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Hillary vs. the Patriarchy

By Erica Jong
Monday, February 4, 2008 12:00 AM

"Look, the only people for Hillary Clinton are the Democratic establishment and white women," said Bill Kristol yesterday on Fox News Sunday, one of the many "news" outlets to expose Kristol's reliable sexism. "The Democratic establishment would be crazy to follow an establishment that led it to defeat year after year," Kristol continued in his woolly, repetitive style. "White women are a problem, you know. We all live with that."

Bill Kristol has been much criticized for his war mongering, arrogance, poor writing and lack of fact checking. But at least the guy is honest. He considers women a problem -- especially white women. And he feels confident enough as an alpha male to be open about it. "I shouldn't have said that," he demurred. But he can say anything he likes and still fall eternally upward. He's a white man, lord of all he surveys -- including Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I, too, have been watching Hillary Clinton with admiration, love, hate, annoyance and empathy since she appeared on the national scene 16 years ago. (Can it be only16 years?) I've had a hard time making up my mind about her. Perhaps that's because I identify with her so strongly.

I'm hardly the only woman who sees my life mirrored in hers. She's always worked twice as hard to get half as far as the men around her. She endured a demanding Republican father she could seldom please and a brilliant, straying husband who played around with bimbos. She was clearly his intellectual soul mate, but the women he chased were dumb and dumber.

Nothing she did was ever enough to stop her detractors. Supporting a politician husband by being a successful lawyer, raising a terrific daughter, saving her marriage when the love of her life publicly humiliated her -- these are things that would be considered enormously admirable in most politicians and public figures. But because she's a white woman, she's been pilloried for them.

She's had to endure nutcrackers made in her image, insults about the shape of her ankles and nasty cracks from mediocrities in the media like Rush Limbaugh, Chris Matthews and Kristol.

When she decided to run for the Senate she was called a carpetbagger. When she won the hearts of her most conservative constituents by supporting their actual needs, the same poisonous pundits who said it couldn't be done attacked her.

Nor are poisonous women pundits any more kind. Maureen Dowd regularly gives her a drubbing. And "progressives" from Susan Brownmiller to Oprah Winfrey sport Obama buttons.

I, too, was a bluestocking from a woman's college, straight-A student, Phi Beta Kappa, who found my voice as a writer while exiled to the boonies with a husband who cheated. With every book I published, I saw more clearly how uneven was the playing field for women. We were let into the literary world on sufferance. Unless we wrote unreadable academic tracts that nobody bought, or mysteries or romances or something called "chick lit" (whatever that is), or biographies of Great Men, we were booed off the stage.

I chanced to get famous for my work. Hillary got famous in the unspeakable role of "First Lady," which Jackie Kennedy Onassis thought sounded like the name of racehorse. If she seemed uncomfortable in her skin, if she kept changing her hair, her image, her style, her way of speaking, how could we blame her? She was trying to be self-protective. Who wouldn't be if constantly attacked by a beastly press?

Little by little, she loosened up. She learned how to dress and speak and smile and relax on the podium. I've watched this whole process with immense admiration.

Fame in America is unforgiving. And she had to grow comfortable in the spotlight -- something very few people can do without having a nervous breakdown or drinking or popping pills.

Hillary made it without self-destructing. She was a tower of strength to her husband, who seems to have little impulse control, and her daughter whom she obviously loves and whom she never exploited even in the worst of times.

She cannot have enjoyed her husband's playing around. She certainly never condoned it. But he was clever enough for her, he supported her dreams, and they both loved their smart and beautiful daughter.

Besides, what does anyone know about anyone else's marriage? As a novelist I understand that I can't even invent the complexities most people live with, the compromises made, the deals negotiated and renegotiated. If it works, let's say hallelujah, rather than pick and quibble. It took me three marriages to find my soul mate. Maybe Hillary was luckier.

In the 1990s, when they became "Billary" as president, she gave her all. When the White House beckoned, she was true blue. When he took the hardest job in the world, she helped. And when he rewarded her by letting some tootsie do whatever it was they did in the Oval Office, she got really mad.

But she was wise enough to know what it did and did not mean. She did what smart European and Asian women have done through the ages: She kept her marriage but changed her focus to her own ambitions.

As a senator she has learned compromise and negotiation. She has gotten to know red America as well as blue. If she could win over the rednecks in upstate New York, she can win over any American. She knows this country is full of "security" moms as well as soccer moms. Since she is a woman, she has to show she's ready to be commander in chief. Hence her "triangulation" on Iraq and her signing the absurd Lieberman-Kyl resolution, which calls on our government to use "military instruments" to "combat, contain and [stop]" Iran's meddling in Iraq.

By the time it came up she must have known the Cheney-Bush war profiteers would never embrace even partial peace. She had to win over her America and theirs.

Who ever got elected in the United States without moving to the center? Not Ralph Nader the narcissist, nor Ross Perot the spoiler, nor certainly Adlai Stevenson the "egghead," nor Ronnie Reagan the red-baiter from Hollywoodland. Dubya presented himself as a "compassionate conservative" and our dopey press bought it. They inflicted him on us because they thought Al Gore was a nerd. The right-wing media barons happily smeared the better man for no good reason. Noam Chomsky predicted all this 25 years ago, when he said that the concentration of the media would rob us of real news.

It certainly has. We can read all we want about Britney, Paris, Heath, Tom Cruise, the Spice Girls and all their buds -- dead or alive -- but we can't read about how many children have been maimed in Iraq, or their dead and legless or armless mothers and fathers who were shocked and awed. But we know it's happening. And we feel the great weight of our complicity.

You will point to Hillary's complicity. You will quote crazy-like-a-fox Ann Coulter, who claims to be voting for her.

You will also quote left-wing bloggers who love Barack Obama, and MoveOn.org peaceniks (I am one) who see no evil in him (nor do I). But I see little experience either. Obama is smart and attractive. Maybe he'll be president someday.

He was lucky enough not to be in the Senate when the Iraq war resolution was floated after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell lied about WMDs. That was the true tragedy of race: a black man lying for a corrupt white administration that was using him as a token, much as they use Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice now.

Obama is also a token -- of our incomplete progress toward an interracial society. I have nothing against him except his inexperience. Many black voters agree. They understand tokenism and condescension.

I understand my hopeful friends who think an Obama button will change America. But I'm sticking with Hillary. I trust her because all her life, her pro bono work has been for mothers and children. And mothers and children -- of all colors -- are the most oppressed group in our country. I trust her to speak for our children and grandchildren -- and for us. She always has.

officejongleur@rcn.com

Erica Jong's 20th book is "Seducing The Demon." She writes poems, novels and non-fiction and blogs for the Huffington Post.

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