How to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain . . .

I'm wondering whether sexism is raising its ugly head in New York's Senate race:

ALBANY, N.Y. - Is this a Senate race or country music?

Cheating husbands. An out-of-wedlock child. Prison bars. Strong, independent women standing by their wayward men.

The stuff of late nights, neon-lit jukeboxes and smoky roadhouses? Not quite.

These women are Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeanine Pirro, both lawyers and both with homes in a tony suburb north of New York City, and they're on a possible political collision course.

Clinton is the former first lady seeking a second term as New York's junior Democratic senator, and just possibly eyeing a run for the White House in 2008. Pirro, a district attorney known for her cable television crime-case commentary, wants to be the Republican to challenge Clinton's 2006 re-election bid.

GOP boosters encouraged Pirro to run, reasoning in part that any liability presented by Albert Pirro, the disbarred lawyer-lobbyist who served 11 months in federal prison for tax fraud, would be canceled out by Bill Clinton's better-known White House affair with Monica Lewinsky.

"Hillary didn't seem to get hurt by whatever her husband did, so I think they would negate each other, and it would be, hopefully, Hillary versus Jeanine," Saratoga County GOP Chairman Jasper Nolan said in May when Pirro first said she might run for the Senate.

Maybe not.

"The difference between Jeanine Pirro and Hillary Clinton is Jeanine Pirro's husband served time and Hillary's didn't," said Republican strategist Nelson Warfield. "Generally, you like your candidates to talk about convictions, but not their husband's convictions."

This puts Hillary in a bit of a dilemma, because she has far greater name recognition, but she's also vulnerable to the charge that she's been coat-tailing on her husband's name. So, if she maligns Jeanine Pirro's husband, that gives Pirro an opening to make the election about Bill Clinton. Yet if she ignores Mr. Pirro's felon status, she might miss a valuable campaign opportunity, and avoiding "the husband issue" might be seen as grounded in a desire to avoid talking about her own husband. A possible no-win for Hillary -- unless she has others do her dirty work for her. (The Cindy Sheehan crowd has helped Hillary too, by making her look moderate, even hawkish.)

What fascinates me about this is that wives are rarely the subject of inquiry in a race between two male candidates. Going after an opponent's wife (even when there's dirt) is seen as dirty politics -- if not "unmanly" behavior.

There's always the ancient technique called praeteritio -- bringing up something by saying you won't bring it up -- but voters are sophisticated enough to catch it, which means it should be used sparingly. And subtly. Hillary could object that she won't allow "them" (that's the VRWC) to "smear" her husband, that she's running on her own issues, and that husbands and families should not be a proper focus of a campaign. This would remind voters that "the husband issue" is there, but that Hillary doesn't think it's right to dwell on it. (Specifically refusing to dwell on her own husband, of course, evokes her opponent's husband without mentioning him at all.)

For extra effect, she could add that she's "paid no attention" to whatever is being paid attention to, and that no one else should either!

Gotta keep this race clean, and focused on the real issues.

MORE: Whoops, almost forgot about something not to bring up. If Jeanine Pirro's husband is maligned, she can always specifically refuse to make any wisecracks about whether the Pirro family could have afforded to buy him a pardon. Keep it clean!

posted by Eric on 08.22.05 at 09:03 AM


The problem is, it isn't just Al Pirro who is corrupt. Jeanine Pirro PERSONALLY SIGNED the joint tax return that was deemed fraudulent. And moreover, Jeanine Pirro's own campaign for Westchester DA accepted bribes --err contributions-- from the MAFIA.

Clinton doesn't need to drag Jeanine Pirro through Al Pirro's muck. Pirro did it herself.

Rick James   ·  August 22, 2005 2:16 PM

Hillary/Hillary's campaign doesn't itself have to bring the issue up, they just have to arrange for third parties to do so.

And as the tax return issue, believe it or not, many of us trust our spouses and will, after a cursory look at it will sign. Of course there are many on the left who don't understand things like "trust", "love", and "marriage".

Petro   ·  August 23, 2005 3:55 PM

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