Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Parsing Dowd

Maureen Dowd's recent op-ed column on Hillary Clinton starts promisingly:

It's an odd cultural inversion.

The French first lady, the one in a role where wives traditionally ignored and overlooked their husbands' peccadilloes for the greater gain of keeping their marriages intact and running the Élysée Palace, has fled her gilded perch, acting all-American and brimming over with feelings and feminist impulses.

The former American first lady, the one who's supposed to be brimming over with feminist impulses, has ignored and overlooked her husband's peccadilloes for the greater gain of keeping her marriage intact, as she tries to return to the gilded perch and run the White House.

Cécilia Sarkozy acts so American, while Hillary Clinton acts so French.

That's neat. It lets her use the headline of "Hillary la Française, Cherchez la Femme?", too, and it hooks seamlessly into that conservative view of Democrats as weak French surrender monkeys. But wasn't it Cécilia Sarkozy who did the adultery business in the Sarkozy marriage? If so, shouldn't the parallels be drawn between Monsieur Sarkozy and Madame Clinton?

Nope. Because then Dowd's theme about feminism would be lost. You see, it's important to point out that Hillary is not a real feminist, because she elected to stay in a marriage after her husband's infidelity was revealed to all and sundry. Real feminists bugger off the minute such an insult is revealed, and real feminists are all about emotions.

I didn't know this. What a bad feminist I am. But wait, there's more about feminism in Dowd's piece:

Hillary recently told an interviewer that they should talk like "two girlfriends," and last week her campaign theme was: "Women Changing America." She returns to Wellesley tomorrow to launch Hillblazers, a bid to attract young Hillarys to the campaign. She will be back in the setting of her 1969 feminist triumph as the commencement speaker who described her class's desire for a "more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living" and who spoke truth to power, chastising Edward Brooke for being out of touch.

Hillary doesn't speak truth to power any more. Now that Mark Penn believes women can carry her to victory, Hillary speaks girlfriend to girlfriend.

That tack, Caitlin Flanagan writes in The Atlantic, would only work if she were "willing to let us women in on the big, underlying struggle of her life that is front and center in our understanding of who she is as a woman. Her husband's sexual behavior, quite apart from the private pain that it has caused her, has also sullied her deepest — and most womanly — ideals and convictions, for the Clintons' political partnership has demanded that she defend actions she knows to be indefensible. To call her husband a philanderer is almost to whitewash him, for he's used women far less sophisticated, educated and powerful than he — women particularly susceptible to the rake's characteristic blend of cajolery and deceit — for his sexual gratification.

"In glossing over her husband's actions and abetting his efforts to squirm away from the scrutiny and judgment they provoke, Hillary has too often lapsed into her customary hauteur and self-righteousness and added to the pain delivered upon these women."

I would love to be a fly on the wall in these Washington cocktail parties where feminism is defined in new and astonished forms. To be the commencement speaker at an all-girls college is a "feminist triumph"? What did they usually have for commencement speakers? Marquis de Sade?

It's sort of exciting to have Dowd quote Flanagan. Anti-feminism inside anti-feminism, like those Russian babushka dolls. It's less exciting to note that their ideas of feminism seem to include the demand that a woman is responsible for fixing the consequences of her husband's peccadillos, that all "less sophisticated" women need Hillary Clinton to defend them, and that for someone to be a girlfriend she must dish out all the dirt on her husband's infidelities and especially her own guilt in not somehow keeping him off those other women. But I do admit that I'd love to hear Rudy Giuliani dish out all the dirt on his own infidelities, girlfriend to girlfriend. Then we could braid each other's hair before we'd go out to vote together.

But I would vote for Hillary, naturally, for the reasons Dowd so admirably explains:

But maybe the qualities that many find off-putting in Hillary — her opportunism, her triangulation, her ethical corner-cutting, her shifting convictions from pro-war to anti-war, her secrecy, her ruthlessness — are the same ones that make people willing to vote for a woman.

Yup. For all those reasons and because I suspect that she might secretly drink the blood of little furry animals just because she can.

With friends like Maureen Dowd do Democrats even need any enemies?