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margaret wente

Why did Hillary Clinton lose? Check out the talk-show circuit and she'll be glad to tell you. Her new book, What Happened, is less of a mea culpa than a j'accuse, at once hurt, baffled and outraged. The villains are James Comey, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, more or less in that order. And yes – she also lost because she was a woman.

"I started the campaign knowing that I would have to work extra hard to make women and men feel comfortable with the idea of a woman president," she told Jane Pauley.

Many feminists agree that rampant sexism did her in. "What actually happened to Hillary Clinton reeks of misogyny," Rachael Revesz wrote in The Independent. "It reeks so badly that you can smell it stronger than a sniffer dog can suss out crack cocaine."

According to Ms. Clinton, minorities will stick together but women won't – which explains why Barack Obama could be elected but not her. "Race is a much more motivating factor for voters than gender is," she told Matt Lauer.

Also, women let themselves be pushed around by men. Her friend Sheryl Sandberg told her so. In a conversation with NPR, Ms. Clinton said Ms. Sandberg had advised her that "women will have no empathy for you, because they will be under tremendous pressure – and I'm talking principally about white women – they will be under tremendous pressure from fathers and husbands and boyfriends and male employers not to vote for 'the girl.'"

The coup de grâce, according to Ms. Clinton, was former FBI director James Comey's announcement – just a few days before the election – that her e-mails were under further investigation. Why? Because women were scared off. "I have so much anecdotal evidence for this," she told Ezra Klein. "You know, all of a sudden the husband turns to the wife: 'I told you, she's going to be in jail, you don't want to waste your vote.' The boyfriend turns to the girlfriend and says, 'She's going to get locked up!' All of a sudden it becomes a very fraught kind of conflictual experience. And so instead of saying I'm taking a chance, I'm going to vote, it didn't work."

To which one is tempted to respond: If women are such spineless wimps, they really don't deserve a female president.

Women in politics are doomed by male testosterone, we're told. So goes the conventional moaning. It is astonishing that feminists conveniently ignore that other female politician – Angela Merkel. She has been in power for an astonishing 12 years, and will almost certainly win another term this fall. She is the most successful leader in the Western world. Now that the United States has been hijacked by a rogue President, she is its moral leader as well.

In many ways, Frau Merkel is the anti-Clinton. She never plays the women card. She doesn't like the word "feminism." As Nellie McClung once counselled, she just gets the thing done and lets them howl.

Ms. Merkel's bland demeanour and soporific speaking style conceal a superbly analytical mind. She also has what one journalist called "a perfect instinct for power." (George Packer's definitive New Yorker profile is a gold mine of insight into this extraordinary woman.) As a woman, a scientist (quantum chemistry), and a product of East Germany, she was a triple outsider in German politics – and also a stark contrast to the chain of preening, macho men who preceded her.

Ms. Merkel breaks all the rules. She never tries to charm. Her hair seems never to have met a stylist. She resembles a frumpy German housewife, not a corporate CEO. She doesn't care about working women or gay rights.

One other thing. She's ruthless. Ms. Clinton bitterly complains that she was "shivved." By contrast, Ms. Merkel wields the shiv. "If you cross her, you end up dead," one source told Mr. Packer. "There's a whole list of alpha males who thought they would get her out of the way, and they're all now in other walks of life."

Germany and the United States are two different worlds, of course. The United States is intensely polarized, and Germany is not. My point is that there are many, many ways for women to succeed in politics, and Ms. Clinton's way is only one of them. Feminists have an irritating habit of assuming that only female politicians with overtly feminist agendas are legitimate, and that all others (Margaret Thatcher, for example) are gender traitors and/or pseudo-men. Maybe that's why they are oblivious to Ms. Merkel.

Hillary Clinton is right when she says that women in public life face extra challenges. But she's wrong when she implies that a defeat for her was a defeat for women. And it's doubly insulting for her to suggest that women are so weak-minded that they stayed home or voted against her just to appease their men.

She didn't lose because she was a woman. She lost because she was the wrong one.

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