Continuing on today's Plank theme of gender and politics, it's worth checking out Jonathan Alter's latest column, in which he writes:

Like most women in politics, [Hillary] lacks a critical asset. Male candidates can establish a magnetic and often sexual connection to women in the audience. (Just watch Bill Clinton, Obama or Edwards work a rope line.) Women candidates can't use sex appeal (except in France), which leaves them playing the sisterhood card.

This strikes me as slightly patronizing to women, in that it seems to assume they (but not men) need to feel some sort of personal attraction to a candidate in order to vote for him or her. And while it's no doubt true that it's easier for male than for female politicians to play the "I'm really hot" card, it can certainly be done. My politically cynical, tax-hating freshman year roommate from suburban Detroit sure was a huge Jennifer Granholm fan, for instance. In any case, of all the challenges Hillary faces, I have a hard time believing this ranks anywhere near the top of the list. Most pundits seem to agree Hillary's proven to be a surprisingly good presidential candidate, and that if anything, her gender's been an asset. Were she running against the 2004 Democratic field, she'd probably be doing fine. Her problems have less to do with any personal defect of hers than with the fact that her main opponent appears (at least at the moment) to be a once-in-a-generation political talent.

Then again, maybe there is something to Alter's theory. From today's Los Angeles Times:

Like hundreds of foreign journalists trying to make sense of an unsettled time in American political life, Nuala O'Faolain, who is covering the campaign for Dublin's Sunday Tribune, was still trying Monday to absorb it. She was especially baffled by Hillary Rodham Clinton's third-place finish.

"It's very difficult for a Clinton to do wrong in Ireland," she said. "There is a golf course in Kerry where Bill Clinton once played, and do you know that there is a statue of him there? Teenage girls gather around it . . . and they're called Monicas."

--Josh Patashnik