By MAUREEN DOWD
If this is truly the Decline and Fall of the Clinton Empire, it is marked by one freaky stroke of bad luck and one striking historical irony.
How likely is it that a woman who finally unfetters herself from one superstar then finds herself eclipsed by another?
And when historians trace how her inevitability dissolved, they will surely note this paradox: The first serious female candidate for president was rejected by voters drawn to the more feminine management style of her male rival.
The bullying and bellicosity of the Bush administration have left many Americans exhausted and yearning for a more nurturing and inclusive style.
Sixteen years of politicians in Washington clashing in epic if not always essential battle through culture wars, the right-wing war against the Clintons, the war-without-end on terror, and the war-with-no-end-in-sight in Iraq have spawned a desire for peace and pragmatism.
Hillary was so busy trying to prove she could be one of the boys — getting on the Armed Services Committee, voting to let W. go to war in Iraq, strong-arming supporters and donors, and trying to out-macho Obama — that she only belatedly realized that many Democratic and independent voters, especially women, were eager to move from hard-power locker-room tactics to a soft-power sewing circle approach.
Less towel-snapping and more towel color coordinating, less steroids and more sensitivity.
Business schools have begun teaching the value of a less autocratic leadership style, with an emphasis on behavior women excel at: reading emotions and social interactions, making eye contact and expressing empathy.
At the University of Texas on Thursday morning, Obama proved that he was not a cowboy in overdrive like W. when he demurred at throwing a spiral because his pass might not be as good as the Longhorn stars’.
After so many years when W. and Cheney stomped on the world and the world glared back, many Americans would like to see their government focus more on those staples of female fiction: relationships and conversation.
At first in Austin, Hillary did not channel Jane Austen. She tried once more to cast Obama as a weak sister on his willingness to talk to Raúl Castro.
Obama tapped into his inner chick and turned the other cheek. To cheers, he said, “I think that it’s important for us, in undoing the damage that has been done over the last seven years, for the president to be willing to take that extra step.”
Hillary tried to rough up Obama on copying his pal’s language even as she copied her husband’s line from 1992: “The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits that the people in this state and this country are taking every day of their lives under this administration.”
While Obama looked at her warily, even fearfully, Hillary suddenly switched to her feminine side. Getting New Hampshire misty, she said she was “absolutely honored” to be there with him and that “whatever happens, we’re going to be fine.” (Her campaign defended the originality of the John Edwardsian sentiment, saying it had even been expressed by the likes of Lindsay Lohan). The press hailed the moment as heartfelt, but it was simply Hillary’s calculated attempt to woo women and protect her future in the party — by seeming more collegial. She’s furious that the Chicago kid got in the picture.
Her “My sister, my daughter” flip from muscular to tremulous left everyone confused. Many characterized her emulation of empathy as elegiac and submissive.
But she dispelled that Friday morning when she told Evan Smith, the editor of Texas Monthly, that she will push for Florida and Michigan delegates to be seated, despite her promise. Not for herself, mind you, but for them. “It’s in large measure because both the voters and the elected officials in Michigan and Florida feel so strongly about this,” she said.
Among her other cascading woes, it turns out that Hillary is not able to manage her political family’s money. Like a prudent housekeeper, Obama spent the cash he raised — including from his continuing relationships with small donors — far more shrewdly, on ads rather than on himself.
Hillaryland spent like a hedge fund manager in a flat-screen TV store. Her campaign attempted to show omnipotence by lavishing a fortune on the take-no-prisoners strategists Howard Wolfson and Mark Penn, and on having the best of everything from the set decoration at events to Four Seasons rooms. In January alone, they spent $11,000 on pizza, $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts and $95,384 at a Des Moines Hy-Vee grocery store for get-out-the-vote sandwich platters.
But total domination in the snack arena does not cut the mustard.