Opinion: The great neckline debate

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We may have the answer as to why Hillary Clinton appeared content Friday to let the dust settle in her flap with Barack Obama over how a president should go about dickering with rogue nations: She and her aides were ready to start another fight, this one with Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan.

In a piece a week ago that gained some attention, Givhan noted -- and reflected upon -- an outfit Clinton had worn on the Senate floor a couple of days earlier that displayed a slight amount of cleavage. As we said, the commentary attracted some attention. Now, due to umbrage taken by the Clinton camp, it’s getting A LOT of attention.

In a fundraising e-mail sent out to supporters, Clinton senior advisor Ann Lewis expresses shock and outrage that the Post ‘would write a 746-word article’ on the presidential candidate’s wardrobe choice. Lewis (whose commentary and solicitation exceeds 300 words) goes on: ‘I’ve seen some off-topic press coverage--but talking about body parts? That is grossly inappropriate.’


In making her pitch for cash, Lewis calls on her message’s recipients to, ‘Take a stand against this kind of coarseness and pettiness in American culture.’

The target of Lewis’ scolding is no slouch. Givhan won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. In explaining their choice, the award’s judges lauded ‘her witty, closely observed essays that transform fashion criticism into cultural criticism.’

We must confess, we didn’t read Givhan’s dissertation on Clinton’s clothes when it was published; we glanced at it (it ran on front of the paper’s Style section), took note of the headline and moved on. Now, of course, we have read it. Definitely provocative. And, though we couldn’t be less of an expert in this area, it does seem Givhan goes off on a bit of a tangent.

But ‘grossly inappropriate’? We think Lewis doth protest too much. Subtlety and nuance, however, are not a fundraiser’s tools.

We also have to wonder whether the Clinton crew might be trying to have it both ways.

On the one hand, Lewis is seeking out the high ground (or would that be high gown?) in denouncing Givhan. On the other, we imagine that--like us--a lot of folks who hadn’t focused on Givhan’s piece now have. And that can’t help but drive home Clinton’s undeniable moves to soften her persona.

-- Don Frederick