Hillary gets to speak, after all, but only to introduce Bill. He basks in applause, she glows. Is this the feminist dream, or what?
The Democrats are the party of the radical feminists but their women are sidelined together at the convention in Boston like a Beacon Hill tea for the ladies auxiliary. Hillary, the most prominent of all, is relegated to "wife of," standing by her man. Tammy Wynette would be proud. She should take a plate of her chocolate-chip cookies.
Linda Hope, the former chairwoman of the New York Democratic Party who went public with her outrage that Hillary wasn't highlighted, was told politely to shut up "for the sake of party unity and victory in November." After John Kerry called Hillary to tell her she could introduce her husband, the chastened Ms. Hope said the compromise was an "appropriate solution to a perplexing dilemma."
The dilemma, not really all that perplexing, was how to keep the ladies auxiliary happy without allowing the Clintons to upstage the party's two Johns. The "appropriate solution" accentuates the Democrats as the "Mommy Party," the very image John Kerry is trying to ditch with his appeals to "strength."
John Kerry capitulated to the ladies just as Arnold Schwarzenegger dissed certain Democratic legislators in California as "girlie men." Schwarzenegger took the image from a "Saturday Night Live" skit in which two weight-lifting Arnold wannabes mock the puny male dandies they encounter as "girlie men." The governor applied the term to legislators holding up his budget in Sacramento.
Said the real-life Arnold: "If they don't have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers.' . If they don't have the guts, I call them girlie men."
Democrats in California, who do not share the governor's sense of humor, complained that he insulted women and homosexuals. To observe that manliness is best expressed by men and womanliness best expressed by women is neither misogynist nor homophobic, but it does expose the Democratic Party's vulnerability to metaphors of weakness. The party is often characterized - celebrated, even - as the nurturing party, regarding the government role as "maternal" and all-caring, in contrast to Republicans, who emphasize self-reliance, self-discipline and a strong defense. The two Johns are determined to turn this perception around, if not in reality then certainly in rhetoric.
The theme of the Boston convention is "strength," to counter the image of weakness so beloved by those who relish the role of victim. Each night the Democrats will emphasize how John Kerry and John Edwards have "the strength of character and toughness" to create a "strong military," "a strong economy," to "strengthen America's position in the world." Speakers will talk about "John Kerry's lifetime of strength and service."
There are risks in this approach, because it invites an examination of the record. As everyone who reads newspapers now knows, both Johns voted to go to war in Iraq, but then voted against spending the money to support the troops. The Johns were at the time trailing Howard Dean, the undiluted anti-war candidate. Their exercise in expediency was rendered even more dramatic when 14 Democratic senators who had voted against the war nevertheless voted to spend the money to support the troops. Kerry's rhetoric hardly reflects strength when he accuses President Bush of failing "to do everything in [his] power to avoid the loss of your son or daughter."
The war against terror cries out for strong, robust bipartisanship and shouldn't be held hostage to the pressures of a presidential campaign. This requires more than mere words about strength. To that end, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans have revived the "Committee on the Present Danger," a bipartisan coalition that was crucial to victory in the Cold War. The committee was led by Democratic Senator Henry Jackson of Washington, and it was the party's disdain for Scoop Jackson's warning that led many Democrats to become Republicans. The Democratic point man today is Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who, allied with Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, pleads for support for the war in Iraq.
"In this war, our enemies do not distinguish between Democrats and Republicans," they wrote the other day in the Washington Post. "All Americans are the target of the hate, because all Americans share the values they detest."
The gentlemen from Connecticut and Arizona are cautioning the Democrats assembling in Boston that this is no time to listen to girlie men.