"I think she's feeling incredibly confident about how good she looks," said Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, explaining why she offered the cover of the latest issue and an inside spread to Hillary Clinton. Ms Wintour wanted, she says, "to give [Mrs Clinton] her due" after a traumatic year, confirming that an appearance on the cover of Vogue is the posh equivalent of boudoir photography. This is a service which offers women with low self-esteem the opportunity to have a makeover and take home a portfolio of glamour shots, all soft focus and satin underwear, although the sitter - unlike, I assume, Mrs Clinton - usually has to pay for it.
Mrs Clinton was photographed last month by Annie Leibovitz, wearing an evening gown and with an impressive array of props. The pictures were taken in the White House and include Mrs Clinton sitting on an ornate sofa, next to an urn of red roses, and at a small breakfast table on the Truman balcony. They whisper words like "class", "tradition", "money" - old money, not the brash modern sort, which is ironic when you consider that her husband's legal bills, run up during his struggle to counter a sexual harassment suit and the prospect of impeachment, are believed to have left the couple strapped for cash.
But Mrs Clinton's startling reincarnation is emphatically not about being part of a couple. On the contrary, her regal bearing recalls Lady Diana Spencer, posing with Princes Charles for Lord Snowdon after her engagement was announced, except that the First Lady has dispensed with the presence of a man. The sub-text is not difficult to read, as the Times made clear in its excited response to Mrs Clinton's photographs. "If you doubt that Hillary Clinton is aiming eventually for high political office and probably for a new husband, take a look at the December issue of Vogue," it declared.
Even in Australia, where I have been giving a series of talks, Mrs Clinton's new appearance has prompted speculation about her future plans. She looks, said a long article in the Australian, "beautiful, relaxed and self-composed. She almost looks, dare we say it, presidential".
As the new issue of Vogue arrived on news-stands, the spectre at Mrs Clinton's feast - that other presence her cover works so hard to exclude - was being photographed in Manhattan. No flattering set-ups here, no elegant couture which would make the word "blowjob" shrivel on the boldest lover's lips: Monica Lewinsky was snapped in the street, "dour and bloated", according to the Australian, "munching on peanuts with a black hat pulled down over her face as a disguise".
Not a very effective one, clearly, and the paper could not resist crowing on Mrs Clinton's behalf: "The jilted First Lady is on the cover of Vogue. Call it vengeance". I suppose we could also call it "First Lady one, slut nil", which is a crude but honest way of interpreting the effect, if not the intentions, of the photo-spread. And the problems it raises are legion. Mrs Clinton has had a bruising year and, on one level, it is a relief to see her looking so composed. But the way she has chosen to stage her comeback inevitably places her in an adversarial position to Ms Lewinsky, a re-enactment of the tired old scenario in which, metaphorically speaking, the wronged wife shoots the other woman instead of her philandering husband.
More to the point, Mrs Clinton's assumption of authority in the White House is as shaky as ever, based not on her own achievements but on her marriage to Bill Clinton. He may not be in the photographs but, without him, she would not be posing on the Truman balcony either. It is also a depressing fact that Mrs Clinton, who used to be denounced as a bluestocking lawyer and a dangerous radical, is currently enjoying unprecedented levels of popularity. This is further confirmation, if any were needed, that powerful women produce hostile reactions until that magic moment when we begin to perceive them as wounded or, in Mrs Clinton's case, jilted.
What Mrs Clinton has done in prettying herself up for a glossy magazine may make her feel better. There is no doubt that it is winning her new admirers and inspiring adulatory profiles around the world, as well as scoring points over her husband and Ms Lewinsky. But it is very much the triumph of style over substance. What I see, when I look at the cover of Vogue is not a future presidential candidate. It is yet another female eunuch.Reuse content