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Opinion: Columnists

Noemie Emery: A life in the theater

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A great stage career went into hiatus Friday, when Hillary Clinton left her foreign policy gig for an undisclosed future, not telling where that future would take her or if there would be one at all.

In her life on the stage, she has had a career framed by two episodes of "60 Minutes" that aired 21 years apart. The first took place in February 1992, when she appeared with her husband to help him deal with the mess made by Gennifer Flowers. The second occurred Jan. 24, 2013, when she appeared with Barack Obama (her office husband), where they giggled and laughed like an old married couple as they tried to deal with the mess made by the unresolved murder of four Americans in Libya on Sept. 11, for which no coherent explanation has been given to this day.

Between points one and two, she had been first lady, senator (from New York, of all places) and secretary of state, but she is best defined by a series of tableaux played out one by one on the screen. There was "Pretty in Pink," the Whitewater press conference in 1994; the "Today" show in 1998, where on a cold winter's day she traced tales of her husband's fling with an overweight intern to a sinister right-wing conspiracy; the walk across the White House lawn to the Vacation From Hell on a hot August day, when the stories proved accurate; the nest-building tableau in Chappaqua in 2001; the many Vogue covers and sittings; and finally last month's congressional testimony, where, like Meryl Streep playing "The Iron Lady Wears Prada," she wept, shrieked and pounded the table, screaming that the question of whether or not the administration lied about the cause of the riots that killed four Americans was of no importance at all.

Hanging over it all was the subplot of the clot and concussion. Fans called it all a bravura performance. Skeptics said she departed this phase as she began it, cleaning up messes for men.

It seems there are two kinds of political women: politicians and stars of the stage. In the latter category are Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, whose ideas are subsumed by their outsize personae. They generate storms of devotion and rage. No drama swirls about Elizabeth Dole, who starred in law school (like Hillary), built her career before meeting her husband, and won a seat in the Senate (like Hillary). And like Hillary, she also became the first woman in her political party to mount a plausible bid to be president, as the ex-beauty queen was too pleasant and pretty to speak to the rage in most feminists' hearts.

All great stars have an appeal beyond reason, and Hillary's was to wed her iron ambition to the age-old tale of the "he done her wrong" woman, betrayed -- like her idol, the plain and prosaic Eleanor Roosevelt -- by more charming and plausible men. This was life as an unending Joan Crawford weepie, and it sufficed to bond a generation of women of a certain age and a similar set of hopes and resentments to her for the rest of their lives.

"The idea of losing Hillary has seemed especially unbearable," wailed Tina Brown over Hillary's illness. "It's as is if she has become, literally, the ship of state." A "ship" assailed by "small-balled" male critics, who are unfit to mop up her floor with their ornate mustaches.

Thus speaks feminism, in all of its logic and elegance. Something to ponder as this "ship of state" heads temporarily, perhaps, into dry dock, or into some still deeper seas.

Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."

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