As I said wrote a few days back, it is not impossible that Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) will be the Democratic nominee for president.
If she is, and even if she isn't, questions about her ability to actually lead, I predict, will be neither so numerous (nor so troubling) as those about her character.
If you came down from Mars to listen to a day's worth of comments about her, you'd think that Sen. Clinton had given up a job as a hit man to run for President.
She's cold-hearted (or a sob sister). She's a pushover (or overly ambitious). I especially love it when people point fingers and call her "ambitious." Why doesn't that apply to John Edwards? DUH! She's runining for President, usually considered the pinnacle of American ambition.
But the favorite charge against her is that she's a phony, a liar, a fake.
Carl Berstein, whose compelling but patchy biography of Sen. Clinton last spring ('A Woman in Charge') Carl Bernstein, famous for blowing the lid off the Watergate scandal more than 30 years ago, called her "inauthentic" and questioned her relationship with "the truth." To Matt Lauer on NBC's Today sow, he said, "This is a woman who led a camouflaged life and continues to."
Maybe Berstein is right. He said it wasn't because she was a private person, but because she just sort of likes to lie about herself.
In that 640 page tome, there is little about President Bill Clinton -- his dalliances, his own uncomfortable relationship with the truth, his classic child-of-an-alcoholic personality that contributes to his astonishing charisma and need for universal approval. There was not, Berstein said repeatedly, a single description of a single sex act in the book -- readers who want such details should, he said, should “go to another book.”
Fair enough. But he wasn't so fair, later on.
Berstein said, “What is important is Hillary savaging the women he was with, forgiving Bill repeatedly throughout their married life, but not forgiving the women he was with.”
Okay -- less so, but okay, to a point.
The book was about her, not her husband.
And yet, analyze that statement and the revulsion it betrays, revealing much more about Carl Bernstein than about Hilary Rodham Clinton.
Is what Bernstein called "important" really what's important? Is a betrayed wife's refusal to forgive the women her husband betrayed her with ... uh, something new in history? Is it unusual, or emblematic of character weakenss, particuarly since Sen. Clinton, despite many reports of rage and grief, did choose to continue her marriage? Was Sen. Clinton supposed to forgive her husband's consorts and have them over for lunch? Does her failure to do so make her "inauthentic" or ... a flawed and all-too-human being?
What about Bernstein's method's in unmasking what he and others called "the real Hilary?"
He interviewed personal friends from her growing-up years, used letters and papers given him by people that the young future senator probably considered her confidantes. How woudl I feel if someone wrote about my youthful romantic disappointments and quoted friends I considered to be loyal to me?
How would you feel?
If you had a hard relationship with your dad, and I did, and she did, would you want the whole world to know the sad details?
Here's one from my life: My father once told an eager New York Times reorter how disappointed in me he was when I chose not to donate a kidney to him. He did have kidney disease, but he was at the time, 71. I had five young children who might later need me for medical and many other reasons; my father was massively overweight and an alcoholic. It's not a pretty story. Would you want to confide that kind of homily to millions of people? I didn't. I cried for days. I was ashamed and pained that my father would seek public retribution.
And I'm not famous. People don't remember that, or give two hoots about it.
What if I were Sen. Clinton?
Woudl I gloss over some of the more painful aspects of my past? Have you ever done that? Did Presidnt Abraham Lincoln do that, in considering his marriage, in which there was much love and much of what we now call dysfunction? Did Jacqueline Kennedy do that? Do we revile her for it?
This is not to suggest that in any way, I condone lying in a public or a private context. In fact, honesty is my pathology... I'm honest to the point that it actually has a negative effect on my relationships, particularly with my family. I want the same honesy in return. Being lied to so much as a child makes me frightened of dishonesty, in the way someone else who'd been bitten by a dog as a child might avoid dogs as an adult.
But it's my belief that Sen. Clinton gets special treatment in the pants-on-fire department.
Even the continued use of her first name in reference (commentators don't routinely refer to "Barack" or "John" or "Mitt") diminished her, although perhaps not intentionally. It's like called her an "authoress" or a "candidatette."
Of course, Carl Bernstein was only the first and perhaps the least of Sen. Clinton's critics. His indignation was real, but was it righteous?
Men, especially perhaps the least secure of them (the ones with a closet filled with their own skeletons) love to have a whack at this women who would be the Commander in Chief. Just a teensy look at Carl Berstein's own pecadllos is served up with recipes by his former wife, Nora Ephron, in her novel 'Heartburn.' Ephron has never confirmed that this novel is a thinly disguised account of her stormy marriage to Bernstein, but it is. In one scene, as I recall, she was hugely pregnant with their son when she confronted one of her husband's paramours with, I think, something like a pie in the face.
Why would she do that?
Why would she be angry at the woman in the scenario and later feel love and forgiveness for the bad boy in the delivery room?
Must be a character flaw. Guess it's on the X chromosome.
So, apparently, is the tendency among women to snipe at Sen. Clinton. It's more surprising to me, but should it be?
Ariana Huffingon has made it a second job. She, among others, worries that the central sin of the current administration -- dishonesty -- will be perpetuated in an administration led by Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton. She even compares "Hilary's" lies to those told to Americans by George Bush and Dick Cheney.
Am I nuts? Or is this comparing grapes to grapefruits, or the the moon to a balloon? Does the blackest of Sen. Clinton's fibs even approach in seriousness the least of Dick Cheney's?
In a forthcoming anthology in which some two dozen respected women writers take a "hard look at Hilary" (again, her first name) there are a fair number of punches thrown, and some are sucker punches.
It's a cockeyed tribute to Sen. Clinton that she got this far against such a tide of disapproval. I know it's a cliche, but talk about a comeback kid.
Would this same kind of vitriol be directed at another woman? At ... the late Texas Governor Ann Richards, for example, a woman of great substance and courage with a past not only checkered but striped? I don't think so. But maybe ashes would be piled on the head of any woman who stepped into this amphitheatre.
My former boss, Donna E. Shalala, now president of the Universit of Miami and the longest-serving cabinet secretary in history, under Bill Clinton, mentioned "the other Clinton" in accepting her post. She had great admiration for Hilary Rodham Clinton and compassion for "Hilary's" reticence -- the guarded way that it seemed the First Lady had to apporach the world.
Once, Dr. Shalala told me that there was a sort of syndrome among women called "the queen bee effect." She said women somehow believed there was only room for one at the top and that one had better be perfect -- that this was not only anti-feminist but hugely counter-productive, the wiser strategy to form coalitions and give hands up to as many able women as was possible.
Is that what's at work here?
Would any reasonable person tolerate the kind of swipes people take at Sen. Clinton if she were black or a Jew .. or even, say, a Mormon?
We know the answer to that question. The question we don't know the answer to and may never know -- maybe you do; but I'm stumped -- is why?
Causes Jacquelyn Mitchard Supports
National MS Society, Women Against MS, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, One Writer's Place