Because she was a woman, she attached herself to an ambitious man. When he came to power, she became his first lady, a renowned feminist and his de facto health minister as well. As his power waned, she struck out on her own. People either loved her or hated her. She is our own Evita. Don't cry for her, Giuliani.

The similarities between Hillary Clinton and Eva Peron are striking. Peron not only became Argentina's health minister but she also founded the country's feminist party and was broadly resented for her influence. Of course, her private life--not to mention her past--was always a topic of speculation.

But there the similarities end. The Evita of fact, myth and the musical stage was an independent woman and totally--to use the cliche of the moment--authentic. Our Evita shares some of those characteristics but she remains, as she has ever been, inauthentic--not a passionate operatic figure but a silhouette glimpsed behind a screen. Her third dimension is always hidden.

It is, of course, too soon for anyone to cry for Hillary Clinton. She is behind in the polls, but the election is not until November. She is doing poorly with middle-class women, but this is not a lost constituency, merely an alienated one. Their issues are hers: health care, education, the things it takes to make a village. They wait, as we all do, to see if there is a woman behind that smile.

So far, though, Mrs. Clinton has been as robotic as one of those recorded messages saying what a valued customer you are. She acts as if she just burst from a cocoon, programmed by nature to stay on message no matter what. If she were a moth, she'd fly right into a bug light.

For instance, she allowed a Buffalo radio host to ask her about her personal life and then, in the manner of someone pitching a book, soldiered on to her message. "You're going to hate me," the radio guy said before asking if she had ever been "sexually unfaithful" to her husband or, specifically, had an affair with the late Vince Foster.

"Well, you know, Tom, I do hate you for that," Mrs. Clinton responded. She called the question "out of bounds," answered it anyway and then lapsed into politicalese: Such a question "diverts attention from really talking about and working on what we can do together to help people."

No! Such a question does not merely "divert attention." Such a question is an outrage, designed not to elicit a response but to draw attention to the host. It is the sort of question this guy would never have asked a man, but you can usually rely on Mrs. Clinton to mimic one of those bottom-weighted dolls: Knock her down with an insult and she pops up with a policy initiative.

Is it any wonder that so many New York women want Hillary Clinton to just go away? She doesn't represent them. The women I know would have told the guy he was being rude, crude and maybe just plain sexist. Would he have put the same question to Rudolph Giuliani, the likely GOP senatorial candidate? Real people get mad when asked if they had an affair with a close friend--in this case, a depressive who killed himself. They don't try to change the subject. They go to the mattresses.

A day earlier, Mrs. Clinton was asked if she intends to stay married to Bill Clinton. She said she does. That time, too, she did not react as you or I might--with anger, shock or by turning on our heels and walking out.

Instead, she talked of family and home and her intention to be with Bill until the end of their respective days. The mask was on. Hillary the Hidden had spoken.

It's understandable that people want to know about Hillary Clinton's personal life. Her husband's, after all, nearly cost him the presidency. But not all her business is our business--and when she is treated rudely, as she has been, she ought to react as anyone else would. Instead, she seems so accustomed to shielding her emotions that she comes across as robotic, battered--a mannequin whose real emotions are masked by a say-cheese smile and the rhetorical equivalent of a shuffle.

The first Evita, the real one, became both a working-class and feminist hero because, to her fans, she had fire, juice--a passion for her causes and a passion for life itself. But our Evita appears emotionless, synthetic--not a role model, but an admonition. It's tough to cry for Hillary Clinton. It's tough even to know who she really is.