I can’t very well imagine anything stupider politically than Hillary Clinton’s US Senate opponent, John Spencer, criticizing Hillary’s appearance in an informal conversation with liberal Daily News columnist Ben Smith, generating days of front-page stories. As reported by Smith:
Spencer and his wife, Kathy, by chance, sat beside me on a Friday morning JetBlue flight to Rochester. Spencer read The New York Times, I read The New Yorker, and early in the trip, Kathy opened New York magazine to its cover story on Al and Jeanine Pirro, the troubled state attorney general candidate.
The story prompted John Spencer to offer his opinion that Jeanine was a smart woman with potential, but who listened too closely to her consultants.
He also said that, as a recovering alcoholic, he understood and sympathized with Al’s psychological problems.
The casual conversation then turned to a black-and-white picture of Pirro, dated to 1978, that appeared in the magazine. The three of us remarked on how much her looks have changed, and speculated (fairly cattily, on all sides) on whether she’d had “work” – that is, plastic surgery.
“Work?” Spencer interjected. “What about Hillary?”
Spencer then launched into an unprovoked riff about Clinton’s appearance.
“You ever see a picture of her back then? Whew,” he said of Clinton’s youth. “I don’t know why Bill married her.” He speculated she’d had “millions of dollars” of plastic surgery, and added that she looks good now. Spencer observed that “both of them” [Clinton and Pirro] must have had work done.
More Daily News coverage here, here, here, here and here, which is about twice as much coverage as Spencer has had all year.
Now, in context it is clear that Spencer was just speaking off the top of his head, but still – there is no subject that dovetails more perfectly with Hillary’s chief political strength than an entirely un-political critique of her appearance, which allows her to play the aggreived-on-behalf-of-all-women card for all it is worth, questioning whether a male candidate would face such criticisms, generally appealing to the insecurities many women face about their appearance as they reach her age, and making out the race as a put-upon woman against a mean male. (Heck, even my wife, who loathes Hillary, was tempted to not vote for Spencer over his decidedly ungentlemanly comments).
If there is one subject that Republicans need, desperately need, to leave be in the 2008 race, it’s Hillary’s appearance. Issues? Yes. Scandals? Yes. Personal character? Yes. But leave the gibes about her looks to the comedians. It’s neither nice nor wise.
(Of course, I should ask as a postscript – and I emphasize that I’m not doing this to let Spencer off the hook – where is Bill in all this? I know he is trying to learn to stay mum and let his wife fight her own battles, but another man has insulted his wife’s appearance and asked why Bill married her. Them’s fightin’ words, and unless I have missed a press acount somewhere he hasn’t stirred himself to defend her. Especially for a man who has repeatedly and publicly gotten caught cheating on his wife, you would think he would stand up and come out swinging on this one).