Watching Hillary Clinton testify before Congress yesterday, in what will probably be her last big act as secretary of State, all I could think was, The woman is bulletproof. After more than two decades in the public eye, she comes across — at long last — as a powerful, authentic, and authoritative leader, not some geeky girl striving to find her place at the cool kids' table. Plainspoken and emotional, but not defensive, Secretary of State Clinton talked about what she knew about the terrorist attacks on Benghazi, and when she knew it. And when Republican Senator Ron Johnson endeavored to pin the blame for insufficient or misleading public information about the attacks on her, she took him to school, clearly exasperated but never losing her cool. "Honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this," she said, "but the fact is people were trying their best in real time to get the best information." (The message between the lines: "When you are dealing with murderous terrorists in Libya, senator, then you can criticize.")
What Hillary thinks and says finally matters more than how she looks — which is a good thing, because in that regard, she no longer gives much of a damn. From muumuus to ponytails, her body language and her public persona over the past year or so have reminded me of what a friend once said to me about menopause: "It gives me permission to be the bitch I always was."
The aging process is, for most of us, a cause for dread. But in Hillary's case it is liberating: As a post-menopausal woman, she no longer needs to concern herself with the armies of attackers who for years have ceaselessly found her insufficiently girlish, womanly, or sexually desirable. ("When she comes on television," said Tucker Carlson, "I involuntarily cross my legs.") She tried to please on the femininity front, she failed, and now, what the hell, she can be the ballbuster and the battle axe that her critics always said she was: smarter, tougher, and wilier than everyone else. Come 2016, Joe Biden and any other Democrat with presidential dreams should be worried.
In the early days, some of her critics called her an arriviste, a wifey hanging on to her billion-watt husband's coattails, but that critique doesn't work anymore either. Clinton was a senator from New York for eight years and secretary of State — traveling to 112 different countries — for four. People continue to criticize her marriage for being sick and twisted on the one hand — a story of an ugly duckling smitten with a cad — or a contractual convenience on the other. In the end, neither case is borne out by evidence. The Clintons have been through it all: infidelity, humiliation, health crises, career conflicts. They've lived it in public, and still, when the secretary of State was discharged from the hospital, as she was earlier this month after treatment for a blood clot in her brain, she was flanked by her husband and daughter. What was striking about the tableau was how ordinary it seemed: The Clintons looked like nothing more or less than what they are, a family. Even gossipy tell-alls like Primary Colors and Game Change now work in her favor, for they unveil her worst characteristics before they could become damaging revelations in an election year. What can critics and opponents say about her now? That she's extremely ambitious? Well, yes. That she's a feminist? Obviously. That she's fat, jowly, wrinkled? Okay, but has anyone taken a look at the Senate lately?
Her detractors said she wasn't pretty enough. She wasn't girlish enough. Compared to her husband, she was dorky, nerdy, a lesser light, a wide-hipped valedictorian in Coke-bottle glasses. She came off as superior, and for that some people will never forgive her. The teasing started before her husband's first inauguration (to which she wore a spherical, royal-blue hat that some fashion writers compared to a UFO, and her face to a chipmunk's) and never stopped. But look at her now. The images of Hillary being passed around in the past several months are a testament to what may be the most dramatic political turnaround in memory. Whether she's scowling furiously at her BlackBerry, or taking a gleeful iPhone snap with Meryl Streep, or drinking beer from a bottle in Cartagena, Hillary Clinton comes across as comfortable in her skin, finally, and much more than smart. At last, she seems lovable.
Most Viewed Stories
Mary-Kate Olsen Strains Every Muscle in Her Face in an Attempt to Smile
The Fashion Executive Who Doesn’t Wear Underwear on Dates
25 Famous Women on Being Alone
22 Intimate Lost Photos of Marilyn Monroe
Prince George Has No Time for Justin Trudeau’s High Fives
How Angelina Jolie Won the First Big Battle in Her Divorce
It’s Time to Get Over Your White Feelings and Start Taking Action for Black Lives
2009 Called — It Wants Its Vogue-Versus-Bloggers Fight Back.
Former Miss Universe Becomes U.S. Citizen So She Can Vote Against Trump
Madame Clairevoyant: Horoscopes for the Week of September 26
From Our Partners
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesThe Novelist Disguised As a Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn't have had a successful career without them.Ava DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.Santigold’s New Video Is the Result of a Spontaneous Run-in With Kara Walker
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield Spotted Together Again, Love Might Be Real
They could be back together ahh!Teen, Forced to Go on Vacation With Her Family, Calls 911
The logical decision.Report: Hearst Fired Seventeen EIC Michelle Tan During Her Maternity Leave
Tan had been at the magazine for about two years.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.
That’s one way to do it.Don’t Mess This Up, Mischa Barton
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.Miles Teller Is Still Upset About Being Called a Dick
He wants to set the record straight.Why Parents Shouldn’t Talk About Weight With Their Teens
New guidelines seek to banish weight talk.