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You’re No Baroness, Hillary

A small confession: Like Andrew Sullivan, I have an abiding affection for tough Catholic conservative women because they remind me of my mother. Peggy Noonan is one, and so far as Hillary's gendered crybaby routine is concerned, I think the … Read More

By / November 9, 2007

A small confession: Like Andrew Sullivan, I have an abiding affection for tough Catholic conservative women because they remind me of my mother. Peggy Noonan is one, and so far as Hillary's gendered crybaby routine is concerned, I think the former Reagan speechwriter nails it:

A word on toughness. Mrs. Clinton is certainly tough, to the point of hard. But toughness should have a purpose. In Mrs. Thatcher's case, its purpose was to push through a program she thought would make life better in her country. Mrs. Clinton's toughness seems to have no purpose beyond the personal accrual of power. What will she do with the power? Still unclear. It happens to be unclear in the case of several candidates, but with Mrs. Clinton there is a unique chasm between the ferocity and the purpose of the ferocity. There is something deeply unattractive in this, and it would be equally so if she were a man.

Noonan opens her column with a cute anecdote about Thatcher's famed ovaries of steel, which set many a stiff upper lip quivering. Christopher Hitchens said Thatcher "reeked of sex," and he has a famous story involving a disagreement with her, at some Conservative Party gathering, over a point of fact about Rhodesia. Picture a young Trotskyist Hitchens — right about the point — bowing before the Tory Bodicea, who kept telling him to go lower. The scene ends with Thatcher tapping the Hitch on the ass and calling him a "naughty boy." Surely one way to fuse wiles with guile. If only Hillary played like that.

"Just one of the boys" is an old feminine cliche, invented round about the time that Neolithic woman turned to her flummoxed hunter-gathering partner and said, "No, no, here. Let me do it." The best exponents of this tradition, the ones who command our attention, are the women who don't sacrifice their extra X-chromosome to show that their competence and stoicism are equal to that of any John Wayne figure. Would Condoleeza Rice waver over sending troops into battle any more than Fred Thompson would? It's hard to imagine, especially given that Condi chose the eminently masculine field of Sovietology (but still likes expensive handbags and jewelry), and Thompson's chose the performing arts.

I suspect Hillary's toughness problem relates to another old feminine cliche: she won't let her hair down. She's too busy catering to expectation and suffering the Clinton Popularity Syndrome that she's yet to level with the country. She's hardly "against" the war in Iraq now; wants only to know that it can be won and she can be the one to win it. Otherwise, it's a done deal. And there's every reason to believe if the United States does bomb Natanz, it'll be under her watch, not George Bush's.

Hillary learned the hard way last week that invoking gender as a balm against political wounds is so very nineties. She has to know better, being married to a man who treats women like shit. Moreover, it took a black man to set her right on this matter.

Noonan is right: These are interesting times.

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