Feb 7, 2008

The Senator's Charm

What is the man's charm? He makes reporters covering his speeches weep, forget their objectivity and become like so many pod people.

But how does he do it and why not the same success with middle aged women? Actually, I know one woman who becomes wet at the mention of his name, who can barely stand to hear Michelle's name mentioned, who read Dreams of My Father and was never the same. "He's Havellian, isn't he?" she'll say."He is. He's an American Havel".

Is she kidding? Yes and no. But most women, of a certain age particularly, prefer Hillary. The best they'll say about Him is that He reminds them of Gary Cooper in Meet John Doe (1941). Clearly, they like Hillary because they grew up in the 1970s alonside her, and also because she has achieved everything they ever wanted to achieve. She went to the best schools, was on the board of great corporations, moved and shook the communities she lived in, and did the life of a feminist and political co-pilot. She has EARANED the 'right'.

"After all I've done fa you and this is the way you treat me?"

She's done all those things that women have to do for men, cleaning up all the dirty work men do, all the deferring and sublimating, all the pragmatism and forgiving, which always needs to be done.... Now finally she can return to her destiny hold on to all of us who cannot return, who were systematically diswilled, who after being the best student in college and after being a successful executive, and after once believing 'I will achieve some great thing', got off track. Life happened and the uplifting, confident voice stopped. One too many banalities to endure, one too many years taking children to soccer games and recitals. And a little too long in the lap of luxury, which after a while wraps those steamy arms of kitchen smells and the annual week in Kawai, so tight you can't ever get away.

And so of course these women live vicariously through her. Her anger is theirs, her 'mysterious emotional life', as Judith Warner put it, is theirs. And her failure, if she doesn't succeed, will be theirs.

For Hispanic women, it goes without saying. Hillary is saint-saint, Mary-Mary, Madonna-Magdalene of Guadalupe and saviourena incarnate. Abd why not? More important she courted the powers that be in the Hispanic community for years. She did her homework, she tended her garden. She earned the right.

But what about men? What's their attraction to Him? 'He's not threatening' is the answer women give. Which is to say his femininity leaves men feeling safe. He's also articulate, he's the King Arthur that draws out the Lancelot in every man, the Sir that men long for. He's Tiger Woods, Walter Payton, and John Coltrane all in one. It doesn't matter what color he is, just let him play.

In that sense he brings out the fact that men in this country are all longing for a dream, for a lot more romance, for clear change, while women have seem to have become a little hardened, a little bitter. His campaign serves as the doctor's X-ray that show you just where men and women have been wounded.

When men hear women say he's not tough enough, that strikes home. When they hear women say he's not 'experienced' enough that has special meaning. It goes back to 7th grade and the girl you wanted, wanted an older guy who was more 'experienced.' So now a lot of men out there, men you wouldn't expect, are wishing he'll put the little blonde in her place, show her who the real commander and chief is.

The world has changed. Now white men want the black guy to rape the white girl. The dark truth is she betrayed them. She was the one who was not only too clever and too ambitious, and so made them feel less, but she also forgave her husband. But maybe not out of goodness, maybe because she needed him for her own ends. A man never wants to feel used, never wants to see another man used by his wife that way.

A man I know, a teacher, an artist, an exceptionally well educated man who has gotten to middle age and is happy with his success and his life told me about a dream he had. "I was in school and here were these two homeroom teachers: Barack and Hillary. And it wasn't clear whose class I would be in and I just wanted to be in his class and I tried to make that clear. I was doing everything I could to be in his homeroom."

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