From the moment I became aware of Hillary Clinton when her husband, Bill, ran for the presidency, I thought she would someday be the first woman president of the United States. The superbly orchestrated Democratic National Convention did nothing to change that perception.
She is not, and never will be, the seductive speaker her husband is. Nor will she ever strike the delicate balance between the intellectual and the visceral that President Barack Obama has achieved, inspiring us not only to hope but to continue striving. She lacks, by her own admission, the temperament for that, being more comfortable, as she said, with the “service” part of “public service” than the “public” portion. Indeed, her naturally secretive nature, at the heart of the overblown email scandal, is no doubt exacerbated by her husband’s ability to feel everyone’s pain – particularly that of nubile women.
But let’s talk about temperament for a minute, shall we? It’s as important to a career as the other Ts – talent, training, technique. John McEnroe once said that he lacked the passion for playing tennis that Jimmy Connors had. I think that McEnroe may have meant he lacked the temperament for the arena that Connors displayed. Hillary – let’s call her that to distinguish her from the other Clinton in this post and because she has achieved first-name status – has a cool, calculated temperament. That is no small thing when your touch can ignite a nuclear event.
If that cool temperament renders her stiff in an address – well, no one’s asked her to be Ralph Fiennes delivering Hamlet’s second soliloquy – that same temperament can be used to devastating effect in debate and become an anchor in a crisis. Those 9/11 first responders encountered, I think, the real Hillary – fired to protect and serve but calibrated enough to know that the head channels the heart into action.
As with other women leaders, I have no illusions about a feminist revolution and a suffragist fulfillment that a Hillary presidency might bring about – this despite her white pantsuit, a nod to the color of the suffragist movement. There will be too many challenges and the inevitable backlash. In his moving address, which had many of us weeping, Obama recalled that Hillary has had to do everything a man did – backward and in heels. It’s a reference to a cartoon marveling at Ginger Rogers, a talented but underrated actress-dancer who in nine musicals with a genius, Fred Astaire, had to do everything he did, except moving backward, since men lead in dancing, and in high heels.
About those heels: I interviewed Rogers twice. She said I had a lovely aura, which, coming from a glamorous star, meant the world to a young reporter. In one of those conversations, she recalled how the studio would dye the shoes to match her gowns right before a scene with the perfectionistic Astaire. Sometimes there would be 36 takes, as there were in the tricky “Never Gonna Dance” scene from “Swing Time.”
One time, when her dresser was removing the stiff, perspired shoes, the skin came off her bleeding toes. Upset, the dresser said she was going to speak to the director.
“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” Rogers said. “We’re lucky to have these jobs.” It was the Great Depression, when most of the nation was out of work.
Rogers did her job. Prepared, even over-prepared, loyal, hard-working, gutsy and intelligent, Hillary has done her jobs, too – and then some. Perhaps the most telling moment in Bill Clinton’s highly personal, poignant recollection of his wife and the passage of time occurred in an anecdote about daughter Chelsea – now a wife and mother of two – going off to Stanford University. As Bill gazed out the window with tears in his eyes, Hillary looked for one more draw to line with those scented draw liners that keep folded clothes ensconced in pretty surroundings.
Yep, you can be Queen Elizabeth II or a single mom just making it but you will not only play your role. You will be the one lining the drawers. Women, columnist-turned-novelist Anna Quindlen once wrote, are “the fabric of society.”
And this is our moment – not to take center stage and leave men behind but to take them with us, kicking and screaming if needs be, finally into a 21st century of cooperation and collaboration.
Given the alternative – a schoolyard bully who pouts and says and does the outrageous to draw attention to a monstrous ego, a caricature of a man – the choice is clear.
The woman who lined the draws – who dances through life backward and in heels – will get the job done. And it will be enough.