Hillary jokes have 'em roiling in the aisles

April 08, 1993|By Boston Globe

Have you heard the one about Bill and Hillary Clinton driving down a country road in Arkansas? They pass a filling station, see, and Hillary notices the guy pumping gas. "Hey, that's my old high school boyfriend," she announces.

"Boy," says Bill, "if you'd married him you'd probably be pumping gas, too."

"No," answers Hillary. "He'd be president."

Not since the days of Dan Quayle has a national political figure been such a triple-threat star of joke, one-liner and song as is Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But not everyone thinks it's funny. Hillaryesque humor is seen by some people as a comment on how many Americans, from TV monologists to water-cooler wise guys, are made uncomfortable by a powerful and ambitious woman.

Consider that political satirist Mark Russell observed the bumpy first weeks of the Clinton administration and declared on PBS, "The president is in full command . . . and so is her husband, Bill."

Or that columnist and commentator Mark Shields currently opens his speeches by announcing, "It's an exciting time in Washington these days. I have to confess, even as an old cynic, that it's fun to cover the new leader of the Western world . . . and her husband."

If all this appears unseemly, particularly at a time when Hillary Clinton's father is gravely ill, remember what happened when President Clinton himself spoke at the recent Gridiron Club dinner in Washington. Although Hillary Clinton was at her father's bedside in Little Rock on that evening, her husband assured laughing guests at the gala that "the opinions I will express tonight are those of my wife."

Patricia Ireland is not amused. The president of the National Organization for Women points out that Hillary humor runs the gamut from the mean to the affectionate, but she contends that "the overall theme is one of Bill Clinton being a wuss who's being bested by his wife. Washington passes off these comments as if they're jokes.

"All of this reflects the fact that people often make jokes when something makes them uncomfortable," Ms. Ireland adds. "They're trying to take a threat and their fear of it and make a joke. Many men are threatened by strong women and by women who are achieving a measure of political power."

Jay Leno would agree. The host of "The Tonight Show" on NBC says he won't traffic in who's-the-boss? jokes about Hillary Clinton. "I don't like them because they have a sexist kind of

overtone," he says.

"With a lot of Hillary Clinton jokes," Mr. Leno continues, "men will say them to men, but they won't say them to women because they know women understand what they're really saying with the joke. They're using the joke to sort of put somebody under their thumb."

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