SHEFFIELD: The Clinton curse

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This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will headline soirees for today’s (March 8, the original publication date) International Women’s Day, a time set aside to honor brave women from around the world. Aside from the fact that the affair has Soviet roots and migrated to the United States via the Socialist Party of America, it’s laudable to acknowledge women struggling for progress in all corners of the globe. Former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice celebrated the occasion as well.

As Mrs. Clinton distributes laurels to brave women from places such as Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, she may reflect on perhaps the biggest barrier that obstructed her own career: her misogynist husband.

As reporters John Heilemann and Mark Halperin write in their newly released book, “Game Change,” party leaders worried about Bill Clinton’s ongoing sexual misconduct helping sink Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign.

According to Mr. Halperin and Mr. Heilemann, party donors and senior leaders such as Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, saw the perennially aroused Mr. Clinton as a heavy albatross around his wife’s neck, and so they looked elsewhere for their candidate. Their worries went far past Monicagate to a lifestyle Mr. Clinton embraced in Chappaqua and beyond.

Since leaving the presidency, Mr. Clinton has trotted the globe doing some valuable work through his Clinton Foundation, including attempts to empower impoverished women. But the sad irony is that he has an ongoing track record of abusing his powerful position to lure women into sexual submission, and his wife’s career has suffered for it.

While I’m no big fan of Mrs. Clinton, anytime I see a woman held back because of her man’s inability to keep his pants on, my inner feminist starts screaming. Yet there is profound silence from the largely Democratic, establishment feminist movement around Mr. Clinton’s double-faced life and the extreme disrespect he shows for his wife.

Perhaps the Clintons have made some private, kinky truce under which each partner is allowed to boink whomever he or she likes. But if that’s the case, why the facade of family solidarity and public wifey-boosting from Bill? Why not become like our European friends across the pond who adamantly and openly separate a public official’s private life from his or her personal life? The answer is that here in the United States, we expect more from our leaders.

What bothers me most about Mr. Clinton’s post-office career is that he doesn’t acknowledge the damaging effect his brazen hanky-panky has on women who are trying to free themselves from chauvinistic societies plagued by Neanderthalic ideals of female subjugation. Reputation is a powerful thing. Why should men in the developing world respect their wives and quit abusing powerful positions to satisfy their bodily proclivities when a leader of the Free World continues to hamper women’s progress?

It happens here, too. Mr. Halperin and Mr. Heilemann write that now-Sen. Claire McCaskill admitted that she kiboshed a run for governor of Missouri because she was worried that Mrs. Clinton might top the 2008 party ticket, testosterone-high hubbie in tow.

“I had a lot of problems with some of his personal issues,” Mrs. McCaskill told Tim Russert in 2006. “I said at the time, ‘I think he’s been a great leader, but I don’t want my daughter near him.’ ”

Of course, Mrs. McCaskill seems to have rebounded; a Senate seat is hardly subjugation. However, she is the exception rather than the rule. Just ask would-be President Hillary Clinton, who saw her dream unraveled thanks to Mr. Clinton’s imprudence. Why won’t she just leave him? The answer, of course, is complicated.

Mrs. Clinton, whose policy positions I find less than appealing, is trapped in a marriage of convenience that is full of symbiotic benefits from Mr. Clinton. She likely couldn’t have risen so high without him, and vice versa. But her fate is tied to his adolescent cravings, and she, like so many women around the world, has hit a glass ceiling held in place by a man’s libido.

Today we’ll see if Mrs. Clinton has the courage to break free from the machismo order and set an example for women around the world trapped in repressive societies. We’ll see if Mr. Clinton renounces his juvenile traipsing and apologizes for turning back the clock on women’s progress. That would be miraculous, indeed.

Carrie Sheffield is a former Washington Times editorial board member and is a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. This article was published on the web before its scheduled publication date of March 8.

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