By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Although Hillary has never been more popular — on Monday people lined up at bookstores to buy Living History — she’s a far more polarizing figure than Martha because she feels no qualms about poaching on the traditional male turf of national politics. She’s part of that first generation of women for whom becoming president is more than a hopeless daydream, and living in the White House clearly increased her sense of possibility; rather like Bobby Kennedy after JFK’s assassination, she now has the bearing of one whose destiny is bound to seeking the presidency. While Hillary’s iron-maiden quality puts lots of voters off, that’s no sure barrier to electoral success; as Margaret Thatcher showed, such steeliness may actually help a woman achieve power (although it must be said that the Dame Maggie had far sturdier ideological principles).
Hillary’s ambitions are sweet agony for the right, which has spent a decade vilifying her not for what she actually is — a pragmatic, mainstream Democrat who’s all about winning office — but for being the sort of dangerous radical who would turn abortion and lesbianism into sacraments. Sure, she backed NAFTA, welfare reform and the war in Iraq. No matter. Conservatives still want to believe she’s channeling the politics of 1960s Berkeley, and in the loopy intensity of such a fantasy, one senses a hysterical reaction against the very image of womanhood she represents — brainy, self-assured, challenging in its presumption of equality. Writing about Hillary’s interview with Walters, Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales called her “chillingly chilly” and suggested that “she may have emotions like ordinary people” but is “scarily proficient at suppressing them.”
While merely a cheap swipe, Shales’ words point to a larger truth. Much of the hostility toward both Hillary and Martha has nothing to do with their values or work or even their power. It has to do with their style. They’re thought to be cold, hard, bitchy — in a word, unwomanly — in a culture that still prefers its women, even its ass-kicking chicks, to be soft and openly emotional. We want Jennifer Garner to weep copiously in every episode of Alias. We want the tireless hugging of Oprah, who wears her inner life and battered history like a diamond tiara.
That’s precisely what we don’t get from Hillary and Martha, who think with their heads not their hearts, refuse to give themselves away too cheaply and take no pleasure in revealing their private selves to the mass audience. While these very qualities are generally admired in a man — think of all the positive talk about Bush’s “discipline,” Cheney’s “laconic” Wyoming style or Rummy’s “intelligence” — they’re thought to make a woman controlling.
Of course, what finally matters is who’s controlling whom and to what end. Even as Hillary and Martha get grief for their chilliness and calculation, our country is being run by a bullying male administration that coldly treats every public event as an occasion for fastidious stage management. During last week’s Middle East peace conference in King Abdullah’s summer palace in Jordan, Bush’s handlers ordered a special bridge to be built across the swimming pool so that Bush, Abdullah, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas could walk toward the TV cameras side by side. When the first bridge wasn’t wide enough for this striking group entry, they had it knocked down and replaced by a bigger one. And to think people mock poor Martha for being a control freak.