Who's Hormonal? Hillary or Dick?
By MAUREEN DOWD
The Republicans succeed because they keep it simple, ruthless and mythic.
In 2000 and 2004, G.O.P. gunslingers played into the Western myth and mined images of manliness, feminizing Al Gore as a Beta Tree-Hugger, John Kerry as a Waffling War Wimp With a Hectoring Wife and John Edwards as his true bride, the Breck Girl.
Now, in the distaff version of Swift-boating, they are casting Hillary Clinton as an Angry Woman, a she-monster melding images of Medea, the Furies, harpies, a knife-wielding Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" and a snarling Scarlett Johansson in "Match Point." (How many pregnant mistresses does Woody Allen have to kill off in movies before he feels he's reversed Dostoyevsky and proved that if the crime is worth it, there should be no punishment?)
Republicans think that men who already have nagging, bitter women in their lives will not want for president the sort of woman who gave W. a dyspeptic smile or eye-rolling appraisal during State of the Union addresses.
In "Commander in Chief," writers were careful to make Geena Davis's chief executive calm and controlled under pressure — even when her rival, played by Donald Sutherland, made an insulting menopause crack.
The hit on Hillary may seem crude and transparent. But in the void created by dormant Democrats, crouching in what Barack Obama calls "a reactive posture," crude and transparent ploys work for the Republicans. Just look at how far the Bushies' sulfurous scaremongering on terror, and cynical linkage of Saddam and Osama, have gotten them.
The gambit handcuffs Hillary: If she doesn't speak out strongly against President Bush, she's timid and girlie. If she does, she's a witch and a shrew. That plays particularly well in the South, where it would be hard for an uppity Hillary to capture many more Bubbas than the one she already has.
It's the riddle of the Sphinx that has been floating around since the selection of Geraldine Ferraro. Betty Friedan worried then that a woman seen as a threat to men would not get to the White House. But how can a woman who's not a threat to men get there?
The G.O.P. honcho Ken Mehlman kicked off the misogynistic attack on George Stephanopoulos's Sunday show. "I don't think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates," he said. Referring to Hillary's recent taunts about Republicans, he added, "Whether it's the comments about the plantation or the worst administration in history, Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger."
Hillary did not sound angry when she made those comments — she's learned since her tea-and-cookies outburst in the '92 campaign. A man who wants to undermine a woman's arguments can ignore the substance and simply dismiss her as unstable and shrill. It's a hoary tactic: women are more mercurial than men; they get depressed more often and pop pills more often. As a top psychiatrist once told me, women are "hormonally more complicated and biologically more vulnerable."
But as the G.O.P. tars Hillary as hysterical, it is important to note that women are affected by lunar tides only once a month, while Dick Cheney has rampaging hormones every day.
Republicans have also labeled men hysterical (from the Greek for "womb"). Howard Dean was skewered on the Scream. And when John McCain was soaring in the 2000 primaries, Bush supporters viciously whispered that his fits of temper signaled that he had come back from Vietnam with snakes in his head.
Senator McCain went over the top again this week in a letter to Senator Obama. Although Mr. McCain tried to cast his "I'm the reformer — you back off, new guy" letter as "straight talk" after an Obama dis, it was snide and bitchy, more like an angry missive of a spurned lover to an ex-boyfriend than a note from a respected senior senator to a respected junior one.
Mr. McCain could take a lesson from Condi Rice, who gets hyperarticulate and bristly when she's mad, but not bitchy. Or Oprah, whose anger at James Frey had a Mosaic dignity.
Hillary's problem isn't that she's angry. It's that she's not angry enough. From Iraq to Katrina and the assault on the Constitution, from Schiavo to Alito and N.S.A. snooping to Congressional corruption, Hillary has failed to lead in voicing outrage. She's been too busy triangulating and calculating to be good at articulating.
The Republicans can't marginalize Hillary. She has already marginalized herself.