The second bout of public tears just before a crucial primary vote - after no evidence that Senator Hillary Clinton has a history of tearing up in front of the cameras - provokes the unavoidable question: should feminists actively vote against Clinton to defend the cause of female equality?

She is, it should be conceded, the most viable female candidate for the presidency in history. But feminism isn't just about women wielding power. Female monarchs and despots have ruled throughout history - and it was no thanks to feminism. Few would see Elizabeth I or a dynast like Eva Peron as feminist role models. What matters is not that they came to such prominence; but how they did it. Inheriting office is no achievement. In some ways, inheriting it, when you could have won it alone, is a rebuke to feminism. What marks a true feminist is a woman who gains democratic office through strictly Clintonstanhondaafpgetty meritocratic means. Think of Margaret Thatcher: a woman who came from lowly beginnings to master a chemistry degree and a legal career in the 1940s and 1950s, who won a seat in parliament single-handedly and eventually became a three-term prime minister for the Conservative party. Yes: the Conservative party. You think she didn't have to deal with prejudice and chauvinism? More than Hillary Clinton will ever know. But she never engaged for a second in the gender politics and nepotistic shenanigans that Clinton has. Thatcher had a rich husband but he was not a stepping stone to politics. She had two children, but never used them for public attention or photo-ops. She did it all - indisputably - on her own merits.

Hillary Clinton could have done the same. She is an extremely intelligent woman, with a strong work ethic, an attention to detail, a passion for helping children, and a fascination with politics. She remains one of the leading lights in her generation. If she'd wanted to, she could have forged a political career on her own, and done splendidly. She chose not to. She chose to form a long-standing alliance with the man she married, to fuse her own political persona with a man's, and to win her first national power - as First Lady, with authority to remake American healthcare - without ever being directly elected to anything.

Yes, she subsequently sought election in her own right to the Senate.

And her career there shows what a trail blazer she could have been for feminism. A skilled, cautious, pragmatic and constituent-focused legislator, she began to build a Senate career admired by many. But it became clear pretty soon that the Senate was indeed merely a stepping stone back to the White House. It also became clear that she had absolutely no qualms about using her husband's former office, unrivaled party clout and acute political skills to advance her current, long-planned campaign. Bill was wielded as an attack-dog, in an unprecedented abuse of the prestige and honor of the Oval Office in the service of a campaign proudly dealing in blatant nepotism. It was an act of corruption by a corrupt dynasty fearful they couldn't win re-election without pulling every lever they had.

There were also, of course, the now famous New Hampshire tears - to evoke sympathy. And the blunt appeal on gender grounds alone. And the refusal to disavow the use of her husband for her own political purposes, even as he told lies and cast racist aspersions about her opponent. And, on the eve of Super Tuesday, the tears again. Can you imagine a male politician breaking down in public the day before a crucial vote - and expecting it to help?

It's time feminists realized that Clinton is a dream gone sour. If you believe in women in politics, in female leaders who lead by themselves, on their own merits, with no strings to pull and husband-presidents to rely on, do yourself a favor and vote for Obama.

One day, there will be a woman worth electing to the White House. But not this one.

(Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty.)