- - Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Feminist politics turned a corner with the final defeat of Hillary Clinton. You can feel it in and between the lines of her blame-game book, “What Happened.” The exuberance of her supporters, which buoyed her in the campaign to elect the first woman president, has dissipated. All she has left is a memoir of an angry woman, raging that her time has passed, that the abundant fruit of opportunity that fell from the family tree was crushed beyond hopes of redemption and there’s nothing left to put in a new bottle but old whine.

Hillary was always about sexual politics. She wasn’t the right kind of woman to be the first woman president. She was dependent on the old pre-feminist attitudes she scorns and she didn’t know how to manipulate attitudes to advantage. Getting a man who could get there first was crucial to her strategy, and after she got the man she didn’t know how to make the strategy work.

Unlike Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel, she had to suffer through the powerful man syndrome with a husband whose hand in marriage pulled her onto a national stage, first in unfamiliar territory in Arkansas as a governor’s wife and then at the White House as first lady. In Arkansas, after a Wellesley and Yale Law School education, she was slow to learn to read the local political culture. She kept her maiden name, which enraged the good ol’ boys, infuriated their wives and cost her husband re-election to a traditional second term.

She then took his direction and his name, put on more womanly clothes and made friends with the natives. She returned with Bubba to the governor’s mansion again. This time, reluctant or not, she was a dutiful “wife of.”

Many of Hillary’s college classmates thought she was destined to be the first woman president, but she wouldn’t gamble on entering high-stake politics under her own power. She gained power through marriage, cultivating a choice made when she was young, and collecting connections formed through her husband, and these connections failed her when she went for the prize at the top.

Hillary never transcended her pacts with the devil and never learned how to apply the crucial touch of authenticity necessary for success in the public arena. Substance became secondary. Her lack of “message,” even a lack of identity as “liberal” or “moderate” as revealed in the infamous leaked emails of her campaign staff, was finally a fatal flaw. Nobody trusted her.

She was popular enough with her colleagues in the Senate, but they understood that she was only biding her time. When the Senate became a lackluster nest after her failed run for the presidency in 2008, she leaped at the opportunity to be secretary of state to show her mettle. Her most visible accomplishments were the frequent miles she traveled and the number of countries visited, rather than any substantive achievement.

Feminists raised their voices as Hillary rose to run for president a second time. Gone were the assurances of her first campaign that she was not running as a woman, but as someone who could get things done. Her age was showing and she failed to galvanize the younger feminists who had imposed more rigorous standards for the sisterhood. Standing by her man had once served both her and Bubba well, but women from Bubba’s earlier life reprised nasty accusations of crude sexual aggression in 2016. This diluted the impact of Donald Trump’s “locker-room” tape.

“Slick Willy” was an alley cat, but he was a natural at the game of politics. The Clintons were always a package marketed as “buy one, get one free,” and fervent feminists revealed themselves hypocrites by supporting her supporting him. Many women, particularly in flyover country, wouldn’t buy that.

With the powerful insight of hindsight, Hillary’s looking to triumph as a feminist using her husband as a steppingstone was never going to work. Bubba played by the old rules of masculinity and she was vulnerable to the new rules of feminism. Theirs was a clash between personal politics and cultural perception. She now says she never wanted to be the “woman candidate,” but “the best candidate,” whose experience as a woman in a male-dominated culture made her sharper, tougher and more competent. That’s not how it happened.

It’s not at all clear why she wrote this book, because it opens sores to settle scores, a reminder of past failure, not something to soothe the pain of those whom she let down. It’s a tale of a woman scorned, not by one man but scorned by “millions of white people,” as she glibly formulated it in her interview with Jane Pauley of CBS. She blames the “misogyny and sexism” of those millions. They blamed her, and they got the last word.

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

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