I was crossing my fingers that the Hillary Rodham Clinton cleavage story would die a much-deserved media death, when up cropped another angle this week. You are unfortunately probably all too familiar with the story to which I’m referring. Last month, The Washington Post ran a much-maligned Style-section article about Clinton’s appearance on the U.S. Senate floor with a tiny bit of cleavage peeking out from above her otherwise tasteful black V-neck sweater.
The progressive women’s community was spinning into outer space over the episode. The common complaints went something like: “Don’t the media have anything better to write about than Sen. Clinton’s body parts? And isn’t it more than a bit sexist to take up the topic in the first place?”
That might have been the beginning and the end of the story. But then Clinton’s senior adviser, who should have known better, made the easily preventable mistake of prolonging the story’s half-life by skewering it in an e-mail to Clinton supporters.
Salon.com quoted part of the e-mail as follows. (Senior adviser Ann) “Lewis went on to write that ‘focusing on women’s bodies instead of their ideas is insulting. It’s insulting to every woman who has ever tried to be taken seriously in a business meeting.’ ”
It is insulting. It is silly. We should be talking and writing about how Clinton would get us out of Iraq, feed starving children, balance the budget and so on, not about her corporeal decor. But equally persuasive is the thought that Clinton’s staff, who are running the most-scripted, most-prepared, most-thought-out-in-advance presidential campaign in the history of American politics, should have known better than to allow Clinton to appear on the Senate floor in that garb.
Clinton is a candidate who does not utter a word, makes no suggestion, doesn’t even have a thought that has not been prepared and rehearsed and advanced and sculled over beforehand. She does preparedness to a fare-thee-well. She does it so well she’s winning the mainstream, middle-of-the-road voter and alienating her far-left base. Her greatest fear is to be perceived as daring.
So why in the world would she step onto the Senate floor wearing what — to this writer, at least — looked like such an obvious mistake? (If you have not yet seen the picture, it’s still on The Washington Post Web site.)
I have strong feelings pro and con about Clinton’s “fashion statement.” I’m also supremely ambivalent about whether her garb should have created the mini-media maelstrom that it did.
Having spent a fair amount of time shopping these past few years, I can attest to the difficulty of finding torso attire that is NOT too revealing. Low-cut is in. Garment manufacturers are not in the least bit concerned that older women (that is, anyone over 30) and professional women don’t want to dress like teenagers.
Perhaps Clinton, or an aide, bought the sweater without perceiving how low it would go, or, eh, sit on her torso. I’ve witnessed tons of professional women hiking up their necklines when someone at the office gestured that what they were wearing was too low-cut. This has never occurred, however, when the clotheshorse in question was making a speech on the Senate floor.
Was Clinton appropriately attired? No. Did it look like an understandable mistake? Yes.
Was the episode fair game for media coverage? Among other things, the Post article prattled on: “It was startling to see that small acknowledgment of sexuality and femininity peeking out of the conservative — aesthetically speaking — environment of Congress … It was even more surprising to note that it was coming from Clinton, someone who has been so publicly ambivalent about style, image and the burdens of both.”
In our over-examined, blogged-to-death media environment, it was, sadly, fair game for comment and coverage. By the time a 15th major-party female candidate is running for president, perhaps it won’t be.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)