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Putin’s remarks illustrate the always fine line that Hillary Clinton walks

REUTERS/Steve Marcus
Hillary Clinton has been called many things but “weak” and most of its synonyms are usually not among those things.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin, who obviously wants to be known as the 21st century’s Totally Toughest Guy (Shirted and Shirtless categories), recently called Possible Future U.S. President Hillary Clinton “weak” and “not always graceful in her speech,” lots of people thought his comments were as off the mark as when Karl Rove said she might have brain damage as a result of the concussion she suffered in early 2013.

Mary Stanik

Clinton, who this week launches “Hard Choices,” her autobiography regarding her secretary of state years as well as her musings about what she may or may not choose to announce within the coming months, has been called many, many things over the course of more than 35 years in public life. Some are printable in PG-rated publications. Many are not. But “weak” and most of its synonyms are usually not among those things.

For example, notice that she called her book HARD Choices. Not Anguished Choices Made After Lots of Consultation with Smarter and Stronger People. When she told a Pakistani audience in November 2009 that if Pakistan didn’t want U.S. aid, it didn’t have to take it, “lacking grace” was indeed among the comments some of the press cited in their coverage of her speech.  But “weak” was nowhere to be found.

Her constant maneuvering

All the same, no one should be surprised that a man who doesn’t seem to mind being called a bully, a despot and worse by people representing all manner of political persuasions should hurl the W word at a woman who stands a chance of becoming the free world’s next leader. A woman who would have been classed as a member of the cookie-baking, tea-serving “weaker sex” in decades not so very far past. And no one should be surprised when her possible Republican and Democratic opponents say all sorts of old and new nasty things about her and her husband. But what also isn’t surprising is how Clinton finds herself needing to maneuver constantly between being tough enough to withstand being called weak and worse while talking tough on tough 3 a.m. calls, all the while signing State Department memos as MOTB (Mother of the Bride) with scrunchy-free, professionally styled hair.

Walking the spindly, landmine-strewn line between being a strong, forceful leader who won’t visibly flinch while declaring war and being a delighted expectant grandmother and someone who “like most women, takes a close interest in clothes” (as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote about herself in her own autobiography), is something Clinton was required to do during the 2008 presidential campaign.  And it is a line she will be required to negotiate every single day between now and the day she decides not to run. Or the day she concedes the 2016 general election. Or the day she leaves a note of good wishes on her Oval Office desk for her successor.

It is a line no male president or presidential candidate has ever really needed to walk. It’s true that Lyndon Johnson was seen toting his baby grandson about quite a bit during the last 18 months of his presidency. But it was the Vietnam War, and not proud grandfatherhood (or even drinking Secret Service agent-poured Cutty Sark scotch and soda while careening around his Texas ranch), that ended Johnson’s White House residency. Though upon reflection, I do believe many Americans might have wished some of our past presidents would have taken a closer interest in clothes. Some of Jerry Ford’s vividly checked blazers and trousers come to mind.

Watching her every stride

So while Clinton gives interviews and speeches to launch her book (and probably her presidential candidacy), taking great care to wear properly feminine and colorful pantsuits with appropriate jewelry and makeup, ordinary voters and pundits alike will be watching her every stride and falter. If she appears excited about her new grandchild and talks a good deal about babysitting and bibs, will someone else infer she’s perhaps not ready to have the nuclear code football follow her everywhere? If she lashes out at someone or something in language some might deem ungraceful or even unseemly for a lady, will people say she’s got too many cojones to be the first woman president? The answer to both questions is a definite “yes.”

Far be it from me to offer Clinton any meaningful counsel, but I might suggest she take a look these words written by the author Zane Grey:

“I am tired. My arm aches. My head boils. My feet are cold. But I am not aware of any weakness.”

And as for Putin, maybe he ought to put his shirt back on. He’s got much bigger things to worry about than fretting over any possible Hillary Clinton weakness or lack of grace.

Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in Minneapolis. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”


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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 06/11/2014 - 09:12 am.

    I don’t think Putin is fretting.

    I think he’s pushing buttons. And Clinton, having been a mother, probably is better equipped than a male to deal with him. Mothers understand manipulation. Dads just get wrapped around little fingers. Remember how easily he charmed GWB with his big, soulful eyes.

  2. Submitted by Colin Scheck on 06/11/2014 - 02:22 pm.

    Perhaps reading too much into this?

    I appreciate legitimate criticsm of Putin as I do for any politician, but I think constructing the “sexist, macho” Putin out of his own propoganda is just as exaggerated as the photos of him tagging tigers. The notion that Putin doesn’t respect Hilary Clinton on the sole basis of her being a woman is more of the “bad, evil Putin” blasting the media loves. Out of all world leaders, Putin respects Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, far more than anyone else.

    Perhaps he just doesn’t like Clinton as a person? I mean, I wouldn’t like someone who publically called me Hitler either.

    (And no, I’m not defending his annexation of Crimea, but pointed and hurtful words go both ways)

  3. Submitted by Jane scheidecker on 06/11/2014 - 03:05 pm.

    quit playing the “woman” card

    Stanik shows restraint here. I feel incredibly fortunate yet frustrated and angry. Being born in the US with available birth control enabled me to reach for so much more than most women in most countries today. But, gee whiz– when will our “enlightened” men stop with the nonsense and just say (repeatedly) that Hillary (and many other mothers, daughters, aunts, & nieces) are thrillingly competent, interesting humans doing excellent work on the world stage!!?

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/11/2014 - 03:54 pm.

    Unlike Zane Grey

    Hillary Clinton has weaknesses. Her most glaring one is her inability to connect with the truth.

    I believe we’ll have a female president in my lifetime. Millions of conservatives voted for John McCain only after he put Sarah Palin on the ticket.

    I would have voted for Margaret Thatcher in a heartbeat. She had more steely resolve than our president Bush did. (“Don’t go wobbly on us now, George.”)

    But Hillary Clinton is no Margaret Thatcher.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 06/12/2014 - 06:44 am.

      Thank God for that…

      ask most Brits what they thought of Maggie Thatcher and you won’t like what you hear. And be honest…like every other republican male, you only liked Palin because you thought she was pretty. You can’t possibly accuse Clinton of an “inability to connect to the truth” and praise Palin in the next sentence. The irony is too thick, even for you.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/12/2014 - 08:42 am.

        Irony is so ironic

        Funny you should make that claim about Palin’s credentials because as a business owner, former mayor and governor, she had more real-world executive experience that McCain, Biden and Obama put together. And as Alaska’s commander-in-chief, she qualified with an M16, something even McCain never did, much less Obama.

        Ironically, Hillary’s only executive experience was being a failed secretary of state where most people are finding out she really only just traveled around and was a figurehead in Obama’s administration.

        No sir, conservatives require more from their leaders than simply race and gender bone fides.

  5. Submitted by jason myron on 06/12/2014 - 02:34 pm.

    Since when?

    As for Palin, she was a half term governor that barely made it out of college, was mayor of the meth capital of Alaska, couldn’t answer the simplest of questions, either of domestic or foreign policy. By the way, my 13 year old daughter fires an AR-15 quite well. So, go right ahead…elevate some back-woods snow trollop into a leadership position within the “conservative movement” based on her M-16 qualification. The reality is that no one outside of a rapidly vanishing voter bloc even remotely cares about her. Clinton, however, despite your entirely subjective assessment of her qualifications, will be the next president of this country, but what I wouldn’t give to see her eviscerate Mama Grizzly in just one debate…Palin would need the M-16 as she’s intellectually unarmed against Hillary Clinton.

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