Hillary Clinton, Standing By Her Man While Under The Microscope


From the opening of Esquire‘s Hillary Clinton profile: “She is with a man, of course. She always is. There are so many men, and she is generally the only woman among them.” The author has a theory about this.

These days, following Clinton around — be it in Moldova or the United Nations — doesn’t allow for much color. Her every minute is circumscribed, as are the nuggets released to the press. And she has been psychoanalyzed to death for almost twenty years. What’s left? Anecdotes about the press plane and chatting with her about coffee, mostly. And meditations!

In this case, the meditations are primarily about Clinton’s unique position in world history. Tom Junod is plainly in awe of Clinton’s stamina and smarts, but also interested in the limits of her power:

Although some people call her the most powerful woman in the world, she has precisely as much power as her boss allows her to have. If she is unhappy about this, her unhappiness does not show. She works heroically hard at her job and is very good at it. She even seems liberated by it – by its unceasing demands and unforgiving strictures as well as by the loyalty it requires.

Accordingly, he’s also intrigued by Clinton’s loyalty towards men who have hurt her publicly — her husband for a long time, and more recently in the campaign, Barack Obama.

There was an aspect of her personality that was as essential to her narrative as her narrative was to her invention of modern political celebrity in its female form. When she was First Lady, she had not just suffered private pain at the hands of the most powerful politician in the world, and she had not just responded to the pain politically, by becoming senator; she had suffered private pain at the hands of the most powerful politician in the world and responded to the pain politically while at the same time remaining loyal to him. She could not allow herself the pleasures of her own historical significance except by standing by her man.

This is, of course, an unspoken reference and inversion of Clinton’s notorious comment during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign that she wasn’t “some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.” Is it unfair to compare Hillary Clinton’s marriage to her failed campaign and reluctant yet gracious decision to join Obama’s cabinet? Sure. But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t fit into how many people see her, as a woman always thwarted.

Which is probably why everyone is obsessed with how much power Clinton actually has as Secretary of State. Part of it is clearly that the campaign rivalry is an undepletable well of sexiness for bored political reporters, and maybe other people too. But it’s also wondering whether Hillary Clinton can ever really win. Junod writes,

There are two prevailing interpretations of Hillary Clinton’s performance as secretary of state. The first is that she’s a soft-power specialist who’s used her celebrity to call for women’s rights and Internet freedom instead of getting treaties signed. In this view, she is as much a symbolic traveler as she is a diplomatic one, emblematic of a foreign policy notable for good intentions over actual accomplishment. She gets to continue the Hillary story while yet another layer of men in her life – Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Advisor James Jones, and Vice-President Joe Biden – do the hard work of projecting American power abroad.

In other words, Clinton takes the girly-celeb stuff while the boys do the real work. And given that the Secretary of State has been a reliably female job, celebrity status notwithstanding, maybe there’s something to that as well. But Junod wants to believe that Hillary Clinton can have it both ways:

More and more, however, this interpretation has given way to another: that the quality she brings to the job is not her celebrity but rather her unfathomable and almost unsettling doggedness. If, for instance, she has succeeded in “resetting the relationship” with Russia – and ultimately in securing a new a strategic-arms treaty – it’s not because she’s famous; it’s because she knows how to deal with difficult men, including Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister….She is not soft. She simply hardens herself through her own rituals of endurance, and that makes her harder than her boss could ever be.

I don’t know if this theory has credence, but I want it to be so, because, well, I find myself to be similarly personally invested in whether Hillary Clinton gets to be happy and effective too, after all she’s been through. Unfair, given that she’s the country’s chief diplomat and this is supposed to be about more than her personal fulfillment, but might as well say it out loud.

Hillary. Happy. [Esquire]

Earlier: “Clinton Now Means Hillary, Not Bill, Who Stands In Her Shadow

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