My Hillary Problem

Someday, other women will run for president, won't they? Shouldn't my first time be with someone I really like?
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By many measures, I should be wild about Hillary.

We have so much in common. We both are about the same age, both grew up as white Protestant Republican daughters in correspondingly mono-culture neighborhoods, hers in Illinois, mine in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Thanks to our parents and good high school grades, we both went to college and both had ambitions in professions that did not then welcome young women.

With a degree in journalism, I wanted to work in television news, with the overall goal of making the world better through people's understanding of it and each other. I imagine Hillary's goal was equally lofty.

Based on formative years alone, I should not have a Hillary problem, but I do. Where did I/she/we go wrong? Was the world she chose any less welcoming to her than mine was to me? At ABC News in Washington, where I worked as an assistant -- always an assistant -- at the network's syndicated news feed, I pleaded to be a newswriter. After all when my boss was on vacation, I had to train substitutes sent down from New York how to be my boss.

My Washington boss told me he "asked New York." And? "New York says a woman can't write news."

Hillary must have heard similar logic.

Meanwhile, I, and presumably she, garbed ourselves in the mode of the day: mini-skirts. ABC literally had a dress code: female employees could not wear slacks, even in the coldest winter days. Imagine.

Fast forward a few years, in my case through WRC TV in Washington, where I was an associate producer of documentaries, through WNBC TV in New York, where I was a newswriter, field producer, and sometimes reporter, to CBS TV. Along the way, a way prepared in part by the nascent and then full throttle feminist movement, I sparkled in single digits: first-woman-this, second-woman-who, third-woman-in.

Hillary must have counted, or been counted, that way, too. Her ultimate first-woman-who career move may well be an emotional extension of those times.

At CBS, I was a pool writer, assigned to whichever news broadcast needed a writer -- Weekend News with Dan Rather, with Ed Bradley, with Bob Schieffer, Morning News with Hughes Rudd, Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt, midday news breaks with Douglas Edwards. Then, after several months at CBS, I was asked to sub for The Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Gulp.

CBS was the only network that had not been sued for sex discrimination. I knew this terrain, having been part of one such lawsuit at WRC in Washington. Although I had a great job, I was one of the few women who did, and was a happy activist on behalf of other women. I also helped promote a similar lawsuit at WNBC, where I brought in my friend, our WRC TV ringleader Mary Catherine Kilday, to address WNBC women. An outside agitator!

Hillary, meanwhile, was getting her law degree, and no doubt was achieving her own satisfactions via work in the political and the legal arenas, by opening both.

At CBS, however, where I was allegedly the third woman newswriter in the network's history, and worked hard, and, I hoped, wrote well, I occasionally wondered if I had been hired as a sop to the sisters at the barricades. Finally, I approached Sandy Socolow, the producer who'd hired me, and revealed my concern.

He said, well, yes, "we" were under pressure to hire a woman, but everyone "is glad you worked out." I'd worked out! To this day, I empathize with anyone who questions his or her own worth vis a vis formal or informal affirmative action... even though to me, the main thing was to have the job, questioning self-worth a luxury.

Then came the first time Writing for Walter. That morning, as I walked past the two male writers toward my assigned desk in the newsroom (the set from which the news was broadcast), one of them, an older guy from North Carolina, mumbled in a voice just loud enough for me to hear, "A woman has no place in a newsroom."

Gee, thanks. So, New York still says a woman can't write news.

I imagine Hillary has had similar experiences and hope for her sake she has repressed some of them, as I hope I have. I bet she also suffered un-repressable cab drivers who reached from the front seat to grope her, men on the street who goosed her, things that happened to me in the '70s. Despite our youths, despite the embrace of feminism, it could be a horrible time. No safe place in a newsroom, no safe place on the street.

Along our separate but united ways, she and I became Democrats, fell in love with alluring men, and -- most unfeministically -- left East Coast comfort zones to live with them: she, as we all know, to Arkansas, me to California. We both married the alluring men and held on to our maiden names. (I still have mine. For one thing, the people of Arkansas did not care what I called myself. As for my husband, he said he thought about name changes and would like to keep his. I maintain one quality a mate must have is humor. I believe Hillary and I agree on that.)

My husband and I voted for Bill. In fact, we were so elated that he seemed likely to win, early on election night in his gustatory honor, we went to McDonald's for the first time, bought take-out to eat at home while watching the returns, and had indigestion that seemed to last weeks.

Granted, my pro-Clinton balloon burst early, with "Don't Ask Don't Tell," rather than full recognition of gays in the military. Here in northern California, a gay person is considered a fellow human being, end of story, don't people have something else to worry about?

Meanwhile, there was Hillary.

Part of my Hillary problem is that I cannot account for my reaction to her, nor even maintain it is fair. Should "Don't Tell" apply to one woman's sense of another? Or is candor healthy for us all? I am counting on the latter.

Something about her, even pre-firstladydom, discomfited me. It was not so much what she said pre- and during her husband's presidencies, from baking cookies, not standing by your man (yeah, right), and health reform, but something else. The tone, maybe? I am the daughter-in-law of a preacher man and yes, married the son of a, but the late Rev. William Perdue, whom I adored, was never preachy. She is, to my ear. What-you-need-to-know seems her substitute for persuasion. I shudder at the snarky sexist tsk-tsking about Hillary's clothing, cleavage, hair styles, or laugh levels -- don't people have something else to worry about? -- but I do feel tsk-tsking from her. It sounds somewhere between hectoring and exasperated, and even personal. Alison, your performance is not quite up to my expectations. Alison, you do not seem to understand what I'm telling you.

Why do I have a feeling she's about to get really mad at me?

Apparently, she can get really mad. An unconfirmed report from a male friend: His neighbor, a discreet woman, worked at the Clinton White House for years, never said a word about her job, but blurted out to him when she retired, "Now I won't have to listen to them screaming at each other every day."

Well, we all know more about the Clinton marriage than we want to.

Was My Hillary Problem mine alone among my women friends? When Hillary first ran for the Senate, I called a professor friend in New York and asked her opinion. "She's rather chilly, isn't she?" was the comment. (This week, my friend added, "Weasly when asked, hawkish in practice.") I cannot count the New York women who told me they voted for her for Senate while holding their noses.

Nothing seems to have changed. Even after years in office, Hillary's wide-eyed oh-it's-you!-here-at-my-rally look seems, to me, practiced. So, for a wider check, I called another old friend in New York to ask how she likes Hillary these days. She said she could not bear her. Personality, huh? I asked. No, she said, she doesn't care about that. It's her votes. For the war in Iraq. For confirming Alberto Gonzales. For building the wall along Mexico. And now the vote that may lead us to war in Iran.

Ah, yes, the votes. They are part of my Hillary problem, too. So is the maneuvering of positions, the being maybe not so pro-choice after all-ing. And there is the cattle-futures trading. The Whitewatering. The Walmarting. The stand by your man anyway-ing.

I also know a couple of women who know Hillary. Both say she's terrific, a good friend in another friend's crisis, and great fun one-on-one.

I'm glad to hear it.

But what about the rest of us? Somehow, despite all the commonalities Hillary and I inadvertently shared, the girlfriend to girlfriend sense has never connected for me as it has with other women in political office. Should I vote for her because we are both women? (Arggh. How many white men agonize over whether to support a white man candidate?) Someday, other women will run for president, won't they? Shouldn't my first time be with someone I really like?

The oddest aspect of my Hillary problem is that I no longer think of her as "woman." She has transcended our commonalities and become a sexless politician. (I have nothing against seemingly sexless politicians, incidentally, and have voted for several.)

Oddly, too, the presidential candidate with whom I have the least in common personally is the one with whom I have the most feeling of ease: Barack Obama. I like his mien. He seems comfortable within himself. He seems not to be chiding me to mend my faulty ways. I like what I sense is thoughtful compromise and sound judgment, applicable locally and globally. I like that he rejected work at monied law firms in favor of neighborhood organizing. I certainly like his votes.

And, I like his clarity. Both he and Hillary issued paragraph-long statements when the Writers Guild strike began. I doubt either wrote them, but I bet the tone reflects the person.

Barack's first sentence: "I stand with the writers."

Hillary's first sentence: "I support the Writers Guild's pursuit of a fair contract that pays them for their work in all mediums."

I semi-rest my case.

My husband, who likes Barack, too, and is raising money for him, met him once and said later with wonder, it was like looking at himself. Same big ears, same height, same build. Okay, different color.

Barack transcended his identity of African-American to him, as Hillary has transcended woman to me.

I do regret I have a Hillary problem. In ways, she and I were so close.

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