What Hillary can learn from the movie about Elizabeth

Queens are meant to be looked at, not touched. Early in the new film "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," England's Elizabeth I, played by Cate Blanchett, is bored by a bad date. Watching, at close range, is a flock of curious courtiers; her suitor, a stuttering continental royal, is clearly terrified by the mob. Ever gracious, the queen offers some advice. Her secret for life in the public eye, she tells her companion, is to pretend she lives behind "a pane of glass." It keeps her safe, cuts her off from the courtly crowd. "They can't touch me," she says. "You should try it."

"Elizabeth" is worth watching in the midst of this election season even if it offers us little escape. The Virgin Queen's world, after all, is in many ways our own. A nation is in peril. Bitterly divided at home, it vacillates between two warring dynasties. Threatened by dark forces abroad, it worries that a decisive moment is coming when one great empire will rise and another will fall. And a female leader is struggling to maintain her femininity while proving she can rule as well as any man. Watching it, I couldn't help thinking of Hillary Clinton, quite possibly the next president of the United States, a woman who often seems to live behind her own plate of glass.

I should say that at times "Elizabeth" made me never want to mention Hillary Clinton's gender in the pages of NEWSWEEK again. The film underscores brilliantly how simple-minded, how often irrelevant, our discussions of women and power can be. In one scene the queen's astrologer stumbles after referring to "princes of the female gender," and quickly corrects himself: "princes who happen to be female." Elizabeth just seems bored. All too often we sound like that astrologer: how many column inches have already been wasted on what title ("First Gentleman"? "The President's Husband"?!? "The First Laddie"?!?!) Bill Clinton will hold if his wife wins the White House? Could anything possibly matter less?...

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