Watching “Mad Men” is a useful tool for analyzing Hillary Clinton’s career path.
AMC’s remarkable television drama is set in the advertising industry during its Eisenhower-era heyday. Although the period milieu is meticulously re-created, what really matters is the conduct of the liquor-soaked, chain-smoking clique of ad execs. Their secretaries are regularly groped, their wives and mistresses marginalized and humiliated. The daily lives of these men in what seemed a feel-good era is a cocktail of petty power grabs and cheap secrets.
These pre-Feminist Era women are resigned to such behavior. Yet they spend much of their time weeping in the restroom, crashing their cars, and struggling to reveal their feelings to psychiatrists. These shrinks are all men, of course, and in the strictest Freudian tradition say little in reply.
Hillary Clinton came of age as this era began to wane. The fact that she just became the third female Secretary of State out of the last four appointees demonstrates how far both American women and men have come in the decades since. But the fact is, Clinton’s career has been shaped in many ways by such sleazy male conduct as her grand ambitions.
Clinton’s confirmation hearings have been routinely described as a love fest, which is both close to the truth and not entirely accurate. Although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee overwhelmingly approved her nomination, there is a great irony behind the lone dissenting vote cast by Sen. David Vitter, the conservative Republican from Louisiana. Vitter was one of only two Senators to vote against Clinton in her full confirmation vote.
Vitter expressed concerns about the operations of the Clinton Global Initiative – former President Bill Clinton’s charitable organization. He was particularly worried how it would publicize donations after Hillary Clinton is running the State Department. The Clintons had agreed to disclose the current donor list to allay any worries about a potential conflict of interest.
“Would you support and help produce an amended (agreement) that would bring the same disclosure to future contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative?” Vitter asked Clinton. When she began what he believed a rambling answer, Vitter cut her off and groused that her response was cutting into his question time.
It was amusing to hear Vitter grumble about having the clock run out on him. No doubt it happened to him more than once when he patronized the services of Pamela Martin & Associates, the cover name for the call-girl ring run by Washington madam Debra Jean Palfrey. It also likely happened when Vitter procured services from a similar business in New Orleans a decade earlier.
To Clinton’s credit, she at least tried to answer Vitter’s question. She could have deeply vexed him by sighing and counting the ceiling tiles.
Even more ironic was Vitter’s calls for Clinton to provide greater transparency. When his extracurricular activities were exposed in early 2007, he issued a brief statement that said, in part: “Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there – with God and them.” One wonders whether Vitter’s made any charitable contributions for repentance.
While Vitter is a mere blip on Hillary’s career radar, Bill Clinton represents the full-frontal assault. His serial bimbo eruptions, Oval Office trysts and twisted interpretations of sexual relations make him a “Mad Men” fellow-traveler. Such behavior – along with his petulant outbursts during his wife’s campaign – helped contribute to her future reign over Foggy Bottom rather than Pennsylvania Avenue.
Yet the ying of Bill’s philandering was counterbalanced by Rudy Giuliani’s yang. His affair with Judith Nathan in the last months of his tenure as New York City’s mayor (one of at least two liaisons while he was in office) caused him to be embarrassingly banished from Gracie Mansion by aggrieved wife Donna Hanover. This contributed to Giuliani’s pulling out from the 2000 New York Senate campaign, making an uphill battle for Clinton pretty much a breeze.
One wonders what Hillary Clinton – whose acute intelligence and self-control were on full display during her confirmation process – makes of how this boorish behavior has shaped both her career and personal life. Like the women of “Mad Men,” she holds those feelings in as if her very survival depends upon it. But as I continue to enjoy the show – both the one on DVD and the continuing performances of the former First Couple – I wonder when one of the female characters will draw a knife to confront their antagonists. It would surely mark the first time in their lives these men have shielded their waists.