Hillary Clinton called North Korea an attention junkie in an interview this week -- a country that most recently loaded missiles onto the back of a ship and cruised around like the Love Boat. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry responded: "We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community. She looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping." Ouch. That must really hurt, being lectured on “etiquette” by people who routinely administer nuclear enemas to Mother Earth.
As Margaret Thatcher used to say: “When they attack one personally, it means they haven’t a single argument left.” The phenomenon cuts across all ideology. It’s not a right/left question, it’s an effective/ineffective question. And effective women in politics get attacked far more frequently than men based on looks and personal factors that have nothing to do with their job or ability. North Korea has been problematic since Hillary’s husband was the US President, but I have yet to find any statements by North Korea during the Bill Clinton administration that says: “President Clinton is an oversexed buffoon who needs to turn off the cheeseburger tap. Nyah!”
Women at the top of the political food chain aren’t men in a skirt, and didn’t kiss up to “the patriarchy” to get to where they are, as feminists often argue to justify their own failures. While they don’t go out of their way to alienate men -- because someone like that would have a tough time getting along in ANY workplace -- they tend to be more feared than liked…and they don’t really care. Nor do they have to. Respect is more important than likeability among the creatures of the political sewer.
Hillary Clinton hardly landed her Secretary of State gig as a result of kissing the Obamabehind. I think he would have been hard pressed, in the wake of a pretty bitter presidential race, to find an opponent who kissed up less than she did. In fact, the appointment almost makes him look masochistic. But the bottom line is that Clinton is competent, and probably deeply feared. As with the world of dating, it’s a good thing for men in politics to have a healthy fear of a woman. Men generally respect what scares them. Obama has good reason to believe that Hillary Clinton is quite capable of the political equivalent of taking a baseball bat to his car.
The ideal formula for women in politics is to be respected and somewhat feared by their male colleagues, but liked by voters. This balance is easy enough to achieve if one is in possession of a rare thing called a “backbone,” as the case of 32-year old French Secretary of State, Rama Yade, proves.
Yade, appointed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy as Secretary of State for Human Rights in 2007, blew off Sarkozy’s request to run as a candidate for his party in June’s European Union election and disappear to Strasbourg. Yade has ruffled a few feathers within the government majority party by not doing what she’s told, yet remains the most popular politician in France, and survived a recent Cabinet reshuffling as a result.
Longevity in a notoriously nasty game also earns respect. Nancy Pelosi, giving these healthcare press conferences, looks more in control than Obama. And looks don’t deceive. With a 30 year political career, Pelosi has been sitting in Congress since the days when Obama was gunning for that affirmative action opening at Harvard. Regardless of her ideology, she has managed to survive – and I’m sure the Blue Dog Democrats currently making healthcare bill demands would rather be dealing with Obama than President Pelosivich. The problem in dealing with people who so many have tried to break is that they have a track record of survival. That can be a scary thing for opponents.
It’s possible to command respect and still be feminine. You don’t have to go rampaging through the corridors of power tossing whatever testosterone you can muster up into your male colleagues’ faces. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to know this. She was a classy, classical pianist who looked amazing in an evening gown, but could take on the Russians at the bargaining table. It’s not necessary, as a woman, to smoke cigars and backslap your male colleagues before heading off with them on a fishing trip. That just makes you look as ridiculous as the politician who changes ethnic headgear depending on which vote-pandering gathering he’s attending. Margaret Thatcher was reportedly a huge flirt. She said of her Deputy Prime Minister, Willie Whitelaw: “I don’t know what I would do without Whitelaw. Everyone should have a Willie.” But she didn’t go power-suit shopping with him.
We don’t need more affirmative action political appointments for women – the ones who have managed to get there on merit are there for good reason. Natural selection among females in the political jungle is alive and well.
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