George Stephanopoulos handed Ken Mehlman a piece of cake on his Sunday morning program, and the chairman of the National Republican Committee took a big bite. He was asked whether he thought Hillary Clinton would be the Republican’s “dream candidate” or the one they most dread. Mehlman had the right answer at the ready. He called the junior senator from New York “angry” saying, “I don’t think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates.” How very skillful of this most successful campaign manager, giving such potent ammunition to Hillary’s opponents in her own party. At the same time, he seems to have stopped the senator’s latest public incarnation as “Hillary The Scold” dead in its tracks. By Monday, the press was already asking if she was “angry” at the president’s budget. The “angry” rap will certainly dog her trail for the next few months, and possibly all the way to 2008.
In truth, Hillary has seemed in a bit of a snit lately. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she let loose with that unnecessarily nasty “plantation” crack during what seemed like a rare unscripted moment. Maybe she was annoyed that one time Hillary-admirer Molly Ivins has been writing columns with declarations such as, “I’d like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president.” Or maybe she was irritated by that CNN Gallup poll which showed that anti-Hillary voters outnumber pro-Hillary voters three to one. Whatever it is, it seems to be getting to her.
It’s not as if Hillary’s doing much to help herself. At the State of the Union address, while most of the other women in the House were looking bright in red, cream, or purple, Hillary, in mouse beige, looked downright drab and sour–except for her flashy new lipstick, which only emphasized her pout. She couldn’t even crack a smile when the president called her husband, a fellow Baby Boomer, one of his father’s favorite people. Mehlman is right; Americans like candidates who can at least get a joke.
Of course, Hillary has had some identity problems lately, pretending to be an even-tempered centrist even while voting against Roberts and Alito and trying not to take a position on the war. Although, perhaps this is beside the point. Hillary, like Bill, is interesting more for her style than her substance. In fact, with Bill the style is the substance; Hillary, however, has always tried to use her style to hide her glacial substance. At the moment, it seems she isn’t quite sure what style will best do the trick on her Road to the White House.
Even after all these years, this is a woman who is always experimenting with the way she arranges herself for public viewing. It is partly about the way she looks and dresses. Don’t forget that, when she was First Lady, Hillary used to change the way she did her hair every 20 minutes or so. A new look for every presidential crisis, major or minor. Remember the hair band, the flip, the long-gone shoulder-sweeping curls? But ever since being elected senator from New York, she has stuck to her policy wonk “competency look”–dark pants suits, sweaters tied around her shoulders, chunky chokers, and sensible hair (sort of the look New York women lawyers were into about six years ago, around the time she was running for senator). But nobody much dresses like that anymore, and it makes her look dowdy even to her fanatical devotees in Manhattan–not to mention that nobody in the rest of the country ever dressed like that anyway. It makes her look like one of the defense attorneys in a corporate scandal trial. Not a good idea.
Yes–I know, I know–it’s unfair that women are judged on the way they get it together more than men are. But, like it or lump it, that is just the way it is–as much as ever in this video age. And please understand, I am not just talking clothes here, but rather about persona. The real trouble is that Hillary is a star politician without a star personality. She is missing the warmth, the humor, the innate likeability. What she would like to sell, I’m sure, is what she and her loyalists believe: that she is simply the smartest woman in the world, and we are lucky to have her. But smugness, unfortunately for her, is not that appealing–and she doesn’t need Ken Mehlman to tell her that. In 2000 the Lewinsky scandal gave her some emotional vibrancy, making her seem selfless and loyal and self-sacrificing. But for 2008 she needs some emotions of her own, besides fierce ambition and righteous indignation. With her anger proving problematic–Hey, Hillary, what’s next?
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.