- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

Is a little girl different from a little boy? To see for yourself, put a baby doll in front of a little girl, a dump truck in front of the little boy, and watch.

Is a big girl candidate different from a big boy candidate?

If you followed the reaction following the debate between Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton for the U.S. Senate in New York, you'd certainly say so. Sexual politics as in "gender gap" is a legitimate inquiry into the behavior of the political animal. But we have to beware of the double standard and how it plays out.

Partisans of Hillary say Rick Lazio was too aggressive (read too male) as he confronted the first lady with a piece of paper to sign a pledge not to take the soft money that is the plague that bedevils every good Democrat. "Rick Lazio bares his teeth," writes New York Times columnist Gail Collins, as though he was the angry Rottweiler confronting the fluffy snow-white Persian pussy cat. The writer of a letter to the editor interprets this behavior as a "prime example of a woman's space being invaded by a belligerent man."

Imagine that: belligerent politics. Imagine a male candidate treating a female candidate as if she were his equal.

The same letter writer says Mr. Lazio "brandished the document like a weapon," that it was perceived very differently by men than by women. Read, "men are violent and women are their prey." Should Mr. Lazio have asked Mrs. Clinton for her famous recipe for chocolate chip cookies?

None of this would carry any particular weight but for the fact that it reflects the majority of the New York women who were polled after the debate, who typically said they didn't like Mr. Lazio's "contentiousness." They felt sorry for Mrs. Clinton when Tim Russert brought up her much-publicized attack on the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that she said was behind the silly rumors that her husband had been having it off with an intern at the office.

Hillary wouldn't even be running for the Senate if she hadn't won public sympathy as the wounded wife. She certainly didn't earn it as co-president in charge of health care policy. When she accused Rick Lazio of chutzpah a word that sounds as likely as gefilte fish on the tongue of a Midwestern Methodist she was the guilty one. One definition of the Yiddish term chutzpah is someone who cries "help! help!" as he's pounding you over the head with a billy club.

You have to wonder what's going on with those of the female persuasion if women see the most calculating woman in politics as more victim than exploiter. Her hesitant, almost quivering response to Mr. Russert was worthy of an Oscar because she couldn't have been surprised or unhappy with the question. She had been prepped for it, and her staff loved the way she handled it. The first lady knows her polls go up when a man picks on her. And we thought we had banished that sexist phenomenon called gallantry.

However, and it's a big however, she didn't apologize for creating an indelibly false image of "a vast right-wing conspiracy," an image that continues to serve her well as she raises money through her White House connections, inviting her rich contributors to sleep in Mr. Lincoln's bed. The taxpayers get to pay for washing the sheets.

Columnist Maureen Dowd, who affects an on-again, off-again tough-gal image, writes that the first lady won the argument because Rick Lazio was not a "gentleman." He dared to continue the attack Mr. Russert started by calling into question Hillary's character and trustworthiness.

Despite the polls and the focus groups, it's difficult to imagine that New Yorkers who prize their suspicion and mistrust of everyone even New York women will be gulled by this exploitation of Hillary's humiliation and persuaded to vote for her as a reward for putting up with a philandering husband. Feminist or feminine, stay-at-home mom or career professional, the sisterhood can't be so ditsy that women can't see through phony vulnerability. There are nine women in the Senate now and not one of them got there because she played the "victim" card.

Rick Lazio has boyish good looks. That ought not to be held against him by either women or men. He showed that he understood the important issues as they related to New York, aggressively pointing out that Hillarycare, the first lady's policy initiative, would have been a disaster for New York teaching hospitals.

She insists that she's learned from her failures. Who wins this race depends on whether New Yorkers believe her or prefer the record of Mr. Lazio. Rewarding the little woman for her humiliation is not what a seat in the United States Senate is all about. And a single standard is quite enough.

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