- - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Only yesterday Hillary Clinton was the beloved feminist destined to break through the glass ceiling over the Oval Office, there to triumphantly reprise the anthem of ferocious estrogen: “I am woman, hear me roar.” Alas, the roar has become a nervous squeak in the wake of her not-so-terrific Tuesday in Indiana.

She’s the most famous woman in the world, but on the eve of her coronation as the nominee of the Democrats the euphoria is far from unanimous. Pollsters say a majority of young women just don’t like her very much. Her accomplishments of yore are merely history, like battles in the Peloponnesian War.

She’s limping toward the nomination, to face an unlikely nominee who was treated as a joke, a clown and a blowhard only yesterday. He’s still blowing hard and she’s still the way to bet, but suddenly there’s a confusing new world out there. One prominent pollster, Rasmussen Reports, says a Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump match-up is dead even. It’s only May, of course. But still.

She’s caught in the inevitable traps of high-octane politics, a flustered feminist shadow of the heroic survivor she once was. Everything she says seems to offend someone in her fragile base. When someone asked what she thought of the woman-baiting rhetoric aimed at her, she replied with the sly spunk of the animated Hillary reminiscent of the feminist warrior she once was. “I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave.”

But the tough talk-back was quickly walked back to the politically correct doublespeak mush now required for the pols on left and right. Native American politicists complained that “reservation” must be dispatched with “Indian” to the glossary of banished words. Her campaign retreated deeper into the pot of mush: “Hillary meant no disrespect to Native Americans,” a spokeswoman said. “She wants this election to be about lifting people up, not tearing them down.” But the Native Americans wanted Hillary’s scalp.

Donald Trump, who relishes being called politically incorrect, couldn’t wait to turn up tweet heat, with a preview of the kind of take-no-prisoners treatment that lies ahead for the Democratic nominee. “Crooked Hillary Clinton said she is used to ‘dealing with men who get off the reservation.’ Was she referring to her husband? I think she was referring to her husband.” (So does everybody else.)

This is politics as farce, with Hillary once more playing straight man. Those whose sitcom experience doesn’t reach back to the days when Hillary was young and hip, might learn something by watching reruns of “A Different World,” which satirized sexual and interracial politics in those ancient times. In an episode in 1992, the famous “Year of the Woman,” there’s a character named Hilliard Blinton, a male version of Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Hilliard Blinton has presidential aspirations, and her husband is crushed by the experience of suddenly playing second banana. “I’ve learned to smile, gaze, barbecue,” he says. “The only thing radical about me is how much I’ve changed.” He breaks down in tears and is told to learn how to turn his reactions off and on.

Whether the producers of the show had access to tea leaves or crystal balls or not, they turned out to be creatively prophetic. “It’s a peculiarly touching sequence, 25 years later,” writes Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker, fretting over Hillary’s predicament, “the hyper-controlled persona that she’s had to maintain, during decades in the public eye, to avoid triggering the contempt of voters.”

That makes Donald Trump’s aggressive style particularly menacing. The left judges Hillary as a “sellout corporatist’ and the right sees whatever centrist positions she once held as having been pushed leftward by Bernie Sanders. Now Native Americans view her metaphorical spontaneity with the aggrieved anger that would have puzzled Geronimo. A sexist might say she doesn’t have a lot of “wiggle room.”

She has ample company on the search for wiggle room. The Chinese media that speaks for the Beijing government only recently complained that the Donald is a racist and compared him to Mussolini and Hitler. Now it seems not so sure. Xinhua, the state news agency, observed Wednesday that the Donald could defeat Hillary if he tones down his “explosive rhetoric.”

David Cameron, the British prime minister, was swept up in excitement last December of a public petition with 500,000 signatures calling on the government to bar Donald Trump from even entering Britain. The prime minister called him “divisive, stupid and wrong.” Now he faces the prospect of having to think of something nice and soothing to say when the Donald makes the ritual tour of the British and European capitals after the Cleveland convention, and drops in for tea at 10 Downing Street. No lemon and lots of sugar.

Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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