The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in All the Wrong Places , by Laura Ingraham. Hyperion, 228 pages, $23.95.
If it turns out you and someone whose ideas you dislike dislike the same person, does that mean the two of you have something in common? Is your enemy’s enemy really your friend?
Enough metaphysics! Let’s get to the point: Though I suppose at present there’s no sane alternative to voting for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming senatorial election, I’ve never been a fan of the First Partner. Both Clintons have always reminded me of characters from The Wizard of Oz , missing some essential human component–not brains or heart or courage, exactly, but rather a moral center, a vein of integrity unwarped by opportunism or political expedience. The unfortunate and costly mistakes of the current administration–the “waffling” over health care, Bosnia and gays in the military, the dismantling of the welfare system, the national embarrassments of Monicagate–have made it all too easy to imagine Bill and Hillary trotting down the yellow brick road, warbling in harmony, or at least in unison: “If I only had a soul!”
But that was then, and this is now: Now I’ve read Laura Ingraham’s tedious and irritating polemic, The Hillary Trap , an exposé of the wrongheadedness and hypocrisy of Mrs. Clinton’s positions on everything from big bad government to tiny innocent children, from parental leave to gun control, from women’s rights to Bill’s serial infidelities. Ms. Ingraham, whose public persona (an analyst for NBC news and former talk-show host on MSNBC) offers welcome reassurance that being a right-wing political pundit doesn’t mean you have to quit being a babe, claims that “Hillary’s ideas about marriage, education, the workplace and family politics have set women back rather than forward. Her liberal feminism has created a culture that rewards dependency, encourages fragmentation, undermines families, and celebrates victimhood.”
After neatly dispatching the aims and achievements of feminism (“the false sisterhood”) Ms. Ingraham goes on to attack the sort of liberal propaganda that would actually have us believe that women are still discriminated against in the workplace and the classroom, that vouchers aren’t the ideal solution to the problems plaguing our educational system, and that Hillary’s refusal to publicly excoriate Bill for his infidelities (and suggest some fittingly draconian punishment) have undermined the institutions of marriage and the family and turned this country into the roiling snake pit of sin and degradation that our puritan forefathers warned us against.
In any case, Ms. Ingraham achieves quite the opposite of what she intended: Her distaste for Hillary and her husband can almost persuade you that the Clintons really stand for something nobler, more genuine and consistent than you could have hoped. How shortsighted of us to have assumed that it was ambition–rather than principle–that drove Hillary; how grateful we should be to Ms. Ingraham for suggesting that Hillary’s politics are “left-wing,” that the couple is fired by “radical ideals” and “trendy leftism.” How silly not to have realized that the obvious answer to certain still-unsolved questions (When will a woman get paid as much as her male coworker? When will her boss stop grabbing her ass?) is that women should just quit whining and go out and start their own profitable corporations!
Logic, as it happens, is not Ms. Ingraham’s strong suit, so that reading her book may remind you of engaging with those ultra-conservative dweebs in your college classes or the various evangelicals who come knocking on your door–two groups that apparently share the notion that debate means citing carefully culled (or skewed) statistics and doggedly repeating the same thing over and over until their opponents are exhausted or bored into submission.
How can Ms. Ingraham claim that Hillary has “set women back” while at the same time implying that women’s problems have been solved, that today’s women have made such extraordinary advances that they no longer need feminism? How can she seriously argue that women should expect to be paid less because their jobs are often less “physically arduous and dangerous” than men’s (does risk really demand more compensation than, for example, mind-numbing tedium?) and because they insist on taking time off to indulge in such frivolous and self-serving activities as bearing children? No doubt many mothers, single and married, will be surprised to hear that “no one forces women to tailor their careers to families. It’s their choice.” Amazingly, Ms. Ingraham seems to believe that women should be obliged to decide between family and work, to “make the same sacrifices men have made.” (“Plenty of women lead perfectly happy lives without children and without regrets.”) And she modestly espouses the quaintly retro notion that anatomy is indeed destiny: “I’m no expert on evolutionary biology, but it seems to me that the fact that women get pregnant and have the babies has something to do with their role as mothers.”
Touchingly, Ms. Ingraham uses her bully pulpit to defend her own rights–the right to carry a gun, the right to wear a leopard-print miniskirt on the cover of The New York Times Magazine . Less touchingly, she seizes the occasion for a little payback. If only some kindly editor had informed Ms. Ingraham that it’s quite simply undignified to use one’s book as a forum in which to respond to perceived insults from the likes of “feminist watchdogs” such as Laura Flanders and Katha Pollitt. What comes through, at such moments, is a sense of Ms. Ingraham’s youth–an impression confirmed by a rather heartbreaking passage near the end of the book, in which she describes her mother’s death from lung cancer and then holds her mother up as an example of the sort of self-sufficient woman who would never resort to the sleazy dissimulation and special pleading so commonly practiced, or so she believes, by Hillary Clinton.
But whatever sympathy Ms. Ingraham’s tender and childlike ruminations may generate is rapidly dispelled by the harshness of her political vision–a view that is, in essence, social Darwinism. “True empowerment,” she writes, “means making it without demanding special privileges based on who you are and without relying on the government to bail you out if things go wrong.” Nowhere does she seriously acknowledge the facts of our national history, facts that have required women and minorities to play a fairly strenuous and demanding game of catch-up. Nowhere does she suggest that the hardships of poverty, of substandard education, housing, health care and police brutality are not the poor’s own fault. After reading 200-some pages of Laura Ingraham, you may find yourself longing to hear Hillary moistly burbling on, with paradoxically wholehearted and dubious sincerity, about women and children, hospitals and schools, and that village–or whatever–needed to raise a child.
Francine Prose’s most recent novel is Blue Angel (HarperCollins).