Hil­lary 2.0

Just who is the woman poised to be­come the 45th pres­i­dent of the United States? A look at how Hil­lary Clin­ton evolved from a first lady into a politi­cian in her own right

The Hamilton Spectator - - FOCUS - KAREN TU­MULTY

She would be­come a Rorschach test of how the coun­try felt about the chang­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of women, at home and at work. Was Hil­lary Clin­ton at the van­guard of the fem­i­nist move­ment, or had she be­trayed it by mar­ry­ing power, rather than earn­ing it?

ON FEB. 22, 1999, the coun­try’s at­ten­tion was riv­et­ted on the U.S. Capi­tol. For only the sec­ond time in U.S. his­tory, the Se­nate was set to vote on whether to re­move an im­peached pres­i­dent from of­fice.

But in the pri­vate res­i­dence on the sec­ond floor of the White House, the topic at hand was some­one else’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

First Lady Hil­lary Clin­ton had sum­moned long­time ad­viser Harold Ickes to dis­cuss a del­i­cate ques­tion: What would it take for her to be­come a sen­a­tor — specif­i­cally, to win an open seat in New York, a state in which she had never lived?

As the morn­ing dragged into an un­sea­son­ably warm af­ter­noon, Ickes gave her a crash course on the Em­pire State: its Demo­cratic Party struc­ture and rules, a list of 100 key lead­ers she would have to get to know, the dif­fer­ent elec­toral rhythms of up­state and down­state, its mine­field of multi-eth­nic politics.

By that sum­mer, the first lady was trav­el­ling around New York on a “lis­ten­ing tour.” The fol­low­ing Fe­bru­ary, she for­mally an­nounced her bid to re­place the re­tir­ing Demo­cratic Sen. Daniel Pa­trick Moyni­han.

“Politics is the art of mak­ing pos­si­ble what seems to be im­pos­si­ble,” she told a cheer­ing crowd of more than 2,000.

That also could be said of Clin­ton’s evo­lu­tion into a politi­cian in her own right, one who stands a sin­gle elec­tion away from be­com­ing the na­tion’s first fe­male pres­i­dent.

In some ways, this his­toric junc­ture can seem as though it was in­evitable, a part of the des­tiny that she be­gan to write with the elec­tri­fy­ing, sub­ver­sive speech she de­liv­ered upon her grad­u­a­tion from Welles­ley Col­lege in 1969. It landed her in Life mag­a­zine as a voice of her gen­er­a­tion.

Civil rights leader Vernon Jor­dan had met her that year at a League of Women Vot­ers con­fer­ence in Fort Collins, Colo. “It was clear to me when I met her in June 1969 that she had a fu­ture,” he says.

SOME­WHERE turned out to be Arkansas. Start­ing with her de­ci­sion to fol­low her boyfriend, Bill Clin­ton, and his am­bi­tions to Fayetteville, the next quar­ter cen­tury of her life would be a push and pull be­tween her de­sire to forge her own iden­tity and put her stamp on the causes she cared about, and the tight and tra­di­tional con­fines of be­ing a po­lit­i­cal spouse.

More than once, she would learn the hard way that step­ping be­yond those bounds car­ried a cost — for her­self and for her hus­band. And more than once, her per­for­mance in a sup­port­ing role would be cru­cial to his sur­vival.

The Clin­tons presented them­selves to the coun­try in 1992 as a new kind of part­ner­ship in politics. His charisma paired with her dis­ci­pline; his gut with her spine.

Dur­ing his first pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, there was spec­u­la­tion about a pos­si­ble cabi­net post for her. In­stead, he put her in charge of a health-care over­haul, his bold­est pol­icy ini­tia­tive. They quickly learned that the coun­try did not want what they had called a “buy one, get one free” bar­gain.

She found her­self at the cen­tre of a host of scan­dals and pseu­doscan­dals, from the in­trigue around the Clin­tons’ failed White­wa­ter real es­tate deal to the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance and reap­pear­ance of her law firm records to her sus­pi­ciously lu­cra­tive trades in cat­tle fu­tures. In 1996, be­cause of White­wa­ter, Hil­lary Clin­ton earned the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the only first lady in his­tory ever com­pelled to tes­tify be­fore a fed­eral grand jury.

Not un­til Bill Clin­ton’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was end­ing had she been free to con­sider do­ing some­thing that no first lady had ever done: put her name on a bal­lot for fed­eral of­fice.

Top Democrats had be­gun urg­ing her to run al­most from the mo­ment that Pa­trick Moyni­han an­nounced he was re­tir­ing. Her long­time friends ques­tioned it. It was ex­pected to be an up­hill race against the likely Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, New York Mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani.

“In a sense, I was a des­per­a­tion choice — a well-known pub­lic fig­ure who might be able to off­set Gi­u­liani’s national pro­file and his party’s deep pock­ets,” Clin­ton wrote in her mem­oir “Liv­ing His­tory.”

This was not the first time Hil­lary Clin­ton had con­sid­ered elec­tive of­fice.

IN 1990, the Clin­tons were ag­o­niz­ing over whether Bill should run for a fifth term as gover­nor of Arkansas, even though he was all but cer­tain that he would be mak­ing a bid for the pres­i­dency two years later.

As a gover­nor, he would be mak­ing un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions, per­haps such as rais­ing taxes, in the mid­dle of a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. But if he gave up that job and lost the White House — a likely pos­si­bil­ity — he might be washed up in politics.

Maybe there was a way to get the best of both al­ter­na­tives. The Clin­tons asked Dick Mor­ris, their poll­ster at the time, to find out what peo­ple in Arkansas would think of Hil­lary run­ning for gover­nor. If she won and Bill lost in his White House bid, he would still have his power base in his home state.

So the poll­ster did a sur­vey, and “I came to the con­clu­sion — it seems hard to be­lieve now — that peo­ple didn’t see Hil­lary as a sep­a­rate per­son, just as a part of Bill,” Mor­ris says.

Bill Clin­ton de­manded that Mor­ris take a new sur­vey — this time, re­mind­ing peo­ple of Hil­lary’s ac­com­plish­ments as a lawyer, her com­mit­ment to chil­dren’s causes and the work she had done lead­ing a state ed­u­ca­tion re­form ini­tia­tive in the early 1980s. The re­sults came back the same.

“I’ve al­ways be­lieved that was the mo­ment when she re­al­ized that she had to have her own achieve­ments,” Mor­ris says.

That Hil­lary Clin­ton would have to strug­gle to de­fine her iden­tity is some­thing that would not have been pre­dicted for the earnest high achiever from the Chicago sub­urb of Park Ridge. But things changed when Hil­lary Rod­ham fell in love with a husky, bushy-haired young man she met in the stu­dent lounge at Yale Law School in the au­tumn of 1970.

“He was tall and hand­some some­where be­neath that red­dish brown beard and curly mane of hair. He also had a vi­tal­ity that seemed to shoot out of his pores,” she later wrote.

Her de­ci­sion, four years later, to move to Arkansas had as­tounded her friends.

“Are you out of your mind?” one of them, Sara Ehrman, asked her. “Why on Earth would you throw away your fu­ture?”

Still, Ehrman agreed to drive her down to Fayetteville from Wash­ing­ton, where Rod­ham had been work­ing on the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s im­peach­ment in­quiry of Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon.

“Ev­ery few miles, she asked me if I knew what I was do­ing, and I gave her the same an­swer ev­ery time: ‘No, but I’m go­ing any­way,” Clin­ton wrote. Bill Clin­ton was al­ready teach­ing at the Univer­sity of Arkansas Law School, and she had an of­fer to do the same.

Hil­lary prob­a­bly thought the move was only tem­po­rary; Bill, 28, was al­ready run­ning for Congress from Arkansas’ Third Dis­trict. He lost. In 1976, a year af­ter their wed­ding, he was elected the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, and he be­came gover­nor two years af­ter that.

She be­gan build­ing a ca­reer of her own, mak­ing part­ner at Lit­tle Rock’s ven­er­a­ble Rose Law Firm in 1979, at age 32. In the elec­tion of 1980, Bill Clin­ton went from be­ing the youngest gover­nor in the U.S. to the youngest former gover­nor.

Hil­lary Clin­ton sprang into ac­tion. One of her first acts in plot­ting the come­back was to re­cruit Mor­ris, an abra­sive, bare-knuck­led New York po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant whom many in the Clin­tons’ or­bit viewed with sus­pi­cion, in part be­cause he worked for clients of both par­ties. Mor­ris does not think she did so with any in­ter­est in a po­lit­i­cal fu­ture for her­self.

“I got the im­pres­sion that it was an im­po­si­tion — that she had a nice le­gal ca­reer, and now she had to bail him out.”

Part of the strat­egy was to re­tool her own im­age. In Arkansas, “I was an odd­ity be­cause of my dress, my northern ways and the use of my maiden name,” she wrote.

Af­ter Bill Clin­ton’s re­elec­tion de­feat, “for the first time, I came to re­al­ize how my per­sonal choices could im­pact my hus­band’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture,” she re­called.

He made the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment that he was run­ning for his old job on their daugh­ter Chelsea’s sec­ond birth­day, Feb. 27, 1982. And on that day, Hil­lary Rod­ham be­gan re­fer­ring to her­self as Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton.

Yet Hil­lary Clin­ton did not fit any­one’s stereo­type of a po­lit­i­cal spouse — as quickly be­came ap­par­ent when Bill Clin­ton ran for pres­i­dent in 1992.

“If I get elected pres­i­dent, it will be an un­prece­dented part­ner­ship, far more than Franklin Roo­sevelt and Eleanor,” he told Van­ity Fair. “They were two great peo­ple, but on dif­fer­ent tracks. If I get elected, we’ll do things to­gether like we al­ways have.”

Hil­lary Clin­ton was a co­nun­drum for her hus­band’s han­dlers. “They didn’t get her. The peo­ple who were or­ga­niz­ing the cam­paign were a bunch of Wash­ing­ton types, and they didn’t quite get her,” her ad­viser Su­san Thomases said in an oral his­tory of the Clin­ton pres­i­dency col­lected.

“They pi­geon­holed her,” Thomases added. “She was so strong a per­son­al­ity that there were peo­ple who felt that when they were to­gether, her strong per­son­al­ity made him seem weaker.”

Still, when al­le­ga­tions about Bill Clin­ton’s ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs ex­ploded, they needed Hil­lary Clin­ton to be by his side for a post-Su­per Bowl “60 Min­utes” in­ter­view as the ul­ti­mate val­ida­tor.

ONCE SHE AR­RIVED in the White House, her man­age­ment of her hus­band’s health-care over­haul was a fi­asco. The plan by a 500-mem­ber task force never got a vote on the floor of ei­ther house of Congress.

Her health-care stum­ble also was a ma­jor rea­son that Democrats lost con­trol of Congress in the 1994 midterm elec­tion. Bill Clin­ton’s re­elec­tion prospects looked iffy. Even be­fore the mid-terms, Hil­lary Clin­ton was plot­ting her hus­band’s resurrection. In Oc­to­ber, she once again turned to the con­tro­ver­sial Mor­ris, whose ten­dency to see the un­der­side of things she con­sid­ered a coun­ter­bal­ance to her hus­band’s per­pet­ual op­ti­mism. He con­ducted a pri­vate poll that 30 per cent of the pub­lic viewed Bill Clin­ton as weak and that his mar­riage was a ma­jor rea­son.

Mean­while, Hil­lary Clin­ton had been seared by the health-care ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Some­times, I am sad­dened by her un­der­stand­able loss of spon­tane­ity,” Diane Blair, her close friend from Ar-

kansas, told Ann Black­man of Time mag­a­zine.

“It was one of her most en­dear­ing qual­i­ties,” said Blair, who died in 2000. “But in pub­lic now, she fil­ters out her first re­sponse, and some­times her sec­ond one, and that con­trib­utes to the sense that she is aloof and haughty. She has learned to be care­ful about what she says.”

So it was in both their in­ter­ests for Hil­lary Clin­ton to fade from view. Over the next few years, she rarely ven­tured into the West Wing; she stuck to safe is­sues, such as adop­tion and Gulf War syn­drome; she wrote a best­selling book about rais­ing chil­dren.

In the role her cam­paign now touts, the 1997 ex­pan­sion of health-care cov­er­age to unin­sured chil­dren (CHIP), Hil­lary Clin­ton op­er­ated largely be­hind the scenes and on the edges.

IN 1998, Bill Clin­ton needed to be res­cued yet again, af­ter his af­fair with White House in­tern Mon­ica S. Lewin­sky be­came pub­lic and set him on the path to im­peach­ment.

Just six days into the scan­dal, the first lady ap­peared on NBC’s “Today” show, and pointed blame at “this vast rightwing con­spir­acy that has been con­spir­ing against my hus­band since the day he an­nounced for pres­i­dent.” Not un­til much later, friends said, did she face up to the depth of his be­trayal.

In that year’s midterm elections, no Demo­crat run­ning wanted to be seen with him, but she was in de­mand ev­ery­where. And off she went. Dur­ing the last week be­fore Elec­tion Day alone, she hit nine states — twice in Florida and New York.

“I think she be­gan re­al­iz­ing her po­lit­i­cal strengths — chops, how­ever you want to put it — in that 1998 elec­tion,” said her long­time ad­viser Ann F. Lewis.

De­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions, the Democrats picked up seats in the House, in large part be­cause the Repub­li­cans had over­played their hand on the Lewin­sky scan­dal. And then, three days af­ter the elec­tion, Moyni­han an­nounced he was re­tir­ing.

Gi­u­liani with­drew from the race in the wake of rev­e­la­tions of his own mar­i­tal in­fi­delity. In his place, Repub­li­cans nom­i­nated Rick Lazio, a boy­ish four-term con­gress­man from Long Is­land. Hil­lary Clin­ton won by 12 per­cent­age points. She was re­elected six years later by a stag­ger­ing 36 points, car­ry­ing all but four of the state’s 62 coun­ties.

By then, she al­ready was lay­ing plans for a 2008 pres­i­den­tial run, where she was heav­ily favoured to win the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion.

CLIN­TON’S CAM­PAIGN, how­ever, was a disas­ter from the be­gin­ning.

She was a cau­tious front-run­ner, ex­actly wrong for an elec­torate that was look­ing for some­one fresh and ex­cit­ing. She had voted in favour of the 2003 Iraq in­va­sion.

On the other hand, Barack Obama, a fresh­man sen­a­tor from Illi­nois, was per­fectly suited for the mo­ment and had built a nim­ble, mod­ern cam­paign ma­chine.

Their pri­mary bat­tle stretched into June.

When she with­drew, she sup­ported Obama, but not with­out call­ing at­ten­tion to what she had achieved and the num­ber of votes she had re­ceived.

“Al­though we weren’t able to shat­ter that high­est, hard­est glass ceil­ing this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 mil­lion cracks in it,” she said to a cheer­ing crowd at the National Build­ing Mu­seum. Hil­lary 2.0 is a far dif­fer­ent op­er­a­tion.

She has put one prob­lem be­hind her: Hav­ing served as a sen­a­tor and then as Obama’s sec­re­tary of state, she has carved out an iden­tity of her own — and Bill Clin­ton is the one in the sup­port­ing role.

Now, the ques­tion is whether the plans that she and Ickes be­gan lay­ing more than 17 years ago in the White House will take her back there as the na­tion’s 45th pres­i­dent — and the first woman to sit in the Oval Of­fice.

Hil­lary Clin­ton speaks at a cam­paign event in Mi­ami. "Politics is the art of mak­ing pos­si­ble what seems to be im­pos­si­ble."

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