Is There a Democrat in the House?

I don’t get it: Democrats infatuated with John McCain and throwing spitballs at Hillary Clinton. Is this liberal Democrats in self-destruct mode again, or are we so desperate for a guy’s guy we’ll go into deep denial of what he represents? Maybe it’s just a “character thing,” a reaction to the embarrassments of the current Presidency by espousing the un-Clinton and rejecting the spouse-Clinton. Certainly, the cyclical nature of Presidential elections bear out the thesis that, at least in recent years, the winners represent a swing of the pendulum away from and in reaction to the excesses of their predecessors. After Richard Nixon’s inside-the-Beltway shenanigans, Jimmy Carter was the virgin outsider. He carried his own baggage, literally, and would have flown commercial, given half the chance. Then along comes Ronald Reagan, the optimist, an almost purely ceremonial President who in true movie-star fashion reflected back to the country what it wanted to see.

Mr. McCain is an undeniably fascinating figure, manly but not macho, unpredictable and relatively unencumbered. I even have occasional palpitations in his direction, mostly related to campaign finance reform-that issue about which we-the-people are not supposed to care-until I remember where he stands on a whole range of topics from guns to abortions. But-possibly because he is unpredictable-issues get less play than personality. He not only served and suffered for his country, while his fellow boomers sniffed and smoked, but he’s pulled off a marital upgrading that would have put any other candidate in the doghouse. He dumped his disabled wife, Carol, mother of his three children, to marry Cindy, a fairy-tale princess, beautiful and rich, future patroness of his political career. And he still gets rave reviews from Carol.

With Hillary, the Clinton legacy is not the major problem. I, like many, had fervently hoped the both would disappear when his term came to an end: hit the lecture circuit for $20,000 fees, or team up with Jimmy Carter and build lean-tos in Appalachia. But since that wish is not to be granted, can we at least look at her with some measure of rationality? Apparently, that is just what we can’t do. At its root, the problem for men is the fear and terror of the powerful mother; for women, it’s rivalry with that same figure, amplified by a thousand degrees when the woman is attractive. If she’s as worn as a chipped plate, if she wears funny hats or sports frizzy hair, then we can allow her a political career, accept her, with some jokes and misgivings, as an authority figure. But if she’s a winner on the battlefields of love and family and appearance as well, such an inequitable concentration of success becomes intolerable.

Oh, I know the litany of objections from both sexes, and from feminists and pseudofeminists alike. She’s gotten to where she is on her husband’s coattails. She’s still implicated in Whitewater. Attack dog Camille Paglia picks her temperamental soulmate Rudolph Giuliani, blasting Hillary as a puppet of Democratic power brokers. She’s a carpetbagger. An old-fashioned doormat wife. Her friendship with Vince Foster is alluded to have been something more. She changes her hair style and color too frequently. She stopped being a nice, fun person. She’s a closet Marxist and will turn into a rabid Maoist social engineer once she’s in office. On the other side, she’s not liberal enough, and should immediately expand welfare and repudiate capital punishment … and commit political suicide in the process.

Pardon me if I don’t buy any of this as the real source of Hillary-phobia. The red-in-the-face fury she provokes in men and the distrust among women who should be her allies seem wildly out of proportion to the sins invoked, not to mention the rather limited power she would enjoy as a senator.

The rise in her approval ratings when she stood by her philandering mate was straight out of Screenwriting 101 as practiced in movies of the 30’s and 40’s, the taming of the shrew or the humbling of the ambitious woman. According to this scenario, female honchos had to be reduced to quivering Jell-O, leveled in order to allay men’s fears and disarm women’s jealousy. For this audience, the Clinton movie was supposed to end as the masculine woman, having already been chastened for her hubris in the health care debacle, discovers her femininity and walks off into the sunset with the reunited family.

For the more liberated, she was supposed to divorce her husband, and what? Go back to Chicago, teach at the university law school and perhaps write occasional Op-Ed pieces for The New York Times ? By presenting a united front, the Clintons were stronger together than apart, and reduced the crisis from a catastrophic 10 on the Richter scale to something less lethal, like a 3. Can it be that we were disappointed, wanting the cataclysm, the car wreck, to jack up our pulses, even see them punished for our illicit fascination with the Monica story. Nothing less than their abasement would satisfy us. How could this man, so brim-full of pain-sharing, withhold his own, refuse to fall down on all fours and grovel, beg for forgiveness? How could this proud woman be so blind and, finally, so forgiving. So dignified! How could the whole finale be so un- Jerry Springer -ish?

Had they made a sorry spectacle of themselves, then they would have been finished, and we could go on without worrying about our ambivalence toward Hillary, or feel those pinpricks of woman-hating in the darkness of our politically incorrect souls. I confess many’s the time I’ve felt a reflexive irritation: Who does she think she is? She’s no Eleanor Roosevelt. Her book is banal. Why should we pay so much attention to her?

Well, I’m voting for her partly because she has maintained her dignity and held her head high, kept her family together and pressed on during what should have been a career-ending scandal. As for the carpetbagger charge, what Miami is to Cuban exiles, and Texas and California to Mexican immigrants, New York is to all of us bright malcontents fleeing hostile working and living conditions elsewhere in the country. From Carpetbagger Central: Give us your sick, your tired, your poor, and that other pariah group, your talented and ambitious women. Let’s make up for having voted down the Equal Rights Amendment and send Hillary to the Senate, a place that, after all, is not exactly a career-making nirvana, but a neutralizing collective where stars are as often buried as made.