LOS ANGELES – I was all set to write a perfectly reasonable and responsible column about how, when it comes to politics, no one knows anything, and how it’s impossible to predict who will win this nomination, when I came upon Chris Matthews’ comment to end this week of weeks about Hillary.
In case you were lucky enough to miss it, here is what Mr. Matthews had to say:
"I'll be brutal, the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around. That's how she got to be senator from New York. We keep forgetting it.”
This guy actually has his own show on television. He anchors election night specials. The question is not how dumb he is, but how dumb he thinks the rest of us are to listen to this drivel.
Hillary Clinton has been nice to Chris Matthews. She should be. With guys like him mouthing off, she has an excellent chance to be America’s next president.
Let’s start by examining the content of his comment at face “value.”
A little history: Bill’s "mess[ing] around," as Matthews calls it, does not in fact explain Hillary’s entry into politics or her success. She ran for Senate in New York because New York Democrats decided, perhaps wrongly given his very clear limits as a candidate, that Hillary was the only Democrat with the star power and appeal to beat the then Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, for the Senate seat being vacated by the legendary Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
So, along with New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli, then the head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, in charge of recruiting electable Democrats, they appealed to the First Lady to get into the race.
Running for office may have been a novel idea for a sitting First Lady, but it was hardly a novel notion for a woman who had been passionately interested in politics all her life. Those who have known her since her Wellesley days say they always expected Hillary Rodham to return to Reunion, as she did, as a United States Senator; the only difference was they thought she’d be the senator from her then home state of Illinois.
Instead, like many women of her generation, she married her ambitions rather than pursuing them, moving to Arkansas after graduation from law school to support her husband’s career rather than back to Illinois to support her own. What made Hillary’s story different from most of the others is that when the New Yorkers came calling offering her a second chance to pursue her dreams in her own right, she grabbed it.
Her husband was not responsible for her career. Quite the opposite. Her dedication to him almost cost her the chance to run for office, not once but twice. She didn’t just marry him and follow him to Arkansas. She stayed with him when many people, especially women, thought she shouldn’t.
I remember the then-president calling me in the summer of 2000 to discuss what he himself defined as Hillary’s problem with women: that they were mad at her because she hadn’t left him. She’d be better off if she’d left me, he said.
Politically speaking, it was true. The polls made this clear. So did the focus groups, the anecdotes, the endless patter on television and radio.
It was bad enough that women who were financially dependent on men who humiliated them put up with it because they couldn’t support themselves and their children. It was bad enough that women who were hopelessly in love with men who cheated on them put up with it because they couldn’t imagine life without them.
But Hillary Clinton was supposed to be strong, tough and independent; Hillary Clinton didn’t just stay home and bake cookies and do the "stand by your man routine;" Hillary Clinton hardly seemed the type to be so hopelessly in love that she couldn’t live without her man by her side.
The idea that it was her ambition that kept her in her marriage offended the sensibilities of women, to the point, indeed the ironic point, that it seemed very clear, at least until the sexist attacks of her opponent started backfiring, that her ambition might be better served if she were running as a single woman rather than a long-suffering spouse.
The solution to Hillary Clinton’s problem with women was an opponent who acted like Chris Matthews. When Rick Lazio, running against her for Senate in New York, strode across the stage with a smirk on his face, every woman who has ever been wronged by a patronizing man knew which side she had to take.
Comments like Matthews’ can only serve to remind voters, especially women, of the depth of the sexism that Hillary Clinton is facing in her historic run for president. It isn’t just that Matthews is wrong, but that he needs a lesson to be taught to him, once and for all, to give credit to a woman who this week had the courage and the perseverance and the determination to stand up to the pundits and the pollsters and prove them wrong.
Instead of giving her credit, Matthews gave it to her husband. Instead of respecting her accomplishment, he denigrated her. Keep it up, Chris. You’ll make a president of her yet.
And it won’t be because of her husband’s messing around, but because of yours, and others like you.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.
Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.