WASHINGTON -- The last few days have offered vivid illustrations of why Hillary Clinton could decide not to run for president -- and why, in the end, I believe she will.
Example No. 1 is the ludicrous debate over whether Clinton, in the latest People magazine cover, was leaning on a walker.
To buy this scenario would require you to believe that People is implicated in a grand conspiracy to keep Clinton's enervated physical state from American voters. And that People's editors and Team Clinton are dumb enough, having hatched this scheme, to have her photographed with the walker cropped out, except not entirely. Rather than simply shooting Clinton seated on, say, the patio chair that she was actually holding in the photo.
The fact that the phantom walker was even a topic of public debate says everything about the wacko media environment that uniquely surrounds Clinton.
"PHOTO: IS CLINTON HOLDING A WALKER?" the Drudge Report tweeted. Right, not saying she is. Just askin'.
The Washington Free Beacon chimed in with a semiotic analysis of the People cover. "The cover looks innocent enough, but a close analytical reading reveals what can only be interpreted as a deliberate effort to call attention to the former secretary of state and Goldman Sachs affiliate's advanced age," editor Andrew Stiles wrote, noting the proximity of the word "grandmother" to Clinton's hands on "what a layperson might reasonably assume to be an old person's walker."
People's subsequent denial -- accompanied by a photo that showed Clinton walking on her own -- only served to further inflame the Free Beacon. The photo "is also inexplicably grainy, out of focus, and devoid of color -- unlikely to satisfy skeptics," Stiles wrote. "What's REALLY going on here?"
I think we know. This is Clinton Derangement Syndrome on steroids, reminiscent of the Hillary-murdered-Vince-Foster delusions two decades earlier. It is worth paying attention to only because of the role this phenomenon may play in Clinton's decision-making on a presidential run.
The argument against running boils down to this: Clinton enjoys a comfortable platform from which to work on issues she cares about, without enduring the distorted spotlight of an out-of-control right-wing media/political machine. Why spend the best remaining years of her life dealing with such nonsense when the alternative could be so gratifying and so much more pleasant?
The most recent answer to this question -- and Example No. 2 -- came in the unexpected form of Vladimir Putin. Clinton had compared the Russian president's actions in Ukraine to Adolf Hitler before World War II. Questioned about those remarks by French journalists -- the compulsion to focus on Clinton knowing no national boundaries -- Putin responded in trademark style, bullying and chauvinistic.
"It's better not to argue with women. But Ms. Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements. Still, we always met afterwards and had cordial conversations at various international events," Putin said. "When people push boundaries too far, it's not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman."
Putin is a master of the strategic needle. How interesting that his put-down begins and ends with Clinton's gender. Women aren't significant enough to be worth arguing with. I prefer my women weak.
This gender-specific dismissiveness is as nonsensical in its own way as the walker kerfuffle. Putin is simultaneously accusing Clinton of being too strong (insufficiently feminine and "graceful") and too mild. Either way, in Putin-land, she is a woman; therefore, she is a lesser creature.
Which is why, ultimately, I think Clinton runs. Nothing is going to change Putin's attitude toward women generally or Clinton specifically. But it would be interesting to see if Putin dared to try this overt sexism with a female president of the United States. I'd guess he would tone it down.
Either way, Putin's boorishness underscores the importance of cracking that glass ceiling. Certainly, sexism, overt or subtle, isn't about to evaporate with a single election.
But as Clinton well understands, having more women in powerful positions, and the fact of a woman in the ultimate power position, will both hasten the trend and discomfit the chauvinists. Putin's misogynist elbow-jabbing serves as an ugly -- and timely -- reminder of the unfinished business of equality.
And, at the risk of sounding insufficiently graceful, I'd enjoy the prospect of making Putin endure more of those "cordial conversations" with his fellow world leader.