Gallantry, like common sense, dignity, good manners and truth-telling, long ago disappeared from public life in America, so Hillary Clinton is asking for a rough ride if she runs for president in 2016. She doesn’t have to look beyond the other side of her bed to see who did more than anyone else to push those homely virtues aside.
Hillary embraced militant feminism a long time ago, and the militant feminists scorned gallantry a long time ago, along with dignity, good manners and even consistent truth-telling, as remnants of a culture organized by men.
Still, if forced to choose between feminist rhetoric and feminine privilege, she might choose the perks. Most women would. No woman wants to see herself described as “a little long in the tooth”, or read a media analysis of her wrinkles, or study the photographs and video of her face for clues to an emergency reclamation project.
Nature can be cruel. John F. Kennedy, a good Democrat for his time who would be read out of the party of the present day, famously remarked that “life is unfair.” It is, in fact, unfair that women are judged, and often severely, by looks and age. But that, alas, is how it is. Women get lots of points for looks when they’re 25, or 35, or even 45, but eventually they start paying the piper. Arithmetic writes the rules for everyone. I would change them if I could. As a young man, I fancied “older women,” and one morning I woke up and all the older women were younger than me. Mere men are subject to arithmetic, too.
Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House, wants everyone to think of Hillary not as 69 years old in 2016 but as “69 years young.” Besides, unfriendly reminders of her age might not work. “Age is like art,” Mzz Pelosi says. “It’s a matter of interpretation.”
Nevertheless, Stuart Stevens, a top strategist for Mitt Romney (who admits it), expresses the emerging Republican theme for 2016, that electing Hillary Clinton would be retreating into time. “She’s been around since the ‘70’s,” he was quoted by The New York Times as telling a group of reporters at a breakfast the other day.
In his day, Bill Clinton was forever invoking lyrics from Fleetwood Mac: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.” This impressed his baby-boomer audience, but nobody’s going to be humming “don’t stop thinking about yesterday.” Hillary’s presence in the race will write new lyrics, anyway. “If you want to keep thinking about tomorrow,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin told an audience in Washington not long ago, “maybe it’s time to put somebody new in.”
Nobody grooved on the Haight-Ashbury admonition to “never trust anybody over 30” more than Bill and Hillary, even after they turned 30 themselves, and now Hillary is beyond even the Beatles’ plaintive question, “will you love me when I’m 64?”
Bill ridiculed George H.W. Bush in 1992 as a relic of the Cold War that Bubba’s generation only barely understood, and he mocked Bob Dole four years later as a fossil to be admired but not elected. The Clintons have always looked for opportunities to mock the heroism of the men who wore the nation’s uniform to war. Heroism held no appeal to her generation.
But she asked one of the most effective questions in the 2008 campaign, featured in a television commercial suggesting that Barack Obama wouldn’t know what to do if the red telephone rang at the White House at 3 o’clock in the morning. The telephone did ring “at 3 o’clock in the morning” at the State Department, with the news that an ambassador and several Americans were under fire at the American legation in Benghazi. Hillary was AWOL, or asleep, or dancing with the stars ‘til dawn. The only excuse she could come up with, weeks later, was an impatient shout: “What difference does it make?”
In 2016, she’ll be four years older, and a president can’t turn over and go back to sleep after a telephone call in the middle of the night. The worship of the youth culture, which played to Clinton strength two decades ago, will play against Clinton weakness this time.
The bright side for the lady is the Republican talent for getting it wrong. Marco Rubio drops the names of rappers and Rand Paul shows a little libertarian sympathy for the youthful appetite for pot. The Republicans may pursue the young like a Republican matron putting on hot pants and fishnet stockings and setting out to learn the pole dance. The mature judgment for Hillary is to let it go, and become the president of Wellesley.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.