Scratch a liberal and you may find a Hillary hater. A lot of men and women on the left can't stand her. The attitude of these women is both visceral and intellectual. They despise her pretense of being a "feminist" because she so compromised herself in her relationship with Bill. More important, they can't bear her torturous explanations of why she voted to go to war in Iraq.
Men are less concerned with her personal life; many of them like the idea that a wife can forgive a philanderer. They couch their criticisms in the language of pragmatic politics: "She can't win." Both men and women joined in booing her at the Campaign for America's Future, a far-left fringe meeting in Washington last week.
Nation magazine put her on the cover, asking readers the polling question, "Does Hillary have a woman problem?" The magazine noted that she outpolls both Barack Obama and John Edwards among likely single female Democratic primary voters, but she does poorly among married women.
The Nation reprises some of the most vulgar vitriol poured on Hillary by women: "The right's favorite 'femi-nazi' now has to contend with Jane Fonda, comparing her to 'a ventriloquist for the patriarchy with a skirt and a vagina.' " Nora Ephron writes that "women can't stand her position on the war... don't trust her as far as you can spit." Jen Moseley, on the blog Feministing, speculates that women aren't joining up to work for her because being a woman doesn't automatically get a woman's support: "There's no vagina litmus test, people."
Feminists who have railed against the idea of identifying women by their body parts are nevertheless eager to use the "V word" to make points against Hillary. If feminist artist Judy Chicago can depict representations of female genitalia in her infamous sculpture "Dinner Party," political feminists can throw around graphic references to female sexual anatomy that most men still won't use in mixed company.
There's a "rhymes-with-witch" quality to female criticism of Hillary, as if women want to show how tough they can be on one of their own. Columnist Maureen Dowd even compares Hillary to the gangster Tony Soprano of the popular HBO series — "so power hungry that she can justify any thuggish means to get the prize." Not since the late cartoonist Herb Block depicted Richard Nixon as a sinister bum rising from the sewer have so many piled so many negatives on a mainstream politician.
Some of the criticism emerges from feminist naivete. Many obviously believe that a woman seeking the highest office in the land should draw on her feminine nurturing qualities, rather than play hardball with the boys. In this scenario the war in Iraq is a woman's issue and women on the fringe can't understand why a female candidate could vote for a war, any war. "If she's such a passionate advocate for children, women and families, how could she countenance the ongoing killing of innocent Iraqi families, and of American soldiers who are also someone's children," asks Susan Douglas in the magazine In These Times. "If it would be so revolutionary to have a female as president, why does she feel like the same old poll-driven opportunistic politician?"
The tough women who made it as heads of state, such as Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher, were never admired by leftist feminists. They seem to think that the "Iron Lady" should have stayed home to bake crumpets. Angela Merkel is not a feminist icon, either. The Europeans laugh at our gender politics. Segolene Royal, the Socialist runner-up in the recent French elections, says now that she's leaving the live-in partner with whom she has four children, but the Paris salon buzz is less about their personal relationship than that she wants to replace him as party chief. It's nothing personal.
Hillary's candidacy is a conflict between the kind of woman she is and the kind of leader she wants us to believe she would be. Nurture doesn't fit with nature, and her nature doesn't reflect a sense of wholeness or trustworthiness as a leader. All that unwashed laundry in the laundry hamper of her marriage doesn't help, either. While many feminists supported her as an outspoken First Lady, they don't like the idea that the first woman president would be attached at the hip to the husband that, paradoxically, they like better than her.
She's come a long way, baby, but not far enough.