Her main occupation has consisted of being the long-suffering wife of a powerful man, infamous for treating subordinate women as disposable conveniences, who abused her ruthlessly and humiliated her publicly. In exchange for standing by her man, she was given an orphaned Senate seat in New York, where she did not live, and two shots at the presidency, which she lost to an unknown back-bencher from Chicago in 2008 and to a reality-television host in 2016.
Margaret Thatcher she isn’t.
She is back to her habitual form of paid work: making speeches that are so vague as to be nearly content-free, her famous face and bland, almost affectless mode of speech serving as a kind of blank screen onto which those gathered can project their fantasies about having been present for Something Very Important.
Whatever that might be.
This week’s speech was for the MAKERS conference, a project of AOL, which still exists. MAKERS is a collection of Web videos about famous women, featuring exactly the sort of women you’d imagine appealing to midlevel executives of AOL, which still exists: Lena Dunham, Oprah Winfrey, Shonda Rhimes, Lilly Singh. The women of the world were, one assumes, simply crying out for well-lighted videos of humorless American (Miss Singh is Canadian, i.e., American Lite) multimillionaires repeating the most tedious banalities imaginable. And so they now have them, courtesy of AOL, which still exists.
Mrs. Clinton’s remarks were remarkable for one line:
“The future is female.”
That line caught the attention of Le Figaro, which breathlessly headlined a report: Hillary Clinton: “Oui, l’avenir est féminin!” It is likely that the editors at Le Figaro are better-read than Mrs. Clinton is and recognized the sentiment from the contemporary French novelist Michel Houellebecq, who used the line in his dystopian novel The Elementary Particles. Houellebecq, an aging hedonistic intellectual who writes very sad novels about aging hedonistic intellectuals, imagined a future in which sexual rivalry and unhappiness between the sexes both have been abolished with a single master-stroke: the abolition of the human race and its replacement by an engineered successor species that reproduces asexually and is entirely female.
Perhaps that is not what Mrs. Clinton has in mind.
Houellebecq was probably having some fun with the declaration of the poet Louis Aragon that la femme est l’avenir de l’homme, woman is the future of man.
Aragon’s expression has made several other appearances: Jean Ferrat sang it, and Hong Sang-soo used it as a film title. Houellebecq’s version was rendered “The Future Is Feminine” in the English translation rather than the splashier and much more commercial-sounding “The Future Is Female” (an error in judgment, I think; it is intended to be a commercial-sounding slogan), but the idea is the same. In a more recent novel, Submission, Houellebecq solves the same problem in a different way: a near-future France knuckles under to Islam, and aging hedonistic intellectuals, exploiting the fact that professors in France enjoy a much, much higher social status than they do in the United States, go in enthusiastically for polygamy and arranged marriage.
In the English-speaking world, “The Future Is Female” has had a different sort of career, having been taken up as the motto of lesbian separatists in the 1970s and then reborn as a popular T-shirt in recent years — which, Americans being Americans, has given rise to litigation about who owns that daft phrase.
My bet is that Mrs. Clinton took the line from the T-shirt, or rather that one of her minions did. (Speechwriter for Mrs. Clinton must currently be the saddest job in all politics.) A T-shirt is about as deep as she goes. Like Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton likes to talk about the importance of art (or “the arts,” as such people habitually put it) and culture and the like but does not seem to have read very many serious books in the past 40 years or so, or to have thought very seriously about anything she has read. Progressives enjoy the life of the mind a great deal . . . in theory. Michael Tracey of “The Young Turks,” one of those predictable lefty types who like to go on about how much they love science and how deeply they care about the environment, took to Twitter earlier this week to ask for help in identifying an exotic bird he encountered in Texas City. It was a pelican.
Darwin, yes; Audubon, not so much.
I suppose it is just barely possible that Mrs. Clinton used “The Future Is Female” in tribute to radical feminists in the Age of Nixon, when she was first getting her real start in politics, and goodness knows that all those years of enduring marriage to Bill Clinton must fill one with a certain aspirational longing vis-à-vis the whole touchy subject of lesbian separatism. That she has been thinking about the works of Michel Houellebecq and the funny professional problem of how one would go about marketing human extinction is even more unlikely. (Though if ever there was a really convincing ad campaign for human extinction, it was Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 presidential effort.)
There are great works of literature that have some bearing upon the public career of Hillary Rodham Clinton (you would not believe how many performances of Macbeth I have seen in recent years), but she isn’t reading contemporary French novels in her spare time, even in translation. (Like President Trump and President Obama, but unlike the current Mrs. Trump and either of the Presidents Bush, Mrs. Clinton, purportedly the most intellectually accomplished woman of her generation, does not know a foreign language. Melania Trump speaks five languages.) Mrs. Clinton is in fact a familiar political type, whose intense and lifelong focus on the pursuit and maintenance of that pettiest and most ephemeral of things — political power — has left her intellectually stunted, which is obvious to anyone who ever has heard her speak. No doubt she already is planning her 2020 campaign, without anyone around who cares enough to explain to her why this is absurd. She is, in truth, a tragic figure.
Bereft of anything like an original thought, she tends to repeat dopey slogans like “The Future Is Female,” without giving much thought to what they mean.
Which, in this case, is nothing.