Jewish World Review July 7, 1999 /8 Av, 5759
Why are women so indifferent to Hillary's candidacy? I think I know. Hillary is not the first of a new generation of women in public life-she is the last of an old generation-her mother's generation, not her own. And the Tammy Wynette business is a blind: not trailer trash, she's a member of the Peck & Peck Generation.
In New York City it's hard to see, because New York is a national city, whose professional classes-doctors, lawyers, consultants, accountants, bankers-serve a national clientele, and are therefore swollen out of proportion to their natural numbers. But if you come from the provinces, you'll know who I mean. In any small to medium-sized city, and in most small towns, the doctor's and lawyer's and banker's wives seized by right of their husbands' position the functions of unpaid civic leadership. These women provided the closest thing our country had to a European-style gentry. The school committees, the library committees, the hospital committees, the charity boards, were dominated by well-educated women, overqualified, under-occupied, and without local roots, who owed their position to the respect their husbands commanded.
I was a mailman for long enough-and then a publisher of literate, genteel, upscale magazines-- to know that if you followed where The New Yorker subscriptions went out-of-town, or the once common Tuesday mail delivery of the Sunday New York Times, you'd find these families: isolated, superior, kindly, alienated, with mother at home. Hillary belongs among these folks-both when she lived at her father's home in Park Ridge and in her husband's homes in Little Rock.
In the late sixties this bit of the class system began to unravel. The sexual revolution made it difficult to determine who ought to take over that empty seat on the School Board-is it to be Dr. Newman's wife, or Judge Nylen's wife, or Dr. Newman's new wife? Then, the sudden, unopposed and bloodless triumph of feminism in 1970 made an even greater difference. There were to be no more ex-officio gentry-wives. A woman with ambition would succeed on her own. And Vanity Fair assures us that even those contemporary women who prosper in an old-fashioned way-like Patricia Hoar Orr Zabrodsky Duff Medavoy Perelman-could, had she chosen to, have had a successful career on her own.
Now it is only in the truly small towns that these women are to be found.
From here you'd have to drive your Wagoneer at least 4 hours to see a genuine wife of the gentry: to New England north of the Massachusetts border or south to Virginia beyond the 703 area code. Only there would you find the wife of a locally-respected attorney or doctor who cannot get the kind of marketing/ publishing/ publicity/ decorating/ real estate job that her urban or suburban counterpart holds, because the local economy can't provide such work.
Hillary's problem is that she is exactly this kind of woman, blown up to grotesque proportions. No job, a professional degree she has used only to do family business and receive the kind of bribes that can't be delivered directly to her husband. (My grandfather, an admirer of the big shots in the Cook Country Democratic organization, used to shake his head sadly every time an Illinois politician went to jail. "If he needed money, why didn't he just open a bank or a law firm? That would have been the honest way to get it.") To the majority of women under retirement age, who struggle with jobs and families in the way that, well, men used to do, the pattern of her life must seem viscerally bizarre. In fact, most women I know over 35 have achieved more in their lives than has Hillary Clinton.
Hillary is unlike the female politicians who came before her not because she is more advanced, but because she is retrograde. She has nothing in common with the tough, flawed, flamboyant women whose political careers have succeeded-and failed-through their own efforts, their own virtues and their own defects. Hillary is a throwback; allied to the generation of Joan Mondale and Kitty Dukakis-imperious and self-confident because of their husband's position and reputation, hopelessly condescending, subtly imitative of her man even when pretending to contradict him (as Hillary has done on the Jerusalem issue), fatally self-doubting when separate from the big Him.
won't win-she may not even
JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.
07/13/99: Let's you and him make peace