The odds against her are growing daily, but Hillary still, at this point, has a shot at becoming the first woman to be elected president of the United States. Why has her potential gender breakthrough failed to generate anything like the excitement inspired by Barack Obama’s potential race breakthrough? Gloria Steinem was quick to blame sexism. But there is something else at work.
There are two traditions of modern female leadership, the do-it-yourself tradition and the widow-orphan tradition. Hillary’s problem is that right now she’s squarely in the widow-orphan camp. If she wants to win, she needs to get with the do-it-yourself gals.
At this stage in the race, it won’t be easy.
The widow-orphan tradition includes the two Gandhi-Nehru dowagers, Indira, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sonia, the widow of Indira’s son Rajiv Gandhi; Eleanor Roosevelt, relict of Franklin D.; Soong May-ling, better known, after her marriage to the future Generalissimo, as Madame Chiang; and Eva Perón, the second consort of Juan Domingo Perón. Jiāng Qīng, Madame Mao, of “Gang of Four” fame, also has a place in this club.
At the top of the do-it-yourself list are Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir.
Which group do you think most Americans would like to see the first Madame President of the United States drawn from?
A woman who wants to be the first of her sex to win the White House needs above all else to show that she requires no crutches and can stand on her own two feet. What did Hillary do in a pinch? When Barack came too close, she invoked the tutelary protection of her husband. She sicked Big Bill on him.
Eva couldn’t have reposed more gratefully on the strong arm of Juan Domingo. Hillary might as well have replaced “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow” with “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” as her official campaign jingle.
Can you imagine Margaret Thatcher, when she was within striking distance of the First Lordship of the Treasury, sending Denis out to square Ted Heath or Jim Callaghan?
To distinguish herself from the Gandhis and Peróns of the world, Hillary needs to show that she is not a political spouse, trading on the accumulated political capital of a husband constitutionally debarred from seeking the White House a third time. She needs to show that she’s her own woman. Instead, Hillary has reprised Evita’s quest for a dual monarchy, a husband-wife spouse-ocracy built around a girl’s marriage to a powerful guy.