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Margaret’s Flagrant Foul
Feminists find an enemy in the Endless Election

Op-ed by Tim Graham, director of media analysis, MRC,
as printed in the November 25, 2000 edition of National Review Online

By Tim Graham

Like many female reporters in the national media, Time's Margaret Carlson thinks she's a feminist. But like her colleagues, her solidarity with American womanhood is decidedly truncated, excluding all those working women who threaten a liberal utopia. 

For most of the Clinton years, Margaret has seen her feminist duty as throwing rose petals before the long march of her personal inspiration, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She introduced Hillary to the nation in January 1992 as an "amalgam of Betty Crocker, Mother Teresa and Oliver Wendell Holmes," a woman who "discusses educational reform....then hops into her fuel-efficient car with her perfectly behaved daughter for a day of good works." 

Time magazine wasn't nearly so friendly to another lawyer spouse connected to a national ticket. A week before Margaret made avuncular Time writer Hugh Sidey look like sneering Joe Conason, writer Priscilla Painton threw darts at Marilyn Quayle, who readers were told "would make Americans long for Nancy Reagan — taffetas, tyrannies and all." Painton included only one quote from a mostly positive Washington Post series on the vice president and his wife. The quote came from an unnamed "Quayle associate," who said, "Nancy would be considered a woman of the people" compared to Mrs. Quayle. Painton called Mrs. Quayle a "controlling" woman, a "grudge-bearing campaigner" and a "watchdog of a wife with an ambition as long as her enemies list." Are they sure they didn't confuse Mrs. Quayle and Mrs. Clinton? 

Yes, because a few months later they came back for more, with Michael Duffy comparing her unfavorably to Barbara Bush: "While the First Lady's image is cuddly and grandmotherly, Marilyn Quayle can seem hard, intolerant, and combative....Ever since a Washington Post series on her husband last winter depicted her as a power-mad spouse who once kicked to shreds a framed picture of her husband playing golf, Mrs. Quayle has been trying to soften her Cruella de Vil nature." 

Once the Blue-Plate Special ticket was elected, Margaret became her most enthusiastic palace courtier. As Time awarded Bill "Man of the Year" honors for 1992, Margaret was shining Hillary's apple: "She is the disciplined, duty-bound Methodist, carrying her favorite Scriptures around in her briefcase and holding herself and others to a high standard." 

At this time, Margaret was not a columnist, but Time's White House correspondent. In a syrupy valentine of a cover story on May 10, 1993, she hit a sugar high: "As the icon of American womanhood, she is the medium through which the remaining anxieties over feminism are being played out....Perhaps in addition to the other items on her agenda, Hillary Rodham Clinton will define for women that magical spot where the important work of the world and love and children and an inner life all come together. Like Ginger Rogers, she will do everything her partner does, only backward and in high heels, and with what was missing in [Lee] Atwater — a lot of heart." (When I interviewed her at the time about the tone of this article, and if she thought her coverage of Hillary could be described as tough, Carlson replied: "I think it's down the middle. I try to be that way....I don't have a brief for Hillary.") 

But the zenith of Margaret's Hillary hagiography came in one of the most preposterous passages of the 1990s, in a 1993 Vanity Fair profile: "Valentine's Day at the Red Sage restaurant. Even at a romantic outing, the President can be the date from hell, talking to everyone but the girl he brung....Finally alone, they have `painted soup' and the lamb baked in herbed bread. They exchange gifts and touch each other more in two hours than the Bushes did in four years." 

Margaret's tilted take on successful women--only scripture-toting socialists need apply for puffery — was glaringly obvious again this week, when Margaret's target was Florida's secretary of state, Katherine Harris. On page 47 of this week's Time, there's the body of Cruella De Vil matched by a photo of Harris' head — except her eyes were replaced by psychotic pink and red cartoon eyes. Time's art directors take cues from Paul Begala's insults. It's surprising they didn't add hate-crimes blood drops to Bush's red states at Begala's command. 

Suffice it to say that Harris wasn't getting the Chief Justice Betty Crocker treatment from Margaret. "The only person who looks like a character from one of the more usual cable dramas is Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris, a Bush campaign co-chairwoman who mixes the pious certitude of Linda Tripp with the hauteur of a Dynasty protagonist." Hmm. Pious certitude. Hauteur. As if Hillary Clinton never had these qualities. 

At times of constitutional crisis, it's always important to compartmentalize between someone's professional life and their personal life, right? Wrong. "She once performed in a Sarasota nightclub, getting audience members to join her in flapping their arms to music in a peculiar art form called chicken dancing." Earth to Margaret: In much of America, the chicken dance (done to a little polka ditty) is a harmless piece of fun featured at most wedding dances. Leading one might not make you Martha Graham, but it doesn't have much to do with dimpled ballots. 

Margaret then added the Marilyn Quayle treatment: "Until the Florida supreme court enjoined her from certifying the vote, Harris, often compared to Cruella deVil , snatching ballots rather than puppies, was briefly the most powerful woman on the planet. She decided to flunk all the essays by county officials explaining their late returns and then announced she would certify the winner last Saturday without all the hand counts." Harris may have felt she was applying the law, and Bush may won the original count, and the mandatory recount, but until the Democrats were finished with weeks (months?) devoted their personal interpretations to hand recounts, she was somehow comparable to a cartoon puppy-killer. 

Clearly, what Harris was "up to" was pure evil: "To grasp the enormity of what Harris was up to, imagine James Carville as a political appointee of Governor Roger Clinton's, deciding to shut down a legal recount of an election with a 300-vote margin and award the victory to Roger's brother Bill." Which part of this preposterous sentence to attack first? Well, Harris is NOT an appointee of Jeb Bush, but a duly elected statewide official. How Jeb is comparable to Roger Clinton, last seen serenading Pyongyang, is anybody's guess. And for Harris to be comparable to James Carville, she would have needed to spend the last election cycle lying about who's never slept with who. 

After belittling Republican objections to the dimpled-chad psychics trying to count enough votes to put Gore over the top, Margaret concluded: "What's fraudulent is the very notion that one side's political operative could single-handedly decide a disputed election. If this were a horror movie, the audience would be mentally shouting, 'Stop this woman! Call the authorities!" Excuse me, Margaret, but Harris is an authority, an authority elected by that "will of the people." This is only a horror movie to Gore partisans. To many Americans, the emerging horror movie is The Election That Never Ends. 

With Harris summarily demonized, Margaret ended: "To many, an I VOTED sticker is like a badge of civic honor, a talisman erasing all that was messy and rancorous in the campaign before. Casting a vote helps each of us accept the legitimacy of all votes cast, one of democracy's gifts, delayed but soon to arrive." That's a nice thought, but totally wrong. Does anyone vote hoping to "accept the legitimacy" of their vote being canceled out by ballots cast by felons, or ballots with chads taped back in, or questionably pregnant with meaning? The mess and rancor that came before Election Day is nothing compared to the mess and rancor afterwards. 

But after this long national nightmare has ended, Katherine Harris will have a reputation that will remain, a caricature imposed upon her, a working woman trashed--by other women. Margaret Carlson couldn't just question her professional judgment. She had to compare her to ugly caricatures like Cruella De Vil and even scarier, James Carville. With the sacred tenets of feminism on the line — preeminent among them the right to abort babies — solidarity has its limits.

National Review Online | Back to Op-Ed Archives



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