12/07/2005 04:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Condi, Hillary, Veronica, Betty

It must be an amazing week for the Germans; finally, thanks to this administration, they have a moment in time where they can be morally superior to the United States. Yesterday I found myself so grateful for German chancellor Angela Merkel for nailing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that I considered giving up my lifelong opposition to owning a Volkswagen; I even thought it might be about time for us all to take that long-postponed trip to the new, hot Berlin. (While in the neighborhood, we can of course “do” Auschwitz.) Meanwhile I hope someone will explain to Merkel how she managed to misunderstand Rice, who insists she did not say that the American government had made a mistake in kidnapping a German citizen and torturing him; what she claims she said was that if mistakes were made, they would be corrected. This is classic Ricespeak -- the passive hypothetical tense -- and it probably doesn’t translate well to Germans, who tend to be more emphatic.

I've been thinking a lot about Condi lately, when I haven’t been thinking about Hillary. They both make me feel bad, but for different reasons. I feel bad about Condi because in spite of her deliciously humiliating European adventure, she still seems to be enjoying this rock-star-slash-dominatrix thing; just last night, in the Ukraine, she coyly dismissed the suggestion that she might be a presidential candidate and giggled over the numerous references to herself as a warrior princess. Meanwhile, I feel bad about Hillary for all the obvious reasons, including this week's position on flag-burning and last week's position on Iraq (you can find it on her website).

Hillary Clinton went to Wellesley College a few years after I did, and I’ve always thought that the key to Hillary lay in understanding what Wellesley wanted in those days from its alumnae: you were meant to graduate, marry a powerful man, and preside over dinner parties in the following manner -- when the two men on either side of you disagreed violently, you were to step in and point out the remarkable similarities between their diametrically-opposed positions. You were meant to make nice. You were meant to find the middle. (If you actually went into politics, you were meant to work for the League of Women Voters, an organization that had no actual politics but was simply in favor of getting everyone to vote.) Condi Rice is seven years younger than Hillary and went to Stanford, but no question she caught the same disease, and it was doubtless aggravated by her years as a university provost, a job that consists entirely of smoothing things over. Most of Rice’s career has been spent saying nothing whatsoever; some days I’m almost nostalgic for the moment when she waxed her way into that famous mushroom cloud quote, even if it too was hypothetical.

By the way, this last weekend at the Kennedy Center Honors State Department dinner, Condi got up and gave a speech in which she said that being in a room with so many genuinely talented people reminded her of why she was right to give up her dream of being a concert pianist. I heard this from a friend who quoted it appreciatively, as if it proved that Condi at least had some respect for artists. Instead it made me wish with all my heart that someone had given her enough false encouragement to stick with the piano.

Meanwhile, I’m sorry to be dwelling simultaneously on these two women because I can feel myself being sucked into one of the most insidious natural laws in the universe: for every Veronica there must be a Betty. It should be possible for me to think about Hillary without thinking of Condi, and vice versa. And I would never buy into the possibility of a Hillary-Condi presidential contest; it’s so clearly the fantasy of people (like Dick Morris) who hate Hillary but want to pretend they have nothing against a woman running for president, per se. But like Betty and Veronica -- who except for their hair color look exactly alike -- Hillary and Condi are starting to blur together in my brain. As they inch their way toward the middle, both blowing smoke, it’s hard to know which of them I’m more irritated by: the one I can’t stand, or the one I’m going to be stuck supporting if she gets the nomination.