Her career is a story of dependence, not empowerment
‘It Takes a Village” is the title of the book that Hillary Clinton wrote as first lady, and it took the death of Margaret Thatcher, one of the great prime ministers of all time, to show Hillary up as a Potemkin village when it comes to historic and feminist achievement.
True, Hillary grew up in, with, and of the feminist movement and Thatcher despised it, but when it comes to hope, change, gravitas, shattered glass ceilings, and other accomplishments, it is simply no contest: The former prime minister wins hands down. She changed, saved, and revived a great country, won a war (a small but symbolic one), and helped win the Cold War. As for Hillary Clinton — well, not so much. Hailed as a force of nature, great mind, and political genius when she first came into the eye of the public 20 years ago, she has consistently failed to live up to her billing in all ways but image. Campaigning with Bill as part of a two-for-one package, she made it clear she intended to be a full partner, and for two years, she was: Her drive for “diversity” in the president’s cabinet — translation: a female attorney general — led to Zoë Baird, Kimba Wood, and then Janet Reno (which led to the Waco catastrophe), and her year-long attempt to impose national health care led to the first wholly Republican Congress in 40-plus years.
Tied to the administration’s embarrassments, she had little to do with its successes, such as free trade, a healthy economy (brought about with the help of the Republican Congress), and welfare reform, which most of her allies opposed. Given a Senate seat from New York for her numerous trials, she was a solid, reliable, workman-like member, with no big bills to her credit, no noteworthy speeches, no interesting thoughts. In the 2008 race (as the book Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, informs us), she ran an appalling campaign that was long on expense, disarray, and confusion, and short on adaptation, coherence, and strategy; though she put up a remarkable display of grit near the end, when it was too late. As secretary of state, she was again the good soldier, carrying out policies she may not have agreed with. None of the policies produced important results or made the country more popular, and Benghazi, which we have not heard the last of, is an unanswered question and a still-open sore.
As an executive, she makes a pretty good lawyer, and as a politician, her main draw grows out of her unique situation as the helpmeet, and victim, of Bill. Bill giveth — in the form of access to power — and Bill taketh away — in the form of embarrassment — but it all added up to power for Hillary, who was able to bond for two different reasons with her feminist fan base, first on the grounds of ambition in the sheer scope of her drive for power, and second on the grounds of victimization, as they all had been done wrong by men.
Hillary sells herself as a hard-charging fighter, but much of her strength comes from playing the strong woman who is also the wronged woman, and these two themes interplay. She subordinates her career to her husband’s, and is given part of his power as governor. She pays the bills, greases wheels, suppresses the bimbo eruptions, and then for two years becomes the co-president. She stands by her man through impeachment and scandal, and is given her Senate seat from New York as a reward for having survived the humiliation, from which she emerges stronger than ever, empowered by having been betrayed. In 2008, her campaign falls apart, but her fortunes revive in the New Hampshire primary, when she cries gently on camera about how hard it all seems, and rallies a large corps of middle-aged women, who find it unfair that after a lifetime of drudgery she is being bested by an untested, cool-looking, and much younger man.
The man wins, hires her in order to neutralize her and her husband, and sends her off to lead from behind in troublesome venues, in which his African name, Muslim relations, and exotic background don’t carry quite as much clout as he hoped. Her public life so far has been bracketed by two installments of the TV show 60 Minutes, one in January 1992, when she made her debut in front of the American public in appearing with her husband to help him deal with the mess made by Gennifer Flowers, the second in January 2013, when she appeared with Obama and they giggled and laughed like an old married couple as they struggled to deal with the mess made by the deaths of four Americans under their watch in Libya on September 11, 2012. She withdraws from national attention, for now, as she entered it, cleaning up messes made by the opposite sex. “It’s her turn” seems to be Hillary’s slogan, and the subliminal text seems to be, “It’s Hillary’s turn, and does she ever deserve it after all she has gone through with guys.”
Hillary began what is presumably her new campaign early in April before exactly the same fan base, at Tina Brown’s “Women in the World” summit and back-scratching gabfest, where she touted her life’s work for “gender equality,” to sustained and ecstatic applause. But as Jennifer Rubin points out in the Washington Post, as secretary of state she had done very little, playing up to various strongmen and tyrants and failing to protest egregious examples of oppression and violence directed at women (and men). “The U.S. under Hillary Clinton’s stewardship was virtually mute during the Green Revolution when a young woman, known as Neda, was beaten and killed, becoming the symbol of Iranian tyranny. She instead pursued ‘engagement’ with Neda’s murder[ers,] who torture and rape women in the hell hole of Evin prison.” Rubin continues, “[In Egypt] her male successor John Kerry has done more to protest and condemn the ongoing sexual violence and discrimination against women.” Also, “She for months and months insisted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a ‘reformer.’ Under her foreign policy oversight, tens of thousands of women and children died and rape on a massive scale is now an instrument of war.”
Do not expect this to have much effect on the fashionistas and the journalist-divas who have been growing old along with her, but the question is how it will sell to a new generation who do not remember the Clintons’ ascendance, to whom Bill Clinton is a frail-looking man with white hair on a vegetarian diet, and Hillary a round-faced, rather elderly woman who looks like their mother, or aunt. Hillary may be counting on running against an old, white, male ticket, but she’s likelier to face one a generation younger than she is, with one or more female or brown faces on it, in which case she may appear to be a rather outdated establishment candidate, all too familiar, and set in her ways.
Hillary and Bill swept into office in 1992, in the tailwind of the “Year of the Woman,” when it seemed there would be many more years and more women, all kindred to Hillary. But the liberal women in power right now — the Pelosis, Mikulskis, Boxers, Feinsteins, Murrays, and Stabenows — are of her generation and none too inspiring, and their replacements seem nowhere in sight. The midterm elections of 2010 produced the year of the Thatcherite women — Kelly Ayotte, Kristi Noem, Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez, and others — who stand good chances of attaining national stardom and run counter to Hillary, too. Like Thatcher, they come from modest backgrounds; like Thatcher, they’re grounded in common-sense virtues; like Thatcher, they understand the value of the free market; like Thatcher, they rose with no help from the Sisterhood; like Thatcher, their care for the feminist social agenda is nil. Their interests are economics, and, in Ayotte’s case, foreign policy. They don’t claim to be speaking for or to women, or to be doing things tailored to help them. They think, like Thatcher, that when you make the world safe and the economy prosperous, it tends to help everyone, and that includes women.
What Thatcher showed women is that a woman can rise on her own, minus “role models,” powerful friends, or the feminist movement, and change the world for the better. This is option one. What Hillary shows is that a woman can marry a good politician and rise on his coattails to power, and it may be still better if he misbehaves. If she stares down Gennifer Flowers, he may give her a chance to lose Congress; if she stands by him when he is impeached (over charges related to sex with an intern), she may emerge as a martyr; and if this goes on even longer, she may become a “survivor,” a grande dame of her party, a queen. As option two is open to very few women, the Thatcher model is likely to be the more viable one — and the one that more women will take.
– Noemie Emery is a contributing editor of The Weekly Standard and writes a weekly column for the Washington Examiner.