WASHINGTON — Of course there had to be a critique of her jacket, the fitted tangerine number she wore to a nationally televised Democratic debate in July. And if you’ve followed the psychoanalytic theories offered up about Hillary and Bill Clinton over the years, you had to anticipate the L-word, too: “How do you respond to the occasional rumor that you’re a lesbian?” Sean Kennedy of The Advocate was compelled to ask. (“It’s not true,” she answered.)

We’ve endured the great cleavage colloquy about a V-neck she wore beneath a perfectly senatorial suit while speaking on the Senate floor. This was followed soon enough by Freudian chatter about the Clinton “cackle” — is it for real? Or is her robust laugh just a sign that she’s feeling pretty good about her front-running campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination?

So goes the preliminary psychobabble over what is, for an awful lot of people, the positively unnerving prospect of the first female president. The opening rounds were predictable enough, but they didn’t slow Clinton’s rise to the top of the presidential campaign pyramid. So a new theory of how to Stop Hillary Clinton Now is offered: Deny American women the right to vote.

Granted, this bit of political wisdom sprang from the lips of right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, whose barbed tongue has been known to wag faster than her brain’s ability to keep up. But surely a deep dread of a Democrat as president — let alone the creation of an icon for the ages in the person of Hillary Clinton — has some folks unhinged.

“If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president,” Coulter told The New York Observer. “It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.”

This sentiment wasn’t heard in 2004, when “security moms” were all the rage. These were former “soccer moms” who were presumably so scared that their kids would be attacked by terrorists that they raced from the practice fields to the protective embrace of George W. Bush.

There’s a reason the media pay such attention to the political mom-of-the-moment: White, married, women are the only group of women among whom Republicans can make substantial electoral inroads. In the 2006 congressional elections — while women voters as a whole were powering Democrats to control of Capitol Hill — married women actually cast their ballots for Republicans, 50 to 48, according to a CNN exit poll. But 64 percent of unmarried women voted Democratic.

And as it happens, they practically adore Clinton. They see her as “strong, smart, tough, experienced,” Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster who studies women’s political attitudes, told me in the early months of the 2008 campaign. “And they’re not as sensitive to the personal issues as married women are — they’re not married. They don’t have all this Sturm und Drang about whether she should have stayed with (Bill) or not.”

So who among these women would Coulter return to political bondage? Are they elderly grandmothers? Widows of servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? Women who’ve divorced an abusive or violent husband? Single mothers who work at Wal-Mart by day and waitress at the diner by night?

All of the above, apparently.

Coulter, responding to my queries by e-mail, told me that though women comprise more than half the American electorate, their “fecklessness” is a problem and so they shouldn’t be allowed the ballot. At least she does not go so far as to say she’d strip only Democratic female voters of the suffrage. After all, there’s no definitive way to tell a 2004 “security mom” from a 2008 Clinton stalwart. “Our girls won’t protest,” Coulter said of Republicans. “They’ll take a hit for the cause.”

The cause is not only electing a Republican president. It’s keeping a woman out of the White House. “This has been a long-standing position of mine,” Coulter says of her desire to disenfranchise women. However, the prospect of the first female president is “yet another predicate of why women should not be allowed to vote.”

The sexist static surrounding Clinton’s candidacy has given way pretty quickly to misogyny, and she hasn’t yet won a single primary. What comes next — binding her feet?

I do not doubt that Clinton is ready for this ugliness. Are we?

Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.

© 2007, Washington Post Writers Group

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