Sarah Sands: Hillary the wide-eyed shrew drives the Pumas to McCain

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The Independent Online

One of Hillary Clinton's dazzling political characteristics is her refusal to play by Queensbury Rules. You can usually tell when the kick in the groin is coming, because her eyes widen becomingly. That is the moment she will murmur that Barack Obama is not a Muslim "as far as I know". Or, with baffled good nature, that she would continue to reach out the hand that Obama had refused to shake. (No matter that she had turned her back on Obama so many times previously that he merely flinched from another put-down. )

When Obama was sensitive and graceful, Hillary turned herself into a gum-chewing cowgirl, laughing at his fancy-pants manners. When he was tough, she shrank from his lack of gallantry. She boasted about her 3am balls of steel, and then she blinked back tears. Most audacious of all, this Delilah destroyed Obama's powerful rhetoric.

First, she mocked him as a Messiah figure with his celestial choirs – an image now employed as a deadly weapon by the Republicans. Thus Obama was forced to introduce Gordon Brown stodge into his Denver speech. Then she and her husband hinted at the race issue as a voting negative, just enough to make sure that Barack and Michelle Obama did not dare to mention their colour.

Astonishingly, Hillary went on to identify herself, in her speech last week, with the runaway slave Harriet Tubman. It was Hillary, it seemed, who owned the legacy of Martin Luther King, rather than Obama.

Delivered in a mesmerising low shout, Hillary quoted Tubman: " If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they're shouting after you, keep going." The travelling sisterhood of pantsuits burned with historical grievance and love for Hillary.

She is always at her best when she is wronged and unbowed. Women forgave her everything after her husband humiliated her and they fell in love with her all over again when states and superdelegates cast her off. She became an avenging angel for all the slights and disappointments experienced by women in their own lives.

Like Diana, Princess of Wales, another woman whose signature is engraved in the female psyche, she managed to make her own unusual circumstances a symbol of female fate.

I have watched Hillary Clinton speak, just as I used to watch Princess Diana, disapproving of her transparent wiles and egotism, yet with my heart full. It is remarkable how Hillary's speeches improved once she was out of the race. When she was winning, she was strident and stiff and inhuman. But she has become a glorious martyr for female betrayal.

Barack Obama did not change, but Hillary did, and women will stick with her now for better, or more likely, for worse. The diehards are called Pumas – Party Unity My Ass. The sisterhood of travelling pantsuits is joining forces across the world.

Michelle Obama gave a graceful speech last week, but was made to look like an insipid Bianca alongside Hillary's Katherine, the untamed shrew. The torch passing from mother to daughter is a civil-rights gesture, not Michelle's kindly maternal token.

As Hillary the avenger said earlier: "It would break my heart if, in falling short of my goal, I in anyway discouraged any of you from pursuing yours ..."

While the female audience in Denver wiped away tears of regret for Hillary's untimely exit, her cry for feminist achievement was heard in the camp of John McCain. And it is McCain who, in making Sarah Palin his running mate, has given a woman a chance. Who will the Pumas vote for now?

Sarah Sands is editor-in-chief of British 'Reader's Digest'