Friday, November 09, 2007

Has the victim card been played out?

Peggy Noonan notes the response that Hillary Clinton's campaign got from trying to gain sympathy from women when Hillary was criticized in the last debate.
But even better, and more startling, people began to giggle. At Mrs. Clinton, a woman who has never inspired much mirth. Suddenly they were remembering the different accents she has spoken with when in different parts of the country, and the weird laugh she has used on talk shows. A few days ago new poll numbers came out--neck and neck with Barack Obama in Iowa, her lead slipping in New Hampshire. There is a sense that Sen. Obama is rising, a sense for the first time in this election cycle that Mrs. Clinton just may be in a fight, a real one, one she could actually lose.

It's all kind of wonderful, isn't it? Someone indulged in special pleading and America didn't buy it. It's as if the country this week made it official: We now formally declare that the woman who uses the fact of her sex to manipulate circumstances is a jerk.

This is a victory for true feminism, in its old-fashioned sense of a simple assertion of the equality of men and women. We might not have so resoundingly reached this moment without Mrs. Clinton's actions and statements. Thank you, Mrs. Clinton.

A word on toughness. Mrs. Clinton is certainly tough, to the point of hard. But toughness should have a purpose. In Mrs. Thatcher's case, its purpose was to push through a program she thought would make life better in her country. Mrs. Clinton's toughness seems to have no purpose beyond the personal accrual of power. What will she do with the power? Still unclear. It happens to be unclear in the case of several candidates, but with Mrs. Clinton there is a unique chasm between the ferocity and the purpose of the ferocity. There is something deeply unattractive in this, and it would be equally so if she were a man.
I don't think we'll see the complete end of people playing the victim. Certainly not when college applications practically beg students to tout how they've overcome adversity. Suddenly everyone has to be a victim. And if a student was fortunate enough to have been born into a middle-class family with two married parents and no health problems, the student has to manufacture an "overcome," as college admissions officers term it, by talking about dealing with shyness or overscheduling or some other supposed barrier that will show his or her toughness.

But we may be reaching the point where being a female is not an "overcome." Certainly not with a woman chancellor of Germany, leading the race for the presidency, or Speaker of the House.