Cautious Hillary icily assesses politically frozen US
Opinion: Clinton’s claim that she is no longer scripted and safe is not credible
Hillary Clinton interviewed by Diane Sawyer on ABC: “When you’re in the spotlight as a woman, you know you’re being judged constantly.” Photograph: Reuters/Martin H Simon/ABC
No one wrote about blondes like Raymond Chandler.
“There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters and the big statuesque blonde who straight- arms you with an ice-blue glare,” he wrote in The Long Goodbye. “There is the blonde who gives you the up-from- under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home.”
There’s the pale, anaemic, languid blonde with the soft voice. “You can’t lay a finger on her,” Chandler notes, “because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original”.
None of his descriptions, however, conjures the two regal blondes transfixing America at the moment: Hillary and Elsa.
Those close to them think that the queen of Hillaryland and the Snow Queen from Disney’s Frozen have special magical powers, but worry about whether they can control those powers, show their humanity and stir real warmth in the public heart.
Just as Elsa’s coronation suddenly became fraught, so has Hillary’s. Like Arendelle, America is frozen: the war still rages in Iraq, the Clintons still dominate the political scene and Hillary still obsesses about money, a narrative thread that has existed since she was thwarted in her desire to build a pool at the governor’s mansion in poor Arkansas and left the White House with a doggie bag full of sofas, rugs, lamps, TVs and china, some of which the Clintons later had to pay for or return.
As a Clinton White House aide once explained to me, “Hillary, though a Methodist, thinks of herself like an Episcopal bishop who deserves to live at the level of her wealthy parishioners, in return for devoting her life to God and good works.”
After feeling stifled at times and misunderstood, after suffering painful setbacks, the powerful and polarising Elsa and Hillary proclaim from their lofty height that they’re going to “let it go” and go for it. “I don’t care what they’re going to say,” Elsa sings at the climactic moment when she decides to ratchet up her star power and create her glittering ice palace. “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway!”
Hillary had a similar cri de coeur in her interview with Diane Sawyer. When Sawyer asked her about the focus on her appearance that once kept her so “scripted, cautious, safe”, Hillary replied: “When you’re in the spotlight as a woman, you know you’re being judged constantly. I mean, it is just never-ending. And you get a little worried about, okay, you know, people over on this side are loving what I am wearing, looking like, saying. People over on this side aren’t.
“You know, your natural tendency is how do you bring people together so that you can better communicate? I’m done with that. I mean, I’m just done.” She continued: “I am over it, over it. I think I have changed; not worried so much about what other people are thinking.” She vowed to now “say what I know, what I believe, and let the chips fall”.
It is not believable that Hillary Rodham Clinton will suddenly throw caution and calculation to the wind. Having market-tested the gender-neutral model in 2008, this time Hillary is presenting herself as a woman who has suffered the slings and arrows of sexism.
Her apology for being “wrong” about voting to authorise George W Bush to invade Iraq took 11 years to spit out. If some bold voices had fought going into a patently unnecessary war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 – a war, waged ignorantly for silly, macho reasons, that was never properly debated or planned in the White House – the US would not be in a global crouch now and Iraq would not be a killing field.
Hillary’s new memoir, like her last one, is a testament to caution and calculation. It doesn’t feel written so much as assembled by a “Hillary for president” algorithm. There isn’t one surprising or scintillating or provocative word in the whole book. Hard Choices is inert, a big yawn.
In her “If they’d listened to me” mode she is distancing herself from the president on Syria, Russia and the Bergdahl trade because she does not, as Republican strategist Matthew Dowd puts it, want to be defeated by Obama twice.
The opening of her book tour/presidential campaign has featured some stumbles, causing some commentators to wonder if she has grown rusty and tone-deaf, isolated in the ice palace she erected to keep out the loathed press.
No one doubts that Hillary is tough and knowledgeable. But the question of how scarred and defensive she is, given all the fights and rough times she has gone through, and how that affects her judgment now, is a legitimate one.
Has she given up the my- way-or-the-highway imperiousness that doomed her health care efforts? Has she toned down the defensiveness that exacerbated the Whitewater affair? Has she modified the ends-justify-the-means mindset that allowed her to participate in the vivisection of young women she knew Bill had been involved with? Has she tempered the focus on political viability that led her to vote to allow W to scamper into a vanity war? Has she learned not to surround herself with high-priced mercenaries such as Mark Penn and Dick Morris?
In the last few days, two women interrogators have rattled Hillary’s ice palace gates with questions that were obvious and reasonable.
With Sawyer, Clinton said she hadn’t known enough to know the Benghazi outpost was unprotected, despite what ambassador Chris Stevens had called “never- ending security threats.”
On NPR’s Fresh Air, Clinton grew testy when Terry Gross pressed her on whether the decision to finally publicly embrace gay marriage was a personal evolution or a political “calculus” – now that it’s not as much of a political liability and now that the court has dismantled the dreadful Defence of Marriage Act, which her husband cravenly signed into law in 1996. Clinton said she couldn’t do it as secretary of state. But the vice-president was not constrained from saying what was in his heart and pushing the president in the right direction.
What Elsa discovers at the end of Frozen is that her powers can actually be used for good, once her heart is filled with love. She escapes from her prison, leaves behind the negative things and leads her kingdom to a happy and prosperous future.