Posted on February 19, 2000
A weak campaign by a weak woman
Hillary Clinton's detractors, so we've been told repeatedly, dislike her because they "fear a strong woman." Well, it's true that many people fear the First Lady. After all, this is the woman who has ordered White House employees to avert their eyes when they see her coming down the hall. She is the one who hired political thug Craig Livingstone, the central figure of the FBI files scandal. She's also the one who directed the firings of the White House Travel Office staff, who were subsequently harassed by a baseless criminal investigation. When Mrs. Clinton has power, she wields it ruthlessly, but is that strength?
Although the legend of The Strong Woman implies leadership qualities on Mrs. Clinton's part, there have been several early indications that she is not even in control of her own Senate campaign. The first of these was the announcement of her candidacy itself, during which she read her speech one syllable at a time, in a manner that makes Al Gore's speaking style seem fluent by comparison. The uncharacteristic choppiness of her delivery was due to the obvious fact that the words she spoke were not hers. The radical feminist Yale lawyer seemed as uncomfortable as anyone to hear the poll-tested words, "I am a New Democrat" spill from her mouth. After her speech, she stood with her supporters in a semicircle and clapped along with them, as if they were all applauding the empty podium in the middle of the stage.
A minor scandal erupted over the music which was played at this event, which left many onlookers puzzled and offended. The controversial song was Billy Joel's "Captain Jack," which, for those unfamiliar with it, is apparently a love ballad about a woman and her auto-erotic device. Mrs. Clinton claimed not to have known that the song would be played, which is certainly believable. The tune of "Captain Jack" is every bit as dreary as its lyrics. Nobody would choose it as background for a pep rally. The fact that it was played has a distinct Disneyish stench to it, as if an immature staffer had a jolly snicker over injecting such naughtiness into an outwardly respectable setting.
Then there was Hillary's visit to a diner in the upstate town of Albion, where she was given her breakfast on the house, and neglected to tip her waitress. Many of her critics jumped at the opportunity to accuse her of being cheap. Nobody, however, thinks she is stupid. Even the most miserly among us would not risk promoting that image while running for office. Anybody in the First Lady's position would have tipped handsomely. The problem for her was that this was not just a meal, it was a campaign stop, and she must have figured that one of her handlers would take care of it.
In no sense can Mrs. Clinton be considered a strong candidate. Even by the standards of today's politicians, she has been excessively handled, as if spontaneity were recognized as a primary threat to her campaign. She prepared to make her run by taking a "listening tour" through the state. This was essentially a series of directly observed focus groups, conducted so that she could learn to become an authentic New Yorker. Hence she has "always been enamored" with the Yankees, and she has expanded her vocabulary to include the word "aayyyyy!" Convinced yet?
For all the questions swirling around Hillary Clinton (Whitewater, the travel office, the stolen files, and her shady cattle futures deal, just to name a few), one might expect The Strong Woman to step forward and explain herself, but she is no more forthcoming now than she was when she was under oath. If she wanted to assume a leadership role, she would go on cable TV and face tough questions from the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Chris Matthews. She might even phone in to the Rush Limbaugh Show. But to this point, she hasn't even been willing to appear on the networks, where the hosts would surely be sycophantic. Her campaign's idea of a tough interview is a scripted appearance on Late Night with David Letterman.
Never, throughout Hillary's tenure as First Lady, has she demonstrated the qualities of The Strong Woman her supporters claim her to be. The Hillary who has been hiding from the press and asking voters what she should say to them is the same Hillary who has, in the White House, sought the guidance of psychics and gurus. Candidate Hillary is the same person as Co-Victim Hillary, who blamed her husband's crimes on "this vast right-wing conspiracy."
Even when given a policy initiative, Mrs. Clinton shunned responsibility and forthrightness, by holding the meetings of her Health Care Task Force in secret, illegally. After the 1,362 page bureaucratic nebula failed to materialize into law, she receded into the background, never again to publicly assume an executive role in her husband's administration.
Hillary came to Washington in 1993 as the "Co-President," presumably ranking above the second in command. She even drew up her own floor plan, according to which she would occupy the West Wing office traditionally reserved for the Vice-President. Al Gore, according to Hillary's blueprint, would have been moved out of the White House altogether, and across the street to the Old Executive Office Building.
Needless to say, Gore found this arrangement disagreeable. A power struggle ensued, in which The Strong Woman was doomed to defeat the moment her foe stood up for himself. Gore retained his rightful office, and has since left no doubt that it is he who ranks second in the Clinton administration. It wasn't a total loss for Hillary, though. She still managed to stake a claim to an office in the West Wing, by displacing press secretary Dee Dee Myers and banishing her to a hastily furnished closet.
Nothing, though, has exploded the Legend of the Strong Woman like her own unwillingness to stand up to her husband, even in defense of his many female victims. It's understandable that Hillary would have no sympathy for Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky, both willing participants in Bill's depravity, but what about the women who resisted?
The facts squarely against President Clinton in his impeachment hearings, his strategy consisted mostly of a public relations campaign, which suggested that the Senate should consider matters of guilt or innocence to be subordinate to public opinion. This was an easy proposition to sell, since the Democrats were desperate for an excuse to acquit him anyway. Hillary's role was to shape public opinion. This particular scandal was a marital problem, the spin went, so as long as the First Lady wasn't angry, nobody else had a right to be. By standing by her man, Mrs. Clinton drove the getaway car for her husband, as he robbed Paula Jones of her civil rights.
Hillary must have known immediately, based on her husband's denials, that Jones was telling the truth. When first confronted with her accusations, President Clinton claimed that he and Jones had never been alone in the Excelsior Hotel. We now know from his Grand Jury testimony that he would consider this to be a true statement, as long as they weren't the only two people in the entire building. He might even consider it impossible to be alone with somebody in the first place. Even more transparent were the repeated explanations from his lawyer, Bob Bennett, that "President Clinton never exposed himself to Paula Jones." It was important that he phrase it that way, because to a lawyer, the statement was arguably true, for the simple reasons that President Clinton was then Governor Clinton, and Paula Jones was then Paula Corbin.
During one of his phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky, President Clinton said that he couldn't settle with Jones because "hundreds" of other women would come forward. How many of those hundreds are, like Jones, totally innocent victims of his behavior? It doesn't matter to Hillary, who has done nothing to prevent Bill's smear-and-scare campaigns against inconvenient women.
When Jones came forward with her lawsuit, Clinton attack dog James Carville depicted her as the sleazy one, remarking, "Drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you'll find." In an open declaration of the administration's intent to obstruct justice, the "Ragin' Cajun" later declared "wahw" on independent counsel Ken Starr, and is suspected of sicking investigative smut-peddler Larry Flynt on Clinton's enemies in Congress. Where is Carville now? Why, working on Hillary's Senate campaign, of course.
The Strong Woman has been, at best, passive, while her philandering husband and his infamous "bimbo eruptions" squad have intimidated women, some of whom have been guilty of nothing more than wandering onto the radar screen of Bill Clinton's libido. To compound her weakness, she excuses his mistreatment of women by blaming it on...women! As she explained to Talk magazine, "There was terrible conflict between his mother and grandmother. A psychologist once told me that for a boy, being in the middle of a conflict between two women is the worst possible situation. There is always the desire to please each one." Got it? The women in Bill's life are responsible for his desire to please women, as if, when he drops his pants and tells a woman to "kiss it," he is only trying to satisfy her.
Just like in her 1992 appearance on 60 Minutes (another contrived CBS interview), Hillary Clinton was planted before the media like a scarecrow, to chase away the president's pests. Having arrived in Washington with the biggest of plans, she has been relegated to the role of a prop. When the polls show that Bill needs her disapproval, she is taken from the White House and sent on vacation to North Africa without him. When the polls say Bill needs her forgiveness, she is taken for an impromptu dance on the beach.
She has been forced to endure this humiliation by her own lust for power, because she needs Bill to be alive politically in order to nourish a parasitic career of her own. Now that she is campaigning for herself, however, she remains a prop, speaking and gesturing like a marionette at the podium. The machinations of her husband's defense strategy have left her too conditioned to passivity to take control of her own words and actions. Like a muscle which has gone too long without exercise, Hillary's strength, assuming it ever existed, has been incapacitated by its own dormancy.
Return to Shinbone
The Shinbone: The Frontier of the Free Press
Mailbag . Issue Index . Politimals