Sunday, July 22

A Woman Who’s Man Enough, by Maureen Dowd

A Woman Who’s Man Enough

Things are getting confusing out there in Genderville.

We have the ordinarily poker-faced secretary of defense crying over young Americans killed in Iraq.

We have The Washington Post reporting that Hillary Clinton came to the floor of the Senate in a top that put “cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2.”

We have Mitt Romney spending $300 for makeup appointments at Hidden Beauty, a mobile men’s grooming spa, before the California debate, even though NBC would surely have powdered his nose for free.

We have Elizabeth Edwards on a tear of being more assertive than her husband. She argued that John Edwards is a better advocate for women than Hillary, explaining that her own experience as a lawyer taught her that “sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women’s issues.”

We have Bill Clinton, who says he’d want to be known as First Laddie, defending his woman by saying, “I don’t think she’s trying to be a man.”

We have The Times reporting that Hillary’s campaign is quizzical about why so many women who are like Hillary — married, high income, professional types — don’t like her. A Times/CBS News poll shows that women view her more favorably than men, but she has a problem with her own demographic and some older women resistant to “a lady president” from the land of women’s lib.

In a huge step forward for her, The Times said that “all of those polled — both women and men — said they thought Mrs. Clinton would be an effective commander in chief.”

So gender isn’t Hillary’s biggest problem. Those who don’t like her said it was because they don’t trust her, or don’t like her values, or think she’s too politically expedient or phony.

There is a dread out there about 28 years of Bush-Clinton rule. But most people are not worried about Hillary’s ability to be strong. Anyone who can cast herself as a feminist icon while leading the attack on her husband’s mistresses, anyone who thinks eight years of presidential pillow talk qualifies her for the presidential pillow, is plenty tough enough to smack around dictators, and other Democrats.

John Edwards and Barack Obama often seem more delicate and concerned with looking pretty than Hillary does. Though the tallest candidate usually has the advantage, Hillary has easily dominated the debates without even wearing towering heels.

When she wrote to Bob Gates asking about the Pentagon’s plans to get out of Iraq, it took eight weeks for an under secretary, Eric Edelman, to send a scalding reply, suggesting that she was abetting enemy propaganda. But Mrs. Clinton hit back with a tart letter to Secretary Gates on Friday and scored something of a victory, since he issued a statement that did not back up his own creep.

Maybe Hillary has had her tear ducts removed. If she acted like a sob sister on the war the way Mr. Gates did, her critics would have a field day.

Even in an era when male politicians can mist up with impunity, it was startling to see the defense chief melt down at a Marine Corps dinner Wednesday night as he talked about writing notes every evening to the families of dead soldiers like Douglas Zembiec, a heroic Marine commander known as “the Lion of Falluja,” who died in Baghdad in May after giving up a Pentagon job to go on a fourth tour of Iraq. “They are not names on a press release or numbers updated on a Web page,” he said. “They are our country’s sons and daughters.”

The dramatic moment was disconcerting, because Mr. Gates, known as a decent guy who was leery of the Bushies’ black-and-white, bullying worldview, has clearly been worn down by his effort to sort out the Iraq debacle. He and Condi, who worked together under Bush I, have been trying to circumvent the vice president to close Gitmo without much success, while the president finds ingenious new ways to allow torture.

Mostly, though, it was moving — a relief to see a top official acknowledge the awful cost of this war. The arrogant Rummy was dismissive. The obtuse W. seems incapable of understanding how inappropriate his sunny spirits are. And the callous Cheney’s robo-aggression continues unabated. (What could be more nerve-racking than the thought of President Cheney, slated to happen for a couple of hours yesterday while Mr. Bush had a colonoscopy? Could it be — a Medal of Freedom for Scooter?)

Mr. Gates captured the sadness we feel about American kids trapped in a desert waiting to be blown up, sent there by men who once refused to go to a warped war themselves.