Can we get Hillary without the foolery?
The ‘will she run?’ question is increasingly redundant – of course she’s running
Hillary Clinton addresses the Vital Voices Global Partnership Awards gala. Photograph: Cliff Owen
Please don’t ask me this any more. It’s such a silly question. Of course Hillary is running. I’ve never met a man who was told he could be president who didn’t want to be president. So naturally, a woman who’s told she can be the first commandress in chief wants to be.
“Running for president is like sex,” James Carville told me. “No one ever did it once and forgot about it.”
Joe Biden wants the job. He’s human (very), but he’s a realist. He knows the Democratic Party has a messianic urge to finish what it started so spectacularly with the election of Barack Obama: busting up the world’s most exclusive white- bread old boys’ club. And he knows that women, both Democratic and Republican, want to see one of their own in the White House and become even more militant while listening to the GOP’s retrogressive talk about contraception and vaginal probes.
Also, Joe genuinely likes Hillary. These two have no appetite for tearing each other apart. As long as there are no more health scares, Hillary’s age won’t stop her. The Clinton scandals and dysfunction are in the rear-view mirror at the moment and the sluggish economy casts a halcyon glow on the Clinton era.
Hillary is a symbol and a survivor, running on sainthood. Ronald Reagan, elected at 69, was seen as an “ancient king” gliding through life, as an aide put it. Hillary, who would be elected at 69, would be seen as an ancient queen striding through life.
She was supposed to go off to a spa, rest and get back in shape after her gruelling laps around the world. Instead she’s a tornado of activity, speaking at global women’s conferences in Washington DC and New York, putting out a video flipping her position to support gay marriage and signing a lucrative deal for a memoir on world affairs. All this as PACs spring up around her, Bill Clinton and Carville begin to foment and Chelsea makes the cover of Parade , talking about how “unapologetically and unabashedly” biased she is about her mother’s future.
“I can’t see her taking it easy and sitting on the couch eating a bowl of popcorn,” said Ran- dall Johnston (25), a New York University student who was passing out “Ready for Hillary” signs outside the Lincoln Center last Friday, while her icon was inside enthralling the crowd at Tina Brown’s Women in the World conference.
“She’s gone to hell and back trying to be president,” Carville said. “She’s paid her dues, to say the least. The old cliche is that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line, but now Republicans want a lot of people to run and they want to fall in love. And Democrats don’t want to fight; they just want to get behind Hillary and go on from there.”
The real question is not whether but whither. Does Hillary have learning software? Did she learn, from her debacle with healthcare, to be more transparent and less my-way- or-the-highway?
Did she learn, after voting to support W’s nonsensical invasion of Iraq without even reading the intelligence estimate, that she doesn’t need to overcompensate to show she’s tough? Did she learn from her money pit of a campaign in 2008 how to manage an enterprise?
Did she learn, when she wrapped herself in an opaque mantle of entitlement in the primary, that she’s perfectly capable of charming reporters and voters, without the obnoxious undertone of “I’m owed this”?
Even top Democrats who plan to support Hillary worry about her two sides. One side is the idealistic public servant who wants to make the world a better place. The other is darker, stemming from old insecurities; this is the side that causes her to make decisions from a place of fear and to second-guess herself. It dulls her sense of ethics and leads to ends-justify-the-means ways.
This is the side that compels her to do anything to win, like hiring the strategists Dick Morris and Mark Penn and greedily grabbing for what she feels she deserves.
If Obama is the kid who studies only on the night before and gets an A, Hillary is the kid who studies all the time, stays up all night and does extra credit work to get the A. She doesn’t know how not to drive herself into the ground.
As Carl Bernstein wrote in his Hillary biography, A Woman in Charge , her insecurities grew from her herculean effort to win paternal praise. “When Hillary came home with all As except for one B on her report card, her father suggested that perhaps her school was too easy, and wondered half-seriously why she hadn’t gotten straight As.”
The idea of Hillary is winning, a grand historical gender bender – first lady upgrading to president. But is the reality winning? The Clintons have a rare talent for finding puddles to step in. Out of public life, can she adapt and make the leaps needed, in a world changing at a dizzying tempo, to keep herself on top?
Her challenge is to get into the future and stay there, adding fresh people and perspectives and leaving the Clinton craziness and cheesiness in the past. The real question is this: when people take a new look at her in the coming years, will they see the past or the future – Mrs Clinton or Madam President?
– New York Times service