Is Hillary Clinton too square for the oval?

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I refuse to read Hillary's possible fate as an indication that America is not ready for a woman to be president. It's just not ready for this one.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Frank Rich adeptly outlines the flaws that have plagued Hillary Clinton's run from "day one," then suggests:

"Clinton fans don't see their standard-bearer's troubles this way. In their view, their highly substantive candidate was unfairly undone by a lightweight showboat who got a free ride from an often misogynist press and from naïve young people who lap up messianic language as if it were Jim Jones's Kool-Aid."

"But it's the Clinton strategists, not the Obama voters, who drank the Kool-Aid. The Obama campaign is not a vaporous cult; it's a lean and mean political machine that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidate's message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating."

Like so many other ovaried observers, I have at times been hard on myself for choosing to support Obama instead of the first viable female candidate for president of those mighty United States. But neither the candidate nor her campaign has ever felt viable to me. As much as I'm a zealot for women's rights, I reserve the right to get excited about the right woman - my foremothers gave that to me.

The first woman to get this close to the oval office happens to come from and speak for the second wave feminists who have always left me feeling disconnected and unheard. Hillary does have chutzpah though; let's give it to her, what with those early claims of inevitable victory and the increasing vitriol over the fact that the numbers and people just aren't doing her a solid.

The overarching problem is that Hillary represents âe" not just to my mind, but for countless credible democratic activists âe" a kind of establishmenty flavour. To insist the heat comes from negligible policy differences between her and Obama, the thick versus thin resumé question, or even the gender question is to miss a bigger point. The era of Clintonian politics is over in a way that leaves no self-respecting or movement-participating progressive able to support Hillary in good conscience. And it has nothing to do with the girlie bits underneath her clothes. It's her last name and preferred peer group, not to mention that haunting record on Iraq.

I'm actually quite sorry, Hillary, that your lifetime of hard work on behalf of liberalism may not be enough to send the masses scrambling to hoist you up onto the throne. And I do genuinely acknowledge those efforts. Who's to say what kind of cosmic forces conspired so effectively as to make a charismatic Illinois upstart the stealer of your limelight, the tapper-inner to an apathetic electorateâe(TM)s thirst for political excitement, the taker of your "turn"? We will soon know if he absconds with your cake or if you can eat it, too.

What I do know is that a great number of exceptional, progressive representatives of fresh feminism could have better challenged Obama. The better woman to vie for the American presidency is absolutely out there. Rather than bemoan whatever injustices may have been done to you, Hillary, on this campaign trail, I'd rather lament a system that requires those better women to have âe" as you do âe" the resources, pedigree, or inclination to enter the race. And even if she did, that system comes with a nearly bulletproof glass ceiling, so she'd have to don the hardhat, aggressive tone, and stiff upper lip that so brutally unpopularized you in this run (oh, and she'd also have to have the occasional $5 million hanging around to slide into the campaign when the going gets rougher).

What are we left with? So-called Obamamania. Regard it as pap or the real deal, Obama's vision has been clear and consistent since before the 2004 democratic convention speech that catapulted him into popular consciousness, into imaginations, into this sizzling campaign, and âe" dare to hope âe" soon into the White House. Home of the brave, indeed.

So does Obama's "all poetry and no action" criticism have merit? Even Maureen Dowd in her Sunday column scoffs at the notion: "Hillary keeps trying to dismiss Obama's appeal as emotional, something that can be overcome with enough mental discipline. But behind that ethereal presence he's a wonky lawyer, just like Hillary."

The attack-turned-jingle presents a false choice to voters: go with Obama's choral tenor or Clinton's confrontational cred. But why not a third possibility? A lyrical president who strives for change âe" branded and sought in a fresh way âe" without inherited combats tangling the path.

Then there's the tired mantra of Obama's lack of experience paling in comparison to Hillary's years of glossy, relevant practice.

Apples and oranges, maybe, but I don't recall as much being made about Jack Layton's lack of experience in the 2003 NDP leadership race. He might have had a small reputation among political wonks who follow municipal politics, yet there would have been fair reason to call his federal credentials into question (leadership opponents Lorne Nystrom and Bill Blaikie started in the House of Commons at the ages of 22 and 28, respectively). But as any savvy upstart would do âe" like Obama has âe" Layton configured the race in such a way that the onus was on his opponents to rise to his bar of youthful energy, refreshing oratory, coalition uniting. Pick up the brochure or hit the website after the rally and find more than enough substance to back up the hype. Why should any candidate be slammed for those kinds of chops?

Voters need âe" crave, even âe" to connect with a candidate. In presidential level politics, it becomes even more imperative. One of Clinton's primary downfalls has not been her inability to persuade voters of her record, but of her soul. And her belief in ours. That's an attribute that transcends sex or lineage.

Much ado has been made about whether America is more ready to elect a president who is female or black. Most pundits had their money on the womanâe¦ and yet? If this Democratic leadership race is any signal, Americans appear more interested in who is presidential, a leader âe" not in that zealoty, us-and-them patriotism kind of way, but with an uplifting, collectivist spirit.

Nope, I refuse to read Hillary's possible fate as an indication that America is not ready for a woman to be president. It's just not ready for this one.

Manufactured or not, Obama's got "it." And Democrats have been buying up his rising stocks to the chagrin of the Hillary crew. Tonight's results will reveal whether he gets to take his product to general market.

We can only hope it withstands the challenge of a powerful and angry Republican machine. Otherwise, a whole lot ofvoters may be demanding a refund.

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