As an Obama supporter, I am deluged daily — when I go to the Obama blog — with shocked and angry expressions of dislike for Hillary Clinton. And there crops up, with clockwork regularity, a little piece by Clinton intimate turned Clinton enemy, Dick Morris, that implicitly and explicitly puts the worst of glosses on the New York Senator.
All of this set me to wondering about the real Hillary Clinton and I think I have her about as well as anyone could. In point of fact, she is neither the devil incarnate nor the necessary answer to what we want in a President.
She is a resourceful and talented woman who threw a promising career to the winds to become Hillary Clinton, the resourceful and talented and doubtless frustrated and ambivalent, spouse of the man who had things she did not. That would be Bill Clinton.
Both Bill and Hillary did have one thing in common — it’s also something they have in common with Barack Obama.
All three of them were smart, resourceful and talented persons who were not born to privilege. But each in their own way hit the society when meritocracy was starting to replace sheer privilege. And all three of them managed to prosper handsomely. We are talking Ivy League, media access (Hillary made the cover of LIFE as a prococious Wellesley student, Barack edited the Harvard Law Review, Bill was a Rhodes Scholar from Hope, Arkansas) and formidable doses of ambition.
I realize I should include Michelle Obama in this. But that raises a whole additional line of inquiry.
Is it any wonder that Hillary is idolized by women of a certain age, containing within herself all the righteous indignation of the tag end of the first wave of post-civil rights feminism? A generation a trifle too advanced in age, for the most part, to conquer. But damned well willing to go to the wall for the late-blooming spouse of Bill who now seeks the big prize of all big prizes.
The most objective and insightful short gloss on Hillary Clinton that I’ve found is this brief interview with Carl Bernstein, the Watergate reporter who has recently published a biography of Hillary.
What I come up with in a sort of holographic impression of Hillary as neither a demon nor a paragon, but a mix of the two, the product of where she is now on her journey.
The behavior and body lingo she has displayed recently seems to me to be a distillation of the same bilious dismissal that she gave Senator Ed Brooke as an extemporaneous speaker and student leader at Wellesley four decades ago.
She has the same capacity for scorn that Barack has. Bill has it too but he translates it into clever and often hideously transparent monologues designed to win whatever point he happens to be trying to make.
And now this is Hillary’s pay-back time.
Pay back for Monica.
Pay back for her own desperate but defensible choice to pursue Bill’s rather than her own career track.
Pay back for her own palpable deficiencies, revealed in her vindictive behavior in the White House Travel Office mess and her administrative lapses in attempting to run her current campaign.
All of the manic energy Hillary Clinton now displays is a distillation of this determination to pay back and have it all. Because that combo is distictly American, something F. Scott Fitzgerald could have described with damning accuracy, she mesmerizes in spite of our horror and convinces us of her viability despite the numerical absurdities.
Reality has almost ceased to matter. We are in a miasmal mist. This is a go-for-broke strip tease. The clothes of the Empresses and Emperors, American arriviste in style, are willingly doffed. Finally, like cocks in some hazy Arkansas pit, Hillary or Barack manage to become — the last person standing.
Dick Morris reminds us that Hillary interned with Bob Truehaft in 1971 and that this Oakland lawyer was indeed a Communist Party member whose clients included the Panthers. So what? Who didn’t know Communists at a certain time? Big deal.
Chelsea suggests to me that Hillary has been a good mother whether or not she has done all she suggests she did with and for children.
Dick quotes Bill: “Hillary could have written her own job ticket, but she turned down all the lucrative job offers.”
This is true. She did give up what might have been a bright future as the better known of the couple years ago.
That she apparently did not pass the DC bar exam is neither here nor there. Once she went for Bill, we must assume some formidable losses of both momentum and face. The ways of love. How many other talented women of that era went through exactly the same accommodation?
All of Hillary’s Arkansas existence seems to me proof that she was always a combination of opportunist and idealist, smart person and dogmatist, snob and incipient politico.
What impresses me most about Hillary Clinton is that, according to Bernstein, she wrote her Wellesley thesis on Saul Alinsky and concluded that his grass roots organizing efforts were inadequate to solve problems, that government programs were needed to address intractable social issues.
This is substantially correct. Barack understands that too.
But Barack, who has also written on Alinsky (along with me), fuses Alinsky with cyber-power.
If he wins it will be because of this fusion.
And Hillary, who dismissed Alinsky, though the Clintons later communed with Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) folk, proved herself a poor organizer and administrator in terms of her own campaign. And cyber-deficient. In fact everything good she has picked up, absent the Penn-Wolfson nasty stuff, has been from Obama.
Obama has in fact been Hillary’s Deval Patrick. Rather shameless of her, I must say.
The Morris bill of particulars concludes with two points that seem to be salient:
Bill says: “Hillary didn’t succeed at getting health care for all Americans in 1994 but she kept working at it and helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that provides five million children with health insurance.”
FACTS: Hillary had nothing to do with creating CHIP. It was included in the budget deal between Clinton and Republican Majority Leader Senator Trent Lott. I know; I helped to negotiate the deal. The money came half from the budget deal and half from the Attorney Generals’ tobacco settlement. Hillary had nothing to do with either source of funds.
Bill says: “Hillary was the face of America all over the world.”
FACTS: Her visits were part of a program to get her out of town so that it would not appear that Hillary was running the White House. Her visits abroad were entirely touristic and symbolic.
The ultimate question for me is whether it would make a major difference if Hillary were President. I am forced to conclude, despite my willingness to cut her some slack, that the answer is yes. It would make a difference in the direction of a very bad choice.
She could be exemplary and still fail miserably because of the horrendous way she got the job. Her fighting through all the challenges to wrest the nomination would wreck the party. Her election would guarantee a likely continuation of our gridlock politics.
Barack differs from the Clintons in being emotionally sympatico with the civil rights movement in a way the Clintons could never be. They are a trifle too late to have been part of that movement and their commitments have little to do with the resonance of a beloved community. I also feel that Barack is a fundamentally nicer human being than either Hillary or Bill. This is not to denigrate them. I am sure they are nice enough.
I also feel Barack has leadership capacities and ideas beyond the scope of the Clintons, precisely because he has dreamed larger than they ever did.
Experience and judgment issues are irrelevant to a choice. Barack and Hillary are a wash.
What is relevant is whether Obama can be more than smart.
Can he be great?
I think greatness is interactive. I think the Obama movement may be great and something of which the Clintons have only the slightest inkling.
If that is correct, then perhaps two conclusions can be drawn.
1. That movement will win.
2. That movement will end up moving beyond the immaturities of demonization to a more balanced acceptance of a spectrum understanding of human nature and the world.
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