Margaret Thatcher was an unflinching and principled world leader. During an uncertain and dangerous time in history, she stood strong with Ronald Reagan and together they defeated Communism. Hillary Clinton is a two-term New York senator and a former first lady who survived the scandals of her husband’s tumultuous presidency. Whenever challenged or out maneuvered, she typically plays the victim. They are two very different women, indeed.
In terms of Democratic presidential primary candidates, Senator Clinton has been without equal. In national polls, she has held a nearly 20-point lead over her closest rival for months. In the critically important early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, the latest polls have her up 10, 18, 22, and 25 points respectively.
Mrs. Clinton’s fundraising has been record shattering — her campaign reported raising nearly $91 million to date. For perspective’s sake, the leading Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani, has a total of $47 million.
Mrs. Clinton’s early success and the seeming inevitability of her nomination must have bred an incredible confidence and a dangerous arrogance within team Clinton. It also helped to reveal her true character. This seems to be the only explanation for why a flubbed answer to a simple debate question is generating so much controversy.
Last week’s infamous non-response to whether Mrs. Clinton supports Governor Eliot Spitzer’s ill-conceived plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens raised eyebrows and provided an avenue of attack to her hapless opponents. Her grousing that those opponents engaged in the politics of “piling on” because she is a woman competing in the “boy’s club” of politics is still dominating the political discussion.
Feminists are split on Mrs. Clinton playing the gender card. Their point of view, however, seems to be shaped by their candidate preferences. Those on team Clinton are shocked by the attacks. Those supporting her opponents are offended by Mrs. Clinton’s reaction.
The former Democratic vice presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter, told the New York Times the debate demonstrated that it’s “OK in this country to be sexist.”
Another Clinton supporter, the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, Eleanor Smeal, told the Politico that the debate reminded her of Anita Hill’s congressional testimony. “Every woman — it was just so visceral — that panel was all male,” she told the publication. “It didn’t matter almost what was being said. It [was] a visceral gut reaction, and I think that’s what you’re seeing here again.”
Even Bill Clinton got into the act and said the criticism of his wife is similar to the Swift Boat ads run against former Democratic nominee John Kerry. For Democrats, Swift Boat has come to mean using exploitive and deceptive tactics. Thus, the former president made the argument that challenging his wife’s public policy positions and questioning her flip-flops is deceptive and exploitive.
Senator John Edwards’ resident feminist, the former NARAL Pro-Choice America president, Kate Michelman, was unimpressed and questioned Mrs. Clinton’s character. “When unchallenged, in a comfortable, controlled situation, Senator Clinton embraces her political elevation into the ‘boy’s club,’” Ms. Michelman said in a statement released by Mr. Edwards’ campaign. “She is quick to assure listeners she is plenty tough enough, that she’s battled tested, ready to play be the same rules as the boys.”
“But when she’s challenged, when legitimate questions are asked, questions she should be prepared to answer and discuss, she is just as quick to raise the white flag and look for a change in the rules.”
Senator Chris Dodd, the Democratic presidential candidate who started this debate by daring to question his opponent’s tangled non-response, put the discussion back into perspective.
“If elected to the presidency, there will be a lot of tough questions and if you can’t handle it in a debate without accusing everybody who has an issue with you of piling on or a sexist attack, somehow, first of all that’s unwise and, secondly, it’s false,” Mr. Dodd told the Associated Press.
This brings us back to Mrs. Thatcher. The world today, like the world then, is a dangerous place requiring strong leaders. Mrs. Thatcher demonstrated that a strong woman could successfully lead a powerful nation in times of trouble and risk.
In the 1990s, I had the honor to make her acquaintance through a mutual friend. My previous admiration for her strength and sense of purpose was validated during a week we spent vacationing with our spouses and a few friends. She commanded respect and trust. She did not ask for sympathy or special treatment because of her gender. The very thought would have been ridiculous to her. Not so for Mrs. Clinton.
Democrat primary voters will most likely overlook Mrs. Clinton’s critical flaw. Her lead in the polls is too great, her funding is substantial, and her campaign team is top-notch. This issue, however, will not go away. The nation seeks a strong leader, and Mrs. Clinton is not Mrs. Thatcher.