If people keep making sexist attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton, I may just have to vote for her. That means you, Elizabeth Edwards! As tabloid readers know, the wife of John Edwards told guests assembled at a luncheon hosted by Ladies’ Home Journal that she felt her “choices” had made her “happier” and more “joyful” than HRC. Translation: I’ve parked my legal career on the shelf to mind the kids, support my husband’s political ambitions and tend our wonderful marriage, unlike Hillary, a bitter ambitious career woman with a philandering husband. Well, isn’t that special! Isn’t she the fulfilled woman of the year! Why are we talking about whether or not a woman senator who, maybe, wants to run for President is less joyful than a (former) senator’s wife who, maybe, hopes to be First Lady? Nobody would dream of measuring a male presidential hopeful on the happiness scale. If they had, Abraham Lincoln would never have been elected. It is sad to think that Ms. Edwards would play the happy-homemaker card to help her lightweight husband best a woman with about ten times as much political experience. We all know Edwards did such a great job running for Vice President–the man was everywhere!–and made such a fantastic impression in his debate with Dick Cheney. Still, I might have gone for him in the 2008 primary, because every now and then he pops up out of nowhere and says poverty is bad. Now I dunno. We bitter ambitious career women have to stick together.
No sooner had Elizabeth Edwards apologized for remarks she claimed were taken totally out of context than John Spencer, HRC’s Republican opponent in the Senate race, jumped in. Hillary, he told a reporter, is ugly. “You ever see a picture of her back then? Whew!” He went on, “I don’t know why Bill married her.” Spencer claimed she had had “millions of dollars” of plastic surgery and now “she looks good.” Or maybe not: Photos of HRC looking old and tired are a Drudge Report constant. Well, to hell with you, Mr. Spencer. I’ve had it with the endless monitoring of women’s beauty, age, weight and hotness. You’ve just given me another reason to vote for her. President Hillary! The anti-Paris Hilton.
Unattractive and not-so-joyful are the least of it, though. How about “cold,” “flat” and “unwomanly” (National Review‘s John Podhoretz); “robotic” (the Wall Street Journal‘s Peggy Noonan) “angry” (Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman); a lesbian who conceived Chelsea after being raped by Bill (biographer Ed Klein); “Nurse Ratched,” “a castrating female persona” (Orlando Sentinel columnist Kathleen Parker on The Chris Matthews Show); “that buck-tooth witch, Satan,” “worse” than Osama bin Laden (Don Imus). Put “Hillary” into a search engine with “Lady Macbeth,” “dragon lady,” “ice queen,” “bitch” or “hag” and up come hundreds of thousands of hits. Oooh, an ambitious woman! A woman who isn’t thinking, every minute of every day, about how to make men feel big and strong! I just might vote for her to give these pathetic misogynists what for, and so might the rest of my coven.
Well, actually, they might not, if they’re like Code Pink, the women’s peace group, which “bird-dogs” HRC around the country because of her support for the Iraq War. When I asked Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the group, why they focused on Clinton, she said it was primarily because the senator is “important and influential” but also because of her sex: “You expect more of a woman.” Zillah Eisenstein, whose essay “Hillary’s War” is posted on Code Pink’s listenhillary.org, wrote me in an e-mail, “Yes, it is because she’s female.” It’s as if Code Pink were some kind of ladies’ auxiliary to the antiwar movement.
In her essay Eisenstein argues that HRC is a “female decoy” whose election would harm women because it would put a pink pseudo-feminist gloss on militarism and neoliberalism. There’s something in this, but it comes close to holding Senator Clinton’s femaleness against her: Logically, a man with the same positions would be less bad, because he couldn’t use feminism (or female stereotypes of caring and nurturing) to disguise them. But since anyone with a realistic hope of becoming President will necessarily have made all sorts of unsavory bargains with the status quo, this amounts to saying we’ll never have a woman in the White House. We’ll continue on as now: “expecting more” of women and tacitly expecting less of men.
Well, count me out. The contemporary women’s movement is almost forty years old, and after all that time exactly one woman has managed to reach the point where she can make a credible run for the White House. And I don’t see another one around the corner, do you? Polls consistently show the castrating satanic robot way ahead of her potential primary rivals. In general election match-ups she trumps every Republican but Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Maybe Barack Obama will alter the dynamics, which would be amusing, since I’ll bet few of his fans can name even three positions he holds. But right now, if HRC were a man, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But then, if she were a man, she wouldn’t be almost universally perceived as unelectable.
I’m not saying I’d vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary–although by 2008 I expect she’ll have come around on the war. I’d like a lefter candidate. But I want respect for women–and power is what gets you that. “It’s natural,” Medea Benjamin told me, “to want the people who are like you to be especially good.” Actually, the history of politics in America demonstrates the opposite: Suppressed ethnicities and communities have put up with everything from drunkenness to corruption to outright criminality in their politicians, as long as those politicians delivered–even just a little–back home. Maybe women should forget about being angels and start being more like Italians, Irish or blacks. Let me put it this way: Any candidate who wants me to vote for him instead of her had better have a whole long list of reasons, beginning with what he will do for women that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t do.