Why Hil­lary can’t get too close to Bill

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Suzanne Fields

The fem­i­nists got one thing right. The per­sonal is po­lit­i­cal. The phrase is stretched out of shape to cover a mul­ti­tude of oc­ca­sions, but as a rock­bot­tom truth it holds up. Just not the way it was orig­i­nally in­tended.

Fem­i­nists of the ‘60s used it to iden­tify their sub­ju­ga­tion. They held end­less con­scious­ness-rais­ing ses­sions to be­rate the men in their lives, as well as the “con­ser­va­tive val­ues” that forced on them cul­tural roles of “gen­der” rather than sex­ual, as de­ter­mined by bi­ol­ogy. They iden­ti­fied mar­riage and moth­er­hood, in Betty Friedan’s mem­o­rable phrase, as “liv­ing in a com­fort­able con­cen­tra­tion camp.” That was hy­per­bole, vul­gar and per­verse.

But as women were ed­u­cated and en­tered the job mar­ket in huge num­bers, sex­ual pol­i­tics changed. Bill Clin­ton cam­paigned with Hil­lary in 1992 promis­ing vot­ers they could “buy one, get one free.” That didn’t sell; Amer­i­cans don’t like some­one they didn’t vote for ex­er­cis­ing power over them. In her own cam­paign for pres­i­dent, Hil­lary is run­ning on “their” record in the White House, but sug­gests her hus­band will be an ad­viser, not a co-pres­i­dent. (If you be­lieve that, I’ve got a Jef­fer­son Me­mo­rial to sell to you, a nice week­end cot­tage on a lake shaded by cherry trees.) If their last name were “Wol­fowitz,” Hil­lary would find work for Bill out­side the White House.

“First Man” is just not the same as “First Lady.” Bill would never com­plain about be­ing ex­pected to stay home and bake cook­ies, but he com­plains a lot about be­ing on the street af­ter eight years as the most pow­er­ful man on the av­enue. Bill’s friends and ac­quain­tances con­fided to Bob Tyrrell, for his re­veal­ing book “The Clin­ton Crack-up,” that de­spite his trou­bled ten­ure in of­fice, Bill hates be­ing out of of­fice: “In fact, wher­ever he is right now, what­ever he is do­ing, you can be cer­tain that he would rather be at 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue.”

When Queen El­iz­a­beth II vis­ited Wash­ing­ton re­cently, re­porters and colum­nists went gaga, cheer­ing Amer­ica’s love af­fair with roy­alty. Bri­tain’s Econ­o­mist mag­a­zine ob­served that it didn’t take a visit from a Bri­tish monarch to give the White House an “air of roy­alty.” Royal fever is con­ta­gious. If Hil­lary is elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, “the world’s great­est democ­racy will have been ruled by ei­ther a Bush or a Clin­ton for 28 years straight.” Or as Michael Barone put it, “Bush Clin­ton, Bush Clin­ton. It sounds like the War of the Roses.” That’s not ex­actly a royal flush, but it does add a di­men­sion to the fus­ing of the per­sonal with the po­lit­i­cal. Bill’s cel­e­brated promis­cu­ity has not risen to the level of Henry VIII when the king lost his head over a wo­man, she was likely to lose hers later — but his White House rut­ting in­evitably con­cerned af­fairs of state.

Mon­ica Lewin­sky was less about a sex­ual li­ai­son than about the way it ex­posed the pres­i­dent’s lack of dig­nity and self-dis­ci­pline. When he lied un­der oath about it, the per­sonal be­came the po­lit­i­cal and im­peach­ment fol­lowed. Hil­lary Clin­ton dealt with it by turn­ing the per­sonal back to po­lit­i­cal, in­vent­ing “a vast right-wing con­spir­acy” to blame ev­ery­thing on. We can ex­pect her to re­vive this fan­tasy as needed.

For now, she un­der­stands that the less said about all that the bet­ter. Many women say they’ll vote for Hil­lary be­cause she’s a wo­man, count­ing on the herd men­tal­ity. But this un­der­es­ti­mates the think­ing women and it’s coun­tered by men who vow they’ll vote for any­one but Hil­lary. Cam­paign ‘08, once it ac­tu­ally gets here, is likely to be is­sue-ori­ented, and fears of Is­lamist ji­had will trump other con­cerns.

Hil­lary must be wary about too close an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with Bill, pop­u­lar though he is in many quar­ters. Bernard Lewis, the em­i­nent scholar of Is­lamist ter­ror, ar­gues that the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion gave Osama bin Laden the idea that Amer­ica was weak, in­de­ci­sive and vul­ner­a­ble when Bill Clin­ton didn’t re­spond to the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on his watch — the first World Trade Cen­ter bomb­ing in New York in 1993, at­tacks on U.S. sol­diers in Mo­gadishu in 1993, the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing in Riyadh in 1996, the at­tacks on the Amer­i­can em­bassies Kenya and Tan­za­nia in 1998 and the as­sault on the U.S.S. Cole in Ye­men in 2000.

Hil­lary is nev­er­the­less bet­ting that her hus­band is more pop­u­lar than she is and he can raise money and warm up her im­age. His South­ern drawl is the real thing, too. He knows that she knows that he owes her, big. He’s her se­cu­rity blan­ket. But se­cu­rity blan­kets lead to de­pen­dency and when they dis­ap­pear tears and tantrums typ­i­cally fol­low. Freud said both love and work were im­por­tant in life — but not nec­es­sar­ily in the same place.

Suzanne Fields, a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times, is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

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