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Hillary as Veep a Bad Move for Women

When the popular history of the campaign turns to legend, I have little doubt that Hillary's story will be that of a brilliant woman who almost made it -- but for her love of a man who sabotaged her completely.
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There's one good reason not to offer Hillary Clinton the vice presidential spot. Sabotage, thy name is Bill.

Hillary Clinton would make a great vice president. And the veep spot would put her in line to be the first woman to lead the nation, which she would do quite ably. Yet, if the past is any measure, inherent in a Hillary Clinton vice presidential bid lies the prospect of setting women back another few decades. The one reason Barack Obama should not, under any circumstances, give her the nod, is her husband.

On the very day that Barack Obama planned to mark his presumed nomination to the Democratic Party's presidential ticket with a major speech, Hillary Clinton signaled to New York politicians that she was interested in the vice presidential spot on the Obama presidential ticket. Then, just minutes before Barack Obama claimed the nomination (a claim backed up by the delegate math) Clinton dug in, congratulating Obama, but refusing to concede the nomination-- a pressure play, perhaps, for the Number 2 spot.

For the sake of women, this pressure must be resisted. Given Bill Clinton's performance on the campaign trail in the Hillary for president campaign, the volatile, vituperative and prevaricating former president could only bring stain and conflict to an Obama candidacy. Commentators ask if Hillary could take orders and be a good helpmeet to a president Obama. With her legendary discipline, I have no doubt that she could. But could Bill Clinton keep from meddling? Only the most naive among us would believe that he would. Such spousal sabotage in one race could keep women off the national Democratic ticket for another decade or so.

A complex thing

As Hillary Clinton gave her non-concession speech in Manhattan last night, it was hard not to feel for her. For Clinton, it's not simply the loss of the nomination that must smart, but also the role her husband played in wrecking her chances of success. She came so close, and in many ways (stamina not the least of them), proved to be an excellent candidate.

For feminists, the range of emotions felt about the end of Hillary Clinton's presidential quest is a layered and complex thing.

Hillary Clinton's heart is that of a feminist, and yet she's attached to a husband with predatory attributes (most recently outlined in Todd Purdum's cautionary Vanity Fair piece. Whether it was Bill's conscious intention or not (I suspect not), this time he preyed on her. He used what should have been her moment in the sun to grab beams not intended for him, converting them to hailstones of resentment and vitriol. And she apparently never asked him to stay home.

Other missteps

There are, of course, many more reasons than Bill Clinton's bad behavior -- his regular disparagement of Barack Obama in terms that were sometimes racial, his looseness with the facts in defending his wife after she told a tall tail about a perilous landing in Bosnia, his finger-wagging at reporters -- for Hillary Clinton's loss of a nomination for which she began as the all-out frontrunner. There was bad campaign strategy by the infamous Mark Penn, which included a poor decision not to compete in caucus states, and the scorched-earth approach of senior adviser Harold Ickes.

There was Hillary Clinton's own rhetorical missteps, such as when she tried to cast herself in Lyndon Johnson's role at the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and instead seemed to be saying that the white president was more responsible for bringing civil rights to African Americans than the Rev. Martin Luther King. It was a compound injury: in conjuring that construction, she cast the lyrical Obama in the role of the inspirational leader, and herself in the shoes of a man who went down with the legacy of an unpopular war wrapped around him.

In fact, often when Hillary Clinton tried a recounting of history, she screwed up the telling in ways that were perceived to be more malevolent than I suspect was intended, as when she noted the assassination of presumptive presidential Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

The kryptonite narrative

Yes, there's plenty of blame to go around for the demise of Hillary's quest. But when the popular history of the campaign turns to legend, I have little doubt that Hillary's story will be that of a brilliant woman who almost made it -- but for her love of a man who sabotaged her completely. Whatever the grain (or much more) of truth in that tale, it's not a helpful ballad. Not for Hillary, not for feminists, not for the country. It's a story that says, no matter how smart or tough a woman is, she stands to be felled by love, the kryptonite of the weaker sex.

One of the ironies of being a feminist is that more than a few of us got here by loving bad men. And let me tell you, sister, recognizing the problem doesn't necessarily cure you of it. Nor is a story ever quite that simple when it's between two people. Few bad men are all bad; few good women are all good.

The starting place in the love gone wrong that propels some of us to be feminists rarely begins in adulthood. It's between fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters, schoolmates and schoolmates, and in any dyadic relationship in which the socially constructed inequality between male and female manifests itself -- that is, in virtually all male-female relationships. Accustomed to a disparity in power between men and women that rarely falls in their favor, women are often inclined to endure a good bit more abuse from men than one would expect men to take from women.

Déjà vu

And so it is that I feel a sense of déjà vu as Hillary Clinton angles for the vice presidency.

On a hot day 24 years ago, I stood in a crowd in Times Square, straining for a glimpse at Geraldine Ferraro, who had just been named the Democratic vice presidential candidate. The rally was only blocks from my desk at Ms. Magazine, where the joy at Ferraro's nomination had been overwhelming. Our editors had waited breathlessly for advance word of the Ferraro pick to write the coverlines on a magazine cover that featured the face of a smiling Gerry. It all timed out beautifully for our October 1984 issue.

The sight of Ferraro on the platform in Times Square was electrifying. I don't remember a word she said. (And, oh, how I wish I could forget the things she has said on Hillary Clinton's behalf.) I just remember thinking, the spell has been broken. Sure, Reagan's gonna win and that's why they gave us this one, but, so what? The spell has been broken. The next time the Dems have a shot at winning, a woman will be on the ticket.

Yet, only a few weeks after that rally, Ferraro would face a mob of photographers and reporters who brutally grilled her on the business dealings of her husband, John Zaccaro, who had taken part in some questionable real estate deals. Zaccaro was little help to his wife as she faced down the press corps. And while Zaccaro's deals had virtually nothing to do with Walter Mondale's landslide loss to Ronald Reagan and his vice presidential candidate, George H.W. Bush, they did, I believe, take the heat off the party for the nomination of another woman.

It's been more than two decades since the Democrats put a woman on their presidential ticket. Perhaps Barack Obama will break that curse by naming a woman other than HIllary Clinton as his vice presidential candidate. (Hopefully one with an impeccable spouse or, better yet, none at all.) That would be one way to put an end to the story of smart women candidates felled by foolish spouses.

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