Now that it seems likelier and likelier that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) will be the Democratic nominee, I want to make it clear that I take back nothing about what I wrote about Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) -- except spelling his name the wrong way!
And yet, seeing the number of women lining up to thwack Sen. Clinton has alarmed me. I expected raw and unkind comments from me. But there is something about Hillary Clinton that people don't like -- and she knows this. As a reporter, years ago, I had several brief conversations with then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. I found her to be genuine, a devoted mother and yes, a devoted wife, whose sin it was to love her husband beyond reason. She was alternately soft and stern. She did not evidence the steely demeanor she has been forced to display on the campaign trail (except for that moment when she either "burst into tears" or "got a lump in her throat," depending on whose account you read).
Sen. Clinton has been called a hawk. Women are traditionally doves -- anti-war. How would Sen. Clinton be observed if she were seen, by men, to be a "weak sister?" She would be excoriated. How is she observed by women as someone who would end the war in Iraq "the right way?" She will be excoriated as a warmonger.
Women have said to me that they resent Hillary Rodham Clinton's now sixteen-year-old attempt to function as a policymaker in her husband's administration.
"I feel," one friend said, "She had no right. You know, it was like, we didn't elect you! She really didn't have a right to participate in the government!"
Well, she tried to do things a different way.
Instead of making literacy or remodeling the White House her vocation as First Lady, as the mother of a young girl, she tried to make a bid for a good plan for universal health care. I don't believe she was wrong. I don't believe her husband was wrong for trusting her. It was a bold move, and ended up being a wrong move -- politically. But it is not unprecedented.
When Eleanor Roosevelt went into the mines during the Depression to report on the conditions of workers for her disbled husband, how do we Mrs. Roosevelt's brave comment, "I am my husband's eyes..?" Do we recall that as an interference in the administration of FDR? Or do we recall it as a moment of extraordinary eloquence and courage, recall it with tears in our own eeys? Did Nancy Reagan take an active role in the much-vaunted "Reagan years?" She did. She was a right good president for much longer than anyone knew, if you like that sort of thing.
It's Hillary Clinton who's damned if she does and damned if she does.
If her refusal to leave her husband "ceded the administration to someone called Monica Lewinsky," as one writer who knows better than to practice such disingenuousness, opined, she would have been seen as less than the good, Christian woman she claims to be. Having stayed, she's seen as a power monger who remained in a "partnership" marriage sheerly for her own ambitions.
Hillary Rodham Clinton once told me that the American public's perception of her was like the old shaggy dog story about the farmer whose crop failed three years in succession -- once because of drought, once because of a plague of insects, once because of flood. Finally, the poor man stood in his ruined field and cried out, why me? And the Lord answered, "I don't know. Something about you just pisses me off."
Something about her pisses people off. But if she showed that funny side, that gentle side, that would piss them off too, because how could a gentle, tender human being bully the rest of the world? (And, isn't that what we do in the U.S. of A.?)
Debate and pick over Sen. Clinton all you will. Do it so much that Democrats are once again able to pull off the impossible -- to turn a virtually sure thing, and the righting of many wrongs.
Call her a she-devil. Call her a phony.
Say that next to Barack Obama she comes off slick and rehearsed. She does.
But she is a good woman. She's a smart woman. She'd make a good president. She'd make a smart president. She'll do the right thing -- including rectifying that old sin, that in the richest nation on earth, kids' parents don't know they can't see because they don't have the money to take them in for eye appointments, that in the richest nation on earth, kids still die of ear infections. She might be a better president than her husband. I can virtually guarantee that she won't repeat the sin for which her husband was (absurdly) "impeached."
If the vicious shenanigans of the past eight years have been acceptable to you, you'll get more. Otherwise, stand off.
The wise and gentle and savvy Barack Obama will have his moment -- if not now, then soon.
This time, it may be ladies first. Treat Sen. Clinton with the same respect you'd give any .. man.
Causes Jacquelyn Mitchard Supports
National MS Society, Women Against MS, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, One Writer's Place