November 4, 2007
Gift of Gall
By MAUREEN DOWD
Girlfriend had a rough week.
First Hillary got brushed back by the boys in the debate. Then some women bemoaned Hillaryland’s “Don’t hit me, I’m a girl” strategy.
The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus deplored the “antifeminist subtext” of Hillary’s campaign playing the woman-as-victim card. “Using gender this way,” she said, “is a setback.”
I must rush to a sister’s defense.
Women need to rally to support Hillary and send her money because there are men, men like Tim Russert, who have the temerity to ask her questions during a debate. If there are six male rivals on stage and two male moderators and heaven knows how many men manning lights and boom mikes, the one woman should have the right to have it two ways.
It’s simple math, really, an estrogen equation.
If she wants to run on her record as first lady while keeping the lid on her first lady record, that’s only fair for the fairer sex. And if she wants to have it both ways on illegal immigrants getting driver’s licenses, then she should, especially if those illegal immigrants are men, or if Lou Dobbs is ranting on the issue, because he’s not only a man, he’s a grumpy, cranky, border-crazed man.
She should certainly be allowed to play the gender card two ways, or even triangulate it. As her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, said after the debate, she is “one strong woman,” who has dwarfed male rivals and shown she’s tough enough to deal with terrorism and play on the world stage. But she can break, just like a little girl, when male chauvinists are rude enough to catch her red-handed being slippery and opportunistic.
If the gender game worked when Rick Lazio muscled into her space, why shouldn’t it work when Obama and Edwards muster some mettle? If she could become a senator by playing the victim after Monica, surely she can become president by playing the victim now.
Sometimes when Hillary takes heat, she gets paranoid and controlling. But this time she took the heat by getting into the kitchen. After trying to have it both ways during the debate, she tried to have it both ways after the debate.
In New Hamphire on Friday, she stayed above the fray, saying that her male rivals are not “piling on” because she’s a woman but because she’s “winning.” Meanwhile, she let her aides below the fray stir up fem-outrage by putting a video on the campaign Web site called “The Politics of Pile On,” edited to highlight men ganging up on her to the tune of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.”
Mark Penn presided over a conference call on Wednesday to rally supporters to the idea of a fem-backlash, during which one devoted Ellen Jamesian suggested that Tim Russert “should be shot.” The woman quickly repented, not the sentiment, but the fact that she shouldn’t have said it on a conference call. (NBC security remained on high alert.)
Nothing should be sacred when it comes to rousing the women’s vote, especially the working-class women Hillary needs to carry her back to the White House. That may be why she recently blew off a Vogue photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz at the last minute, according to Liz Smith: to show solidarity with supporters who can’t afford Vogue frocks.
And remember the time Hillville used a Washington Post story about a sighting of the senator’s cleavage in the Senate to spearhead a fund-raising drive with women? Dollars for décolletage. Genius!
When pundettes tut-tut that playing the victim is not what a feminist should do, they forget that Hillary is not a feminist. If she were merely some clichéd version of a women’s rights advocate, she never could have so effortlessly blown off Marian Wright Edelman and Lani Guinier when Bill first got in, or played the Fury with Bill’s cupcakes during the campaign.
She was always kind enough to let Bill hide behind her skirts when he got in trouble with women. Now she deserves to hide behind her own pantsuits when men cause her trouble.
We underestimate Hillary if we cast her as Eleanor Roosevelt. She’s really Alfonse D’Amato. Not just the Senator Pothole role, but the talent for playing the aggrieved victim.
D’Amato pulled off a dramatic upset in ’92 against Robert Abrams, the New York attorney general, by pouncing when Abrams slipped one night and called D’Amato a “fascist.” Though never a sensitive soul about insulting other ethnic groups, D’Amato quickly cast “fascist” as an insult to Italian-Americans, producing an ad with scenes of Mussolini.
“It was sheer gall,” Anthony Marsh, D’Amato’s media consultant, proudly told The Times’s Alessandra Stanley.
Like Alfonse, Hillary has the gift of gall. She can be righteous while playing brass-knuckle politics. She will cozy up to former enemies she can use, like Matt Drudge and David Brock, and back W.’s bellicosity if it helps banish her old image as antimilitary.
There is nowhere she won’t go, so long as it gets her where she wants to be.
That’s the beauty of Hillary.