"I have a crush on her," my husband said one Sunday morning last spring while pouring batter on the waffle iron. That kind of comment would normally disturb me, but he was talking about someone on TV. Just a harmless fantasy crush, the kind of thing that keeps a marriage lively. I stopped slicing a strawberry and turned, curious, to look at the screen. It was tuned to Meet the Press. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice filled the screen.
Huh? I dropped the strawberry.
"Isn't she cute?" He lowered the waffle iron lid and paused there, smiling at the television.
My husband's never been one to go for movie stars and other classically beautiful women (thank goodness for that) but Condi Rice? Those teeth? That hair? And don't forget she's the ubermistress of our disastrous foreign policy. If that isn't bad enough: she's a Republican. Were my husband's politics changing right before my eyes? Would this spell the end of our happy Lefty life together?
I suddenly remembered, with relief, that Condi had just returned from Europe where her stiletto boots had made a big splash. That would explain his attraction. I put down the knife.
"It's just the hot S&M boots, isn't it?" I said.
"Yes," he said. "And the gap in her teeth, her little flipped hair."
Hmm. Time for a reality check. I picked up the knife and stabbed it toward the screen.
"She's pure evil. You know that, don't you?" I expected him to agree to that, at least. I was ready to then concede there could be a certain erotic appeal to the combination of sexy boots and a Carol Brady hairdo. But no.
"I don't think it's pure evil," he cooed. "It's corrupted goodness."
If some men are turned off by women in power, why isn't Condi, one of the most powerful women in the world, not a threat to my husband? Because of another common male response to strong female leaders: downplaying her autonomy and ascribing her flaws to the influence of others. It's not sweet little Condi's fault that she's doing bad things; she's been corrupted by forces out of her control.
When men assess women in power as sex objects first and contributing members of society second, the results are never good. Women know this. We have to walk a fine line between being effective and appearing too successful. Just ask Senator Hillary Clinton. Even as her popularity rises in-state, the tight knot of people who hold visceral grudges against her --- known in politics as Hillary haters --- hold steady. They act like they're personally under siege. They put terrible stickers on their bumpers. It makes a girl think.
What does it say about me that my husband likes Condi, the power player in stilettos? For the record, I used to have sexy boots. I used to discuss world politics on my frequent trips abroad. True, I wasn't meeting with world leaders; I was sharing Dunhills with cute boys I met on the train between Rome and Paris. But still.
Did I make a tactical error by leaving my big computer job to follow my husband on his nomadic medical-training journey? Certainly I would have been hotter if I'd pursued world domination instead of bearing his whelps. If I'd aligned myself with an oil magnate and pressed for war, war, war!
Here's a chilling thought. Maybe it's not so much Condi's actual achievements as her public demeanor with President Bush that appeals to my husband. Like everyone in Bush's inner circle, Condi's better than the best wife. Endlessly loyal. Blind to his faults. In instances when she might say, "Yes, Mr. President," I would be swinging the frying pan.
"Air strikes over Iran --- are you fucking kidding me?" I'd shriek. "Could you finish Iraq first? Or, at least, finish painting the bathroom?" No wonder Condi looks so good.
As for teasing my husband about his current infatuation, I don't have a stiletto to stand on: MSNBC talking head Chris Matthews sets my heart a-flutter. I know: stupid. But so what that he's been sucking up to Republicans --- including, notably, Tom DeLay --- lately. When he smiles, he lights up the room.
Plus Chris is blonde and pro-choice, and well, I'm a sucker for a Philadelphia accent. (Sigh.) I've been writing all over my notebooks: Mrs. Chris Matthews. I hear Chris might run for Pennsylvania Senate! Mr. and Mrs. Senator Matthews are cordially invited.....
My husband's and my obsession with right-wing pols and pundits has me concerned, though. Is it some kind of Stockholm syndrome? With the entire government held hostage by Republicans are we, in our desperation, cozying up to the power players? Or maybe we're just spending too much time following the news. And if so, why aren't we drawn to Lefties?
First of all, when it comes to hot male Dems, the pickin's are slim. Locally, Mayor Bob Duffy springs to mind, but that's a little close to home. John Kerry? All pillow talk and no action. John Edwards? No fantasy love-object is allowed to be prettier than me. Al Franken? Funny can only get you so far.
I don't know about my husband, but perhaps my attraction to a conservative means I harbor some perverse desire to be treated as a second-class citizen. "Baby, I'm only worth 72 cents to your big, hot dollar." But wait, how did Condoleezza Rice --- a woman, an extremely smart one at that --- rise to power in a party that generally discriminates against women? She must be really good. And she caught my husband's eye. It's going to take more than sexy footwear to put me back in the game.