Hillary Clinton listened to her consultants, handlers and other men paid to be wise when she first ran for president seven years ago. They told her to run like a man, make no big deal about the obvious, because her sex — or "gender," as we call it in our more squeamish times — was unimportant. She took their advice, and the rest is tortured history.
This time the little lady is listening to herself. Just being a woman is, if not everything, at least enough. She's running not merely to be the 45th president of the United States, but to be "the first woman president of the United States." She reminded everyone at the first Democratic debate on Tuesday night that she's a woman ("hear me roar") in her answer to every question Anderson Cooper, the CNN interlocutor, put to her. Never could an opportunity to promise the body politic a shot of estrogen slip past her.
When the five candidates were excused for a break toward the end of the second hour at the podium, and returned from the potty after a few minutes longer than expected, Clinton smiled, as demurely as she knows how, and told everyone: "It takes us a little longer." That's because — wait for it — she's a woman. She wants no one to forget it.
By the rules of the game, Clinton won the first Democratic debate: she came prepared, departing from the script only when she could safely make a telling point. She proved that she's a strong debater. She looked good, with a flattering coiffure in place, and she projected ease and confidence. The crowd roared with her at every reminder that she's a woman.
She took full advantage of Rep. Kevin McCarthy's mindless remark that the Benghazi investigation is all about pushing her poll numbers down. She knows it's more than that; it's about getting answers to what happened on her watch at Benghazi. Her irresponsibility in handling her emails was an unexpected byproduct of that original inquiry.
Rarely has a candidate gotten such a break as this stunning gift from McCarthy, and at a time when she really needed it. Bernie Sanders gave her an unexpected Valentine. Her boast that, after the Republicans had done their best and worst, "I'm still standing," evoked wild applause and shrieks. Sanders added what he intended as the coup de grace.
"I think the secretary is right," he said. "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about emails." More applause, more shrieks and Clinton looked like she wanted to kiss him. She settled for awarding a warm handshake.
This was what a partisan audience wanted, and there was no follow-up with obvious questions about why, if the questions about the reckless use of a private email are just "politics," the FBI is adding resources to its investigation into whether she mismanaged confidential information on her private email server.
She has doggedly declined to explain how the server was set up and how it was protected from hackers eager to retrieve sensitive inside information about American policy. The Associated Press learned that Russian hackers tried at least five times, and maybe more, to trick the server into infecting itself with malware, and the server was hit repeatedly by hackers from China, South Korea and Germany. The server was even connected to the Internet in a way that made it far more vulnerable than the government servers everybody else used. The Clinton campaign has declined to answer questions about it.
The other candidates clearly did not want to press her vulnerability on the important issues of character and judgment. Lincoln Chafee came closest, making a boast that he knew she couldn't, that in a long career as a mayor, a governor and a senator he had never had to answer questions about scandal.
But this was not a debate of equals, each candidate looking for an opportunity to make a fatal thrust. This was a night for shadowboxing. Her rivals, including Bernie Sanders, dared not rough up the candidate they expect to be the nominee. Appointments to milady's cabinet hang in the balance. They have appropriated Ronald Reagan's famous "Eleventh Commandment," that "thou shall not speak ill of another Republican," and put it to the service of the Democratic Party.
Hillary's march toward the coronation resumes, and so will the drip, drip, drip of disclosure and discovery about a wounded pretender to the throne. The questions about character and judgment hang in the air still, demanding answers from the candidate who would be "the first woman president of the United States." What Hillary Clinton got Tuesday night was a big hand for the little lady.