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Hillary Clinton: Betrayed, in the End, by Senate Boys Club?

5 years ago
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Hold on, thought I, before shelving two early 2010 books about the 2008 presidential election. There's something to be read and said in the pages of "Game Change" by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin that somehow got lost in translation, even by the authors themselves.

And in "Notes From the Cracked Ceiling," author Anne E. Kornblut makes the case that the national electorate isn't ready for a woman president, judging by her own coverage of Hillary Clinton's campaign for The Washington Post.

Actually, it may be the Washington elected class that's most resistant to a gender game change -- meaning in the 2008 drama, Clinton's own fellow senators. In "Game Change," the U.S. Senate comes across as the highest glass ceiling of all. The boys club -- or gentlemen's club -- that Clinton worked hard to join essentially turned on her early in the game and may have blackballed her chances. The same key members within the club befriended and encouraged Sen. Barack Obama, giving his candidacy a tremendous back-channel boost in the beginning.

A simple truth lies in plain view, like Poe's purloined letter, across these two tomes. To wit, let's not assume it's the national electorate that's so unready for a female president. A fired-up Clinton was catching on pretty good toward the end, winning major primaries in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. But the upper echelons of the political establishment, which she had reason to believe were on her side, had other ideas. "They" decided she was too divisive, even as she competed well in the field.

To a man, many of Clinton's friends and allies in the Senate reached out to the talented but untested freshman senator from Illinois, urging Barack Obama to run for president. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York was one of these; so was Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Highly respected Tom Daschle, a former majority leader, urged Obama to seize the moment and promised to advise him. For the most part, these conversations were held in private in "a conspiracy of whispers," as Heilemann and Halperin put it. When the late Sen. Edward Kennedy went public with a full-throated roar of endorsement, then the extent of Obama's support by the clubby Senate Democrats became clear.

For Obama, that was almost as sweet as winning the Iowa caucuses. But for Clinton, it was finding out that "friends" can make the most insidious foes of all.

Was it a betrayal, as the authors call it, by Clinton's Senate colleagues? Perhaps, but it wasn't just politics as usual. I see it in shades of gender as well as politics. Older men often like to champion and mentor younger men who remind them of their youth. Given a choice between anointing a political peer, a woman, and an outstanding younger African American (12 years younger), it wasn't even close. Obama was their pick.

The moral: The glass houses of Congress need more cracking, too, with their ceilings as high as the Capitol dome.

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