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Hillary and Oprah Surrounded by Angry Pants:

I’m strictly a female female

And my future I hope will be

In the home of a brave and free male

Who’ll enjoy being a guy having a girl… like… me.

(from the musical Flower Drum Song)

By the time this last stanza lands the song “I Enjoy Being a Girl” in the musical Flower Drum Song, modern audiences have already had plenty to think about in terms of the portrayal of Asian Americans, male and female role traits, and the schism between quaint old musical theater and contemporary political correctness.

Still, you might prefer a high school production of Flower Drum Song to last week’s Males Beating a Drum Song, a title we might give to the production of criticism that rang out around America’s sweethearts, Hillary and Oprah. Not because the old Broadway show is more entertaining, but because the musical, while wrong-headed on several levels, is easier to interpret than what happened to Clinton and Winfrey.

In a carefully proportioned interview with the New York Times on October 28, Barack Obama laid out that he would start confronting Hillary Clinton more forcefully. He would do this because she had not been candid in describing her views on critical issues. “I don’t think people know what her agenda exactly is,” Obama said. It all sounded straightforward and technical: He wanted her to say more. That was Sunday.

By the following Friday, the gloves were at least slipping, if not slipping off. Obama jeered and mocked Clinton for playing the gender card in reaction to the way the other Democratic candidates went after her at last week’s debate. On the Today show, the program that mixes global politics with “Healthy Halloween Treats,” Obama said, “I am assuming that Sen. Clinton wants to be treated like everybody else…” and also that he would never use his race to shield himself from political attacks. It brought the previously muted issue of identity politics out where everybody could enjoy it.

Then Oprah had her couture lap full with the revelation that an ex-employee of her school for disadvantaged girls in South Africa had been arrested on charges of suspected abuse and sexual assault. The ex-employee was female, a former dormitory matron at the school. Connections between Oprah and the possible abuse? Roughly… zero. But that didn’t mean that the mucky splash shouldn’t be enjoyed by a press and public eager, for various reasons, to find flaws in the charmed empire of the big O.

Did either of these women of accomplishment struggle more than necessary last week because of their gender? Certainly if it’s in the air that you can go after Hillary without fear of blowback due to gender, then you can probably push Oprah around a little bit about conditions at her school. And if we’re going to have an official female President of the United States (Hillary) and an unofficial female President (Oprah), then we must figure out how to eliminate any sense that communicating disappointment in them and to them means we’re being sexist.

About six months ago I was in an establishment that for our purposes we’ll refer to as a typically male haunt. (Let’s keep my private life out of all this, as Oprah and Hillary would want.) The place had about four men in it, and the TV was on. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was speaking. One of the patrons turned to another and said, “You know, she’s a pretty smart b—h.” In tone and impact, I knew he actually meant it as a compliment. But that last noun mitigated his praise to say the least, and it threw the entire observation into the Wayback Machine. The comment was structured such that it would find approval in a man’s world.

That last epithet meant, “You know, in terms of how we ultimately run things.” The word also has a street meaning of “weakness.” Will any of that archaic garbage flush down the drain if and when we elect a woman to the highest office in the land? While Carly Fiorina eventually stepped down as CEO at Hewlett Packard, the next President Clinton will not be vulnerable to the wishes of the “board.” She’ll be our elected choice after eight painful years of cupidity and grotesque, murdering failure from an administration mostly wearing pants.

Hillary, unfairly or otherwise, must be just as careful with her implications as those of her opponents. She did characterize presidential politics as “an all-boys club” just days after the difficult debate, while standing on the stage of an all-women’s college. I personally can’t find fault in her observation. Still it is an observation, not a fort that needs attacking or defending. Message to all who desire the White House: We’re at war with people dying, and our image has tarnished all around the world. Please stay on task. Because the job, if you win it, is going to be a b—h.

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