Hillary without tears

Why it's time to close the book on the Clintons -- and herald the Obamas! Plus: Iran war hawks, Russian drag queens and the genius of Zeppelin.

By Camille Paglia

Published January 10, 2008 11:45AM (EST)

Subject: Hillary and sado-masochism

As her husband has dragged his numerous female play objects before her and has humiliated her on the public stage year after year, she still stays within the marriage.

Hillary seems to take every beating, and yet she appears to "keep on ticking." Does she thrive on this?

How would this affect one's (female) psyche? Judgment as President? General perspective?

Robert Philips
Corrales, New Mexico

A swarm of biographers in miners' gear has tried to plumb the inky depths of Hillary Rodham Clinton's warren-riddled psyche. My metaphor is drawn (as Oscar Wilde's prim Miss Prism would say) from the Scranton coalfields, to which came the Welsh family that produced Hillary's harsh, domineering father.

Hillary's feckless, loutish brothers (who are kept at arm's length by her operation) took the brunt of Hugh Rodham's abuse in their genteel but claustrophobic home. Hillary is the barracuda who fought for dominance at their expense. Flashes of that ruthless old family drama have come out repeatedly in this campaign, as when Hillary could barely conceal her sneers at her fellow debaters onstage -- the wimpy, cringing brothers at the dinner table.

Hillary's willingness to tolerate Bill's compulsive philandering is a function of her general contempt for men. She distrusts them and feels morally superior to them. Following the pattern of her long-suffering mother, she thinks it is her mission to endure every insult and personal degradation for a higher cause -- which, unlike her self-sacrificing mother, she identifies with her near-messianic personal ambition.

It's no coincidence that Hillary's staff has always consisted mostly of adoring women, with nerdy or geeky guys forming an adjunct brain trust. Hillary's rumored hostility to uniformed military men and some Secret Service agents early in the first Clinton presidency probably belongs to this pattern. And let's not forget Hillary, the governor's wife, pulling out a book and rudely reading in the bleachers during University of Arkansas football games back in Little Rock.

Hillary's disdain for masculinity fits right into the classic feminazi package, which is why Hillary acts on Gloria Steinem like catnip. Steinem's fawning, gaseous New York Times op-ed about her pal Hillary this week speaks volumes about the snobby clubbiness and reactionary sentimentality of the fossilized feminist establishment, which has blessedly fallen off the cultural map in the 21st century. History will judge Steinem and company very severely for their ethically obtuse indifference to the stream of working-class women and female subordinates whom Bill Clinton sexually harassed and abused, enabled by look-the-other-way and trash-the-victims Hillary.

How does all this affect the prospect of a Hillary presidency? With her eyes on the White House, Hillary as senator has made concerted and generally successful efforts to improve her knowledge of and relationship to the military -- crucial for any commander-in-chief but especially for the first female one. However, I remain concerned about her future conduct of high-level diplomacy. Contemptuous condescension seems to be Hillary's default mode with any male who criticizes her or stands in her way. It's a Nixonian reflex steeped in toxic gender bias. How will that play in the Muslim world?

The Clintons live to campaign. It's what holds them together and gives them a glowing sense of meaning and value. Their actual political accomplishments are fairly slight. The obsessive need to keep campaigning may mean a president Hillary would go right on spewing the bitterly partisan rhetoric that has already paralyzed Washington. Even if Hillary could be elected (which I'm skeptical about), how in tarnation could she ever govern?

The current wave of support for Barack Obama from Democrats, independents, and even some Republicans is partly based on his vision of a new political discourse that breaks with the petty, destructive polarization of the past 20 years. Whether Obama can build up his foreign policy credentials sufficiently to reassure an anxious general electorate remains to be seen.

But Hillary herself, with her thin, spotty record, tangled psychological baggage, and maundering blowhard of a husband, is also a mighty big roll of the dice. She is a brittle, relentless manipulator with few stable core values who shuffles through useful personalities like a card shark ("Cue the tears!"). Forget all her little gold crosses: Hillary's real god is political expediency. Do Americans truly want this hard-bitten Machiavellian back in the White House? Day one will just be more of the same.

I will vote for Hillary if she is the nominee of my party, because I want Democrats appointed to the Cabinet and the Supreme Court. But I plan to vote for Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary because he is a rational, centered personality who speaks the language of idealism and national unity. Obama has served longer as an elected official than Hillary. He has had experience as a grass-roots activist, and he is also a highly educated lawyer who will be a quick learner in office. His international parentage and childhood, as well as his knowledge of both Christianity and Islam, would make him the right leader at the right time. And his wife Michelle is a powerhouse.

The Obamas represent the future, not the past.

Subject: Greetings from Oregon

Hello, Camille,

My disagreement comes in your characterization of George Bush as the lamest of lame ducks. I disagree 100 percent. It seems to me that Bush is the most successful of the lame duck presidents in my lifetime. He virtually gets everything he wants because the Congress is disorganized, fractured and feckless.

Every time a war resolution comes up, Bush stands the Dems down, and he gets pretty much what he wants. The spending bill: Congress is more concerned with its own earmarks than getting a budget. And something close to my business, the alternative minimum tax. That fight right now is between Democrats, and it looks certain that Bush will get what he wants in that issue as well.

I don't remember the two other lame ducks of my lifetime -- Clinton and Reagan -- having this much success in the last two years of their second terms. It isn't that Bush is popular and is using a "bully pulpit." It is because the Dems in leadership are clueless.

Tom McFadden
McMinnville, Oregon

Alas, I must ruefully concede in the face of your vigorous rebuttal! The incompetence of the congressional Democrats is a major embarrassment to my party.

The Democratic leadership correctly says it doesn't have the votes to stop the war in Iraq, but it has been depressingly inept in devising strategies to cut off funding. The White House has won every skirmish for public opinion on that issue.

I have a soft spot for House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi because I find it enjoyable and instructive to watch her assert leadership in that tough-as-nails yet velvet-glove style. On the other hand, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is hardly the face of a dynamic, authentically contemporary Democratic party. What a weird, reptilian ghoul that guy is. Even his sexless, affectless voice on the radio gives me the creeps. When will Reid get the boot?

You are quite right that Bush is not a lame duck in the usual sense. But amid the glut of campaign news, Bush has been oddly recessive. When he surfaces, he looks a bit untidy around the edges, and his manner veers from the awkwardly jocular to the portentously overemphatic. After seven years in office, Bush still hasn't welded his different parts into a steady, consistent presidential persona.

Subject: Iran

The NIE report still acknowledges that Iran is producing large amounts of enriched uranium in violation of the U.N.'s non-proliferation treaty. Essentially, the best we can conclude is that Iran merely paused (I won't use the word "halted" or "ceased") the most overt component of its nuclear program.

I will pose a simple question to you: Should the U.S., possessing the means of inhibiting the proliferation of weapons that we can assume make the world a less safe place, use military force to prevent so-called rogue nations from developing nuclear warheads?


I oppose the unilateral use of military force based on supposition and worst-case scenarios. An operation of this magnitude would never be a surgical strike on empty facilities. In addition to the violation of sovereignty of the targeted nation, there would be great cost of life.

I have never understood the logic by which certain nations in the world have determined that they have a perfect right to nuclear weapons while other, emergent nations do not. Naturally, it would be a far safer world if no one had them. But it's the U.S., which first used the atom bomb in warfare, that began this process.

Unfortunately, the U.S. invasion of Iraq has made it more likely, not less, that smaller nations will seek nuclear weapons by any means necessary: Nukes are the only possible equalizer against a superpower like ours with overwhelming military might. This is yet another way the Iraq folly has destabilized the world: Weak or corrupt governments will always have trouble controlling their nukes, which may end up in terrorist hands.

Our foreign policy cannot be eternally predicated on bombing other countries into submission. Iran does not pose any kind of direct threat to the U.S. mainland. If there are nations, such as Israel, that are menaced by Iran, let them deal with it regionally as they think best.

Subject: Iraq pullout would result in massive killing. Don't fool yourself.

I am a 37-year-old Gulf War vet, two Bronze Star recipient, by the way. Not that it matters.

The chicken-hawk argument is so full of crap. Lincoln never served, and of course, neither did FDR. It was a wide war on communism [in Vietnam and Cambodia]. We lost that theater because the Dems withdrew money and Nixon lacked the testicular fortitude to take it to China and/or Russia.

The thing to know is, despite opinion on the Iraq invasion, a pullout gives it to Iran, and the killing will really start. Camille, pulling out of Iraq would be the worst mistake we have ever made.

I do believe Saddam sent bio/chems to Syria -- while the idiot Bush was wasting time at the U.N. (who should be sent packing out of our country) -- out the back door in Russian semis. No doubt about it. Bush will be shirking his duty if does not blow up Iranian facilities.

Peace only happens when the good guys win. That will always be true.

Dallas, Texas

Thank you very much for your military service. However, I must respectfully disagree that the U.S. should have confronted China or Russia directly during the period of the Vietnam War. Our intrusion into agrarian Southeast Asia was a tactical disaster, and it did not and could not stop the region's internal conflicts. We cannot control the entire world or force it to follow our cultural, legal and political traditions.

As for our withdrawal from Iraq effectively handing the country to Iran, I do suspect that the Shiite region of Iraq will eventually merge with Iran. I have no feeling whatever for the present borderlines of Iraq, which were drawn for their own advantage relatively recently by the British.

So you too feel we should attack Iran. But the U.S. invasion of Iraq, thanks to the geopolitical naiveté of the Bush administration, was an enormous gift to Iran! We did Iran the favor of taking out its No. 1 enemy, Saddam Hussein -- who had evidently been bluffing about his WMD in order to keep Iran at bay.

You believe that Saddam's WMD were trucked out to Syria, presumably under cover of night -- a claim that I have often heard on conservative talk radio. But any truck movements over that distance would have been visible to our constant aerial and satellite surveillance of the region. How desperate the U.S. was for evidence -- any evidence -- of WMD was shown by the startlingly unconvincing aerial photos of motley vehicles that Colin Powell marshaled during his address to the U.N. Security Council in 2003.

Chemical weapons were indeed used by Saddam during Iraq's war with Iran in the 1980s and during his merciless suppression of the Kurd rebellion in the north. But his huge stockpiles of weapons rapidly (and predictably) degraded in the 1990s, when Iraq was under duress from economic sanctions. Biological and chemical weapons require professional upkeep, which Saddam's Iraq was in no position to do. The Bush administration's claim of an imminent threat to the U.S. mainland from Iraqi WMD in this decade was intended to manipulate popular opinion and did succeed, thanks to our pathetically credulous national press.

Finally, I'm uncomfortable with the formulation "good guys"/"bad guys" that one also constantly hears on talk radio. By what reasoning or authority have Americans concluded that we are invariably the "good guys"? And that it is our moral right to define who the "bad guys" are and to exterminate them, or anyone who looks like them or happens to be in the area, at will? To claim purity on the basis of good intentions alone isn't virtue -- it's complacence.

Stereotyping diverse people into generic groups makes it easier to wage war on them. They cease to exist as individuals, with their own aspirations and capacity for suffering. Hence the full scale of the brutalization and destruction of Iraqi civilians has been underreported by the American press and has never been mentally processed by most U.S. citizens.

Thank you for giving us a voice of reason before and during the Iraq war. At a time when many people resorted to clichés or did not speak out openly against the war, you made a strong case for peace. I also commend you for continuing to speak out against this pointless war.

My thoughts about our world, expressed in Haiku form:

War afflicts our world
Random murder and bloodshed
The scourge of our time

No armies in ranks
Just sporadic explosions
Maiming and killing

Serving no purpose
Ending lives before their time.
When will peace arrive?

Again, thank you on behalf of the Peace Party.

Mark Schardine
Ewing, New Jersey

I am very moved by your kind words. All I can do as a writer and teacher is to speak out. I am very grateful to Salon (for which I have written since its debut issue in 1995) for giving me the forum to do so.

Your response to the letter about the aftermath of a pullout from Iraq rightly questions the analogy to Cambodia. But, it seems no one wants to talk about the near-permanent stationing of American soldiers in Japan, South Korea, Germany, Kosovo as well as other recent strategic stations such as Ethiopia.

I give no apologies for the Bush administration's explanations for this war at the outset or currently, but there have been significant, ongoing strategic advantages to long-term stationing of American soldiers in foreign countries after both successful and indecisive actions.

Talk to the soldiers in the Korean DMZ about being "in the middle of a civil war." They know the success of their mission over the past 50 years, and it followed a very bloody mess of a war. It's so un-p.c. to say, but we have the biggest stick in the world, and it's time to discuss the future in terms of strategic geopolitics and not domestic political points.

Joseph Spiegel
Wynnewood, Penn.

I agree with you about the astounding lack of public attention to the vast network of American military bases around the world. This is a legacy from World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War that, in my view, needs stringent scrutiny and reassessment. The expenses are astronomical when there are urgent social needs at home -- such as healthcare, education, transportation and repair of our infrastructure. It might once have been strategically prudent to maintain such widespread bases because of how slowly men and materiel could be moved around the world to deal with crises. But that is no longer the case.

The precedent of the Korean DMZ is a depressing one. It was crucial for us to dig in at the time, but why are we still there? Is this a blueprint for our future in Iraq -- another 50 years? A plan for gradual disengagement should be on the table. We should not be the world's policeman. Our military presence everywhere is provocative and, in the long run, counterproductive.

I believe in a strong military and do not oppose war when the cause is just. But the theater and tactics of war have changed since World War II. There will be few conventional battlefields in the future. Terrorism, with its small, covert, mobile units, requires a different approach. Our intrusive presence in so many military bases around the world is wasteful as well as condescending to host nations, who must develop self-sufficiency.

Foreign aid is another bureaucratic mega-project that needs radical rethinking. Wisely used, it is a legitimate tool of diplomacy. But right now American tax dollars are too often being poured into a pig trough abroad, where they are lapped up by corrupt politicians and scam artists.

Thanks for pointing out the absurdity of some of the global climate debate these days. Climate is certainly a factor in wildfires, but throwing up one's hands and yelling "global warming" to explain the California fires is so simplistic and reactionary that only an L.A. celebrity could do so with a clear conscience.

When I worked for a natural resource agency a few years ago, one of the forest managers near Los Angeles warned us that the entire region was ready to blow up like a bonfire due to extended drought conditions, the moratorium on any kind of logging, which had resulted in a huge buildup of dry excess vegetation, and a bug infestation that left tons of standing dead trees. No one wanted to hear his message. He lamented that people who built homes in the wildland-urban interface were unwilling to hear about the fire danger.

Many refused to protect their homes with common-sense tactics like clearing a safe space free of vegetation around the home. Their ignorance or arrogance doesn't just put their home at risk, it puts the lives of firefighters at risk. Many have died trying to save these poorly protected homes. Insurance companies should refuse to insure these homes, firefighters should refuse to save them, and taxpayers should refuse to bail them out through scandal-ridden FEMA programs. With all the money saved, we could fund a heck of a lot more global warming research.

Diane Banegas
Centreville, Va.

Thank you very much for your excellent letter! Environmentalism, a noble cause, is abused when it obstructs sensible safety measures, such as the periodic clearing out of trees and brush from heavily wooded areas. There has been massive overdevelopment of homes in the U.S. in picturesque but vulnerable locations -- including the entire length of the Eastern seaboard, where a serious storm surge can smash deluxe beachfront houses like matchsticks.

The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is estimated to have killed 6,000, the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history. Thought you might want to add it to your list.

M. Gallien

Yes, that one was a doozy! A good book on the subject, published eight years ago, is Nathan C. Green's "Story of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane." Catastrophic weather is built into the American experience. Europeans, with their more moderate, predictable weather, rarely have our terrifying encounters with the sublime. It may be one source, aside from Christian fundamentalism, of the American instinct for the apocalyptic.

I've heard you wax on about the Who and the Stones. What do you have to say about Led Zeppelin? They've sold more albums in the U.S. than the Stones and the Who combined. Their romantic mysticism and their bombastic, ultra-sonic blues, have attracted legions of loyal fans. As for me, I didn't get drafted for Vietnam, but as I grew nearer the draft age, Zeppelin's mostly apolitical rock gave me a refuge from the protest music that only fueled my worries.

After a riot at one of Zeppelin's ticket sales at the Boston Garden got them banned from the joint, a Boston newspaper said these boys "make the Stones look like pussies."

You may either hate them or love them, but come on, Camille, give the Zeppelin their due.

Peter D. Barry

When Led Zeppelin first hit, in 1969, I like many other women rock fans found them obnoxious and overblown. I lumped them with Iron Butterfly and made catty remarks about Robert Plant's screeching. I infinitely preferred not just the Rolling Stones but Cream, whose improvisatory kick-out live recordings had a profound influence on me. (Feisty bassist Jack Bruce in that period was virtually my ego ideal.)

However, as time went on, I became a huge admirer of Led Zeppelin -- the sheer, resonant, unhurried majesty of the guitar work; the jazzy virtuosity of Plant's piercing, soaring, melismatic voice; the eerie, oracular medieval/Romantic lyrics. Here are links for my favorite Led Zeppelin songs: "Kashmir," "When the Levee Breaks" and "Misty Mountain Hop."

Incidentally, Guitar World magazine once asked me to contribute to its 25th anniversary celebration of "Stairway to Heaven." My article paid that classic song due respect but also pointed out the logical and imagistic deficiencies in Robert Plant's too-hasty lyrics. This produced a flood of outraged letters -- as if I had profaned a sacred text. Which I guess I did. Silly me!

In your recent Salon columns, I saw all the talk and links about French & Saunders, AbFab, etc., and wondered if you ever saw the F&S spoof of the Factory? (Editor's Note: You can watch it here.) It was done in 1990. Dawn and Jennifer alternately play "Viva" and "Ultra," while Neil Planer (Neil from "The Young Ones") portrays Andy Warhol. There's even a very convincing Mary Woronov cutaway extra.

Paul Morrissey is apparently a big fan of this old sketch. Last year, when I interviewed him about portrayals of Andy in movies and TV, he said, "It took a couple of real artists to penetrate the journalistic gush and media hype, and capture and understand the way things were, and they did it many years ago. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders pinpoint with great accuracy what it was like, much better than the pretentious four hours of art babble that was recently unloaded on PBS."

Mark Allen

No, I had not seen this spoof, and I'm so grateful to you for sending it my way. As a Warhol disciple, I find it hilarious! And I certainly agree with Paul Morrissey about how awful that PBS documentary on Warhol was (among other things, the drag queens were erased).

Dawn French here strikes me less as Ultra Violet than Brigid Polk, while Jennifer Saunders is less Viva (the nerves-on-edge product of an American Catholic girlhood) than Ultra Violet, who was more the smoldering international diva. I love it when Dawn proclaims, "We were peaches waiting to be bruised!"

Nico, the impassive, Teutonic blond Amazon, seems crossed here with the fierce, imperious Mary Woronov -- of whom I've always been a great fan. I was thrilled to meet her once and later was very pleased to be asked to blurb her memoirs.

Not least in this parody is the always spectacular Eleanor Bron as a jargon-spouting New York University media studies professor. What a wonderful sendup of postmodernist crap! Bron of course played Patsy's bohemian mother in "Absolutely Fabulous." Americans first saw her in "Help!" ("I can say no more!" while dancing with Paul McCartney). One of her most brilliant performances was as the rich dilettante Hermione Roddice in Ken Russell's film of D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love" (1969). Bron has one of the keenest minds in modern entertainment.

Longtime fan here. As a Reaganite homo, couldn't disagree with you more on politics, but who cares? Surely a drag aficionado like yourself has heard of Verka Serduchka, the Ukrainian Cinderella and Dame Edna of the Ukraine? She's the alter ego of comic Andriy Mykhailovych Danylko, very famous in Russia for her hit songs and brilliant videos.

Verka is a parody of a loud, pushy, bourgeois Ukrainian matron, always accompanied by her doddering lush of a mother. To the horror of Ukrainian nationalists, her song Danzing Lasha Tumbai placed second in this year's typically trashy Eurovision contest and later crashed the British Top 30 and French Top 10! Her videos are comic gems in which Almodovar meets Warhol, and she even ran for Parliament in September's elections.

Check out the vids for "Tuk Tuk Tuk" (Verka as a jazzy chanteuse in a cheesy restaurant full of nouveau riche Russians and prostitutes), "Ya Popola Na Lubov" (electropop glam sets the standard for sheer extravagance), "Gop Gop Gop"(hilarious montage of drunken pickle and vodka banquet), "Severnye Devki" (jazz pop meets Cossack chic), and of course "Danzing Lasha Tumbai."

P.S. On the subject of drag queens, check out the electrifying video for "El Cementerio de mis Suenos," the latest No. 1 smash in Spain by glam-pop duo Fangoria, featuring Eurogay icon Alaska. The vid showcases the group's ubiquitous drag queens, and Alaska herself has always walked the line with her deep voice and over-the-top features.

Jeff Percifield

I am embarrassed to say I had not heard of Verka Serduchka! I am so appreciative of your keeping me and interested Salon readers up to date. I nearly fell out of my chair at "Tuk Tuk Tuk," where Verka, dragging her tiny mama along, seems to have fused Carmen Miranda with Harvey Korman's Mother Marcus, the town yenta in the soap opera parody "As the Stomach Turns," on "The Carol Burnett Show." The mad Rabelaisian imagery and rhythms of all of Verka's videos make one want to eat! drink! dance! What a tornado of ethnic hedonism!

Alaska, surrounded by Pete Best-style drag queens, is certainly a formidable character. Yards of bosom and assertive orange hair. She doesn't try to hide her age, the way American women actors and performers do. She's mature and flaunts it. No misty, baby-faced, shallow nymphet look for her! There are no parallels to Alaska in current American entertainment -- a mark of our cultural poverty and punitive gender norms.

Camille Paglia's column appears on the second Wednesday of each month. Every third column is devoted to reader letters. Please send questions for her next letters column to this mailbox. Your name and town will be published unless you request anonymity.

Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia is the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  Her most recent book is "Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars." You can email her at askcamille@salon.com.

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