serve as Exhibits A and B for “fight or flight” and “tend and befriend.”
Mr. Giuliani recently found himself faced with the greatest personal and professional stress of his life. He was running for U.S. Senate; he was diagnosed with cancer; his marriage was in a shambles, and the newspapers were reporting the existence of a special lady friend. Faced with all of this, he didn’t reach out to friends and family (as his wife can attest). Instead, he chose flight: He dropped out of the Senate race.
Meanwhile, consider the First Lady’s reaction to the stress in her life. She was publicly humiliated in a way that was quite unprecedented in human history (no other woman has had her husband’s infidelities posted in narrative form on the Internet for all the world to read). She was forced to stand by her husband, the President, in order to save their careers. And, aside from a silly remark about the vast right-wing conspiracy, she has chosen neither fight nor flight. Instead, she gathered together her close friends and allies, tended to her own ambitions, plotted a Senate campaign, and set out on a listening tour. She’s trying to befriend an entire state!
The theoretical models seem to work in the cases of Mr. Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton. But the real test of “tend and befriend” will come in November if New Yorkers choose to ignore Mrs. Clinton’s offer of friendship. A defeated Hillary Clinton, stuck in Chappaqua with her lug of a husband, may yet discover the joy of “fight or flight.”
Speaker Silver: Your Time Is Up
Through the brutal use of political power, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has put down a coup and managed to save his job. Too bad. Mr. Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side, is supposed to be looking after the city’s interests in Albany. But, in fact, he had made things worse with his autocratic style, his insularity and his fingernails-on-chalkboard personality.
Mr. Silver has alienated his Democratic colleagues upstate and more than a few of his fellow city Democrats over the years. Those tensions erupted in mid-May, when Assembly Majority Leader Michael Bragmann of Syracuse tried to stage a lightning coup against Mr. Silver. The plot failed, mainly because Mr. Silver threatened retaliation against wavering Democrats and cut deals with opportunists and mercenaries, of which the state Assembly has no shortage.
Mr. Silver’s ability to work with his upstate colleagues has been damaged beyond repair. That’s not good for the city, which depends on the support of upstate Democrats. And, truth be told, Mr. Silver had hardly been a stalwart champion of the city. When New York’s Republicans, trying to win a state Senate race in suburban Rockland and Orange counties, moved to repeal the city’s commuter tax last year, Mr. Silver didn’t stand and fight-as he did when confronted with a threat to his job. Instead, he went along with the repeal, despite Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s fervent pleas. The result: The city lost a revenue stream of more than $350 million per year.
The means by which Mr. Silver saved his job probably ensures that he will lose it sometime in the near future. With any luck, Assembly Democrats will turn to veteran Assemblyman Herman (Denny) Farrell of Manhattan. Mr. Farrell understands Albany and the city, and seems to understand that even an assembly speaker cannot rule by dictate. He’d be a refreshing change.
Jon Corzine for Senate
We don’t usually comment on out-of-state politics, but the race for U.S. Senate in New Jersey takes in a host of regional issues affecting New York. And we think Jon Corzine, the former chief executive officer of Goldman, Sachs & Company, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, is well-versed on the issues that affect the entire Northeast-a region that has been losing political clout and seniority, and sorely needs a new champion.
Mr. Corzine, who will face former Governor Jim Florio in a primary on June 6, is just the sort of candidate we need to add some excitement-and fresh ideas-to government. He doesn’t need the job or the headaches that come with it. But he clearly believes he can make a difference. We share that opinion.