The nomination of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate to be President of the United States has been celebrated as a great advance for women. It is very likely – given the dismal alternative of Donald Trump – that she will duly be elected to the most powerful office in the world.
I’m all for celebrating women’s achievements, and on this side of the pond we have already seen Angela Merkel and Theresa May attain great offices of state with a sure touch. Nicola Sturgeon, though not personally my cup of tea – she strikes me as a rabid secularist – seems also to be very able.
But let us not be too self-deluding about Mrs Clinton’s breaking the “glass ceiling” on behalf of the female sex. What we are getting with Hillary is not just a woman, but a couple. Everyone acquainted with the Clintons speaks of them as of one flesh. It’s not just Hillary, they’ll tell you; it Bill and Hill together. “They’re joined at the hip,” one American Democrat in London assures me.
Indeed, Bill and Hill could almost be an idealised exemplar of the enduring bond of marriage. Nothing – not all his gallivanting which brought him, at one point, near to being impeached – has severed their union.
Some feminists in the United States disparage Hillary (and prefer her Democratic erstwhile rival Bernie Sanders) for not divorcing Bill when his infidelities were disclosed. A real feminist, they say, would have walked away from “his cheatin’ heart”.
But no: she actually did the Christian thing. She was “the good wife”. She forgave – it seems – and maintained her marriage. The cynics say she had another agenda: power was her game, not the matrimonial ideal. What did she care about Bill’s philandering so long as she got her hands on the levers of power?
My Democratic source says it’s more complicated than that. With the Clintons, it really is a marriage of true minds.
They are in it together. He couldn’t have survived without her and she couldn’t have survived – politically and psychologically – without him.
Maureen Dowd, the political analyst on the New York Times, refers to the Hillary candidacy as “The Clintons” (sometimes as “the vindictive Clintons”, and “the voracious Clinton machine”).
You can call Hillary’s achievement a victory for feminism if you like. Others call it a victory for coupledom. And, for some, not an altogether admirable example of wedlock’s grip on power.
Many years ago – back in the 1960s – I encountered an American singer visiting London. She was a pleasant woman with a lovely, clear soprano voice, but she wasn’t widely known because her speciality was “ghosting” the voices of actresses who were not professional singers.
Her name was Marni Nixon, and she had been dubbed “the ghostess with the mostest”. Marni was the singing voice of Deborah Kerr in The King and I in 1956, faultlessly matching Miss Kerr’s precise, very English, speech register. Then she went to sing the high notes for Natalie Wood in West Side Story in 1961 and took over the singing parts for Audrey Hepburn in the film version of My Fair Lady in 1964.
But the big studios tried to keep Marni Nixon a secret, and even threatened that she’d never work again if she disclosed the fact that she was the voice behind the stars.
By 1966, it was getting to be known that Marni had contributed to these great musicals’ success, but she was never really awarded the honours – or the royalties – that she merited. When she died recently at 86, her work was recognised, but still, during her lifetime Hollywood never paid her the tributes she deserved.
And the moral of the story is that the people who deserve honours often don’t get them. While people who may have done little except please a powerful politician may be showered with the glittering prizes.
It’s sad to be told – as I learned last weekend – that some of the major cathedrals in England are now under vigilance against terrorism. It’s tragic that it has come to this, because churches and cathedrals should always be accessible.
But then London schools are taking precautions against terrorist attacks too. Such woeful times.