In a way, the biggest shock was the picture of her without a hat. It was like seeing a photograph of Moshe Dayan without a patch over his eye.
Bella. Battling Bella. The Lady who needed no last name had lost her third campaign in 18 months, and she was sitting in the picture bareheaded, astonishingly diminished. She'd lost this campaign for the Congress by one percentage point and lost it the hard way, because of her "personality."
Nobody doubted that she was smart. Everybody knew that she worked hard. But the airwaves - whether they emanated from radio and television or from mouth to ear - were full of one word: "abrasive."
"She was such a stereotype of herself, she couldn't get away from it," said a long-time supporter, Andrew Stein, the New york City councilman. "It's like Carroll O'Connor wanting to play someone other than Archie Bunker, but he can't."
Battling Bella, the woman whose last words after this defeat were "I thank you not to write my obituary," had moved into the past tense last week in everybody's conversation. But in a sense, they weren't so much writing obituaries for her as for "personality" politics itself.
Maybe a one-percent defeat isn't a message, or a trend, or something to build into a State of the Union address. But i'm as sure as Stein that she lost in 1978 for the same reason she won in 1971. For the same "personality."
After all, there were no shockers about Bella in this campaign against Bill Green. No one was surprised to discover that she is a fighter. Bella Abzug anglicized the wordchutzpah.
When she was mad, the lady was very, very mad, and for years reporters had portrayed her as they saw her. She was a woman who could take on Vietnam and Nixon. She could also stiff your questions bristle at a contradiction, shriek at a staff member and intimidate the opposition. Then, in the next breath, or on the next street corner she would turn around and, remembering the name and age of your kid or mother, ask about them with genuine concern.
Bella Abzug was irritating and endearing, intimidating and energizing, insensitive and hypersensitive. But, full.
Typically, she was considered a feminist by the politicians and a politician by the feminists. She was both, so, of course, she also fought both. She battled the ridigity of Congress and the chaos of women's movement politics.
But at all times she could change the dynamic of a room by walking into it.
Now, however, Small is beautiful and she is Big. The times are low-key and she is high-decibel. The gray people are winning and she is Technicolor. Bill Lindsay is in exile and Ed Koch is in office. In my blizzard-socked city last week, the high-voltage mayor, Kevin White, was on a kamikaze course, while the low-profile governor, Mike Dukakis, could have been elected king.
In the women's movement, too, it's a housewife from Pittsburg like Ellie Smeal who runs the National Organization for Women, and not Betty Friedan.
Bella lost because she's hot and the times are cool and (never mind that it's a cliche) Jerry Brown can "relate to that." We've decided that personality polarizes, and charisma alienates. We think we're looking for peacemakers. Or is it just for peace and quiet?
Sometimes I wonder what happens next, when all the decibels are lowered and all the leaders are muted into shades of gray and all the controversy is gentled into fireside chatting.
Will we call the peace "boredom" and call the rest period "inertia"?
You can bet on it. The odds are that we'll turn around and ask each other: Whatever happened to the pushers, to the movers and the shakers? Whatever happened to people who got mad and yelled when they saw things going wrong? What ever happened to the lady who cared? You remember, the lady with the hat.