Opinion: Hillary, Sarah and Dilma

Watching Sarah Palin on Hannity Thursday night, my first TV news show since returning home from Puerto Rico, was a trip. In that uncritical venue where Sean smartly let her run, she thrived.

The tough former governor is the strongest person in the room. Over the last couple days, she's been calling out everyone from the public unions and out-of-state thugs who descended on Wisconsin to Kathy Griffin’s “50-year old adult bully” – all while maintaining a ‘Don’t mess with me, I’m in on it’ smile, confidence and good looks. 

I know she makes a lot of people crazy, but she should not be underestimated.

And she was not the most dominant female in Thursday’s public life – Hillary Clinton was. The Secretary of State was featured in all of Thursday’s news sites after her bravura performance during a Washington press conference. She radiated competence and elegance as she warned sternly that: "We are continuing to plan for the full range of possible options including a no-fly zone" in Libya.

I don’t want to sound like a distracted teen, but as she spoke she looked less frazzled, her delivery more straight-forward than the substance of her intentionally unfocused message, which put Maummar Qaddafi on notice that we are honestly befuddled. Not just over what to do, but, more basically, about who’s going to win in Libya? 

And that’s as good a reason as any to continue my call that we absolutely not go it alone or take the lead or play the principal role in whatever the international community does about intervening in Libya. 

Compared to where he was before I tuned out a couple of days ago, Qaddafi looks much stronger and is the favorite to win his civil strife, at least short term. That is happening despite President Obama’s invitation to Qaddafi that he leaves his own country. 

We have to be careful what we announce unless we have a reasonable expectation of how things are going to turn out. We’re breaking the old rule that you always have to give bad guys a useable exit strategy unless you want to fight them to the death. 

Where is Qaddafi going to go? He’s got suitcases full of cash. But you have to have a store to spend it in and a home address to send stuff to, no matter how many different ways there are to spell your last name.

Anyway, Hillary versus Sarah for the White House would have been an awesome match up, and might still be. Though these days it’s a long-shot in 2016. But having these two extraordinary, highly visible, powerful women on America’s 2011 center stage made me think of the dames who already run, or previously ran, a surprisingly large piece of Latin America with at least the competence and honesty of their male counterparts, not to mention considerably more charm.

Puerto Ricans had a colorful career politician in Governor Sila Calderón, who became the island Commonwealth’s chief executive for a single term 10 years ago. I wasn’t crazy about her politics, but she was a well-liked, successful mayor of San Juan. And Panama had Mireya Moscoso, a competent widow who was elected president a couple of years after the passing of her husband, the three-term president Arnulfo Arias.

There have been others, but never has the fairer sex roared through the continent more so than of late. Michelle Bachelet was Chile’s steady hand until that awful earthquake marred her last year. Laura Chinchilla is the Kennedy-like, centrist establishment lady president of still relatively sweet, no-army Costa Rica. Glamorous Argentina, which fell in love with legendary Eva Perón and later elected president Isabelita, another wife of strongman Juan Perón, is appropriately, if unevenly, led by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. 

I’ve never met her, but she seems the Spanish-version of the stylish suburban woman you see on Town & Country. Cristina was sort of the co-president with her husband, former president Néstor Kirshner, who died of a heart-attack last October. However controversial, they had dash and were often called the “Clintons of the South.”

None of the ladies, though, is as intriguing as Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president. A former left-wing guerilla, Rousseff survived capture and torture and, in her former life, was our nightmare, the embodiment of power if we let democracy flourish down south. 

That irony aside, the former teenage insurgent grew up to become a rock solid manager who presided over her country’s exploding energy prospects. She follows as president her mentor, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the most popular Brazilian politician ever. Lula has his own cool backstory as a former auto worker and union organizer. Taken together, they show how cool their rapidly evolving country is.

Latin America has unleashed the intellectual power of its women in a rush. The move is symbolic of the continent’s emergence. Arabia might catch on yet. Latin America, long the homeland for swaggering machismo, has become a beacon of gender equality in high places. And I came home just in time for Sarah Palin on Hannity, Hillary on the web, and for the driving rain and floods. Separate stories.

Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino. 

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