All's Fair

When asked if he would be politically harmed by his support of President Bush, John McCain responded: "But one, you’ve got to do what’s right. Second, there is a little irony that I was the greatest critic of the way the war was mismanaged. But life isn’t fair.”

A short time ago “fairness” was also in the political air when Bill Clinton complained to supporters that “it’s just not fair” the way Hillary is being depicted for her controversial Iraq war vote.

Now if anyone has a gripe about life’s unfairness it would be the one held prisoner and tortured rather than the ex-First Lady. Certainly Tony Snow and Elizabeth Edwards can lay a stronger claim to the “why me?” mantle yet nary a self-pitying word escaped either’s lips.

But it does seem that misfortune follows Hillary like a cloud and she is never shy about pointing it out. First, her husband did her wrong. Several times. Then that nasty Rick Lazio had the temerity to approach her podium in the Senate debate. “Threatening!” and “Abusive!” screamed her campaign. Now those awful people are saying Barak Obama’s anti-war credentials are stronger than hers. The injustice is almost too great to bear.

She does readily play the gender victim card. Like Katie Couric, she insists “some people say” (her campaign staff no doubt can supply a list) a woman cannot be president. She then confides in her audience that she has had experience with “evil and bad men.”

Just when you think she is off for a Helen Reddy greatest hits tour she veers sharply back to Warrior Hillary. The New York Times spotted her as she polished her military credentials, observing, “It could be vital to her, as a woman seeking to become a wartime commander in chief, to show the public that she is comfortable with military policy and culture — and with the weight of responsibility that accompanies life-and-death decisions.”

It strains credulity to think Hillary was really spooked by Rick Lazio (who looked more like a boy scout than an abusive spouse) or that she and her husband don’t understand it is not only fair but entirely accurate to portray her record as more supportive of Bush’s Iraq policy than Obama’s. (In fact it was intended to be seen as such so as to deny her opponents the argument that a woman was weak on military matters.) So what is going on?

One explanation may be that she never lost the gender battle image developed as a young adult in the ’60s. She still identifies with the mantra of liberation, oppression and victimhood. Although foreign now to many women, the language of Friedan and Steinem and a worldview of male domination and suppressed women seem never to have changed for Hillary. The references to evil and bad men just serve to cement her attachment to the sisterhood of the oppressed and to mobilize them to support one of their own.

As with everything Clinton there is also a more nefarious explanation. By raising the specter of victimhood she intends perhaps to deflect and in fact pre-empt criticism. It would be so “unfair” for men to suggest she lacks military expertise or knowledge. It would be so “sexist’ to suggest she lacks a record of her own, rather than a derivative one based on her husband’s achievements, the most significant of which (i.e. welfare reform) she vehemently opposed.

Whether she continues to pull her play the victim card depends on whether it works or instead begins to grate on the voters. In a political season when others face real unfairness and tragedy with dignity and resolve it would be nice if she put it away for good. It would be only fair.