Lowering the Brow: The Tricky Thing About Hillary

It’s amazing to me how The Atlantic always manages to get exactly one issue ahead of the news cycle. When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in Iraq in June, it was the July cover that boasted his profile (albeit a … Read More

By / September 30, 2006

It’s amazing to me how The Atlantic always manages to get exactly one issue ahead of the news cycle. When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in Iraq in June, it was the July cover that boasted his profile (albeit a rather mediocre and unenlightening one at that.) Now comes November’s sneak-peak issue with the renascent Mrs. Clinton, who made this week her own by giving the most intelligent and impassioned speech against the Senate’s passage of the detainee bill. Even her harshest critics – many of these have been to the left of the Democratic Party – have admired Hillary’s tough stance on the wars (in Iraq, Afghanistan and on terror in general) and her willingness to deliver what might be called opportunism with a human face. Nothing she has ever done in her life has been without poll-tested calculation to serve her own ambition. I’m beginning to think this is the new form of popular democracy – where elected representatives don’t have to think for themselves because Zogby’s already taken care of that for them. This may be a small tribute that cynicism pays to honesty in America, and the longer Clinton has served as senator, the more she’s stooped to impress.

This is Joshua Green in The Atlantic:

In her campaign for the Senate, Clinton took nothing for granted. Someone who worked closely with her told me that the Clintons’ decision to live in Chappaqua rather than New York City derived in part from polling information showing that New York’s conservative upstate denizens were more willing to support a Democrat from the suburbs than one from the city, which summoned images of heavy-spending liberalism. Her campaign was a triumph of bite-size policy proposals like the adoption bill she’d introduced with DeLay, all extensively poll-tested by her senior adviser, Mark Penn, who had helped right the listing White House ship after the 1994 elections with just this kind of strategy. In his book Hillary’s Turn, the definitive word on her 2000 campaign, Michael Tomasky dubbed Clinton “The Laundry Lady” for her style of speech making, which consisted mainly of a seemingly endless list of modest, unobjectionable policies—she called it “the school of smaller steps.” By the time she was sworn in, Clinton was substantially transfigured: she was humble, deferential, and, at last, victorious.

There’s a very funny section in the piece where Green imagines how his questions engender little Hillary thought bubbles of tomorrow’s headlines, should she answer indelicately:

I asked which job she liked better, and she replied that they were very different and that she liked them both. (Washington Post: “Clinton Denounces First Lady Role.”) I asked how she compared her political strengths and weaknesses to her husband’s, now that she’d served a full term in the Senate, citing Podesta’s observation that she was a disciplined, deep thinker. Clinton visibly recoiled: “I don’t talk about that.” (New York Times: “Clinton Calls Husband ‘Shallow,’ ‘Undisciplined.’”) Retreating to safer territory, I wondered how she had displaced the legitimate anger she surely felt when she was in the White House toward some of her current colleagues. “I had a job to do,” was the considered reply. (New York Post: “HIL STILL AIMS TO KILL!”)

The self-pity comes later: “Everything I do carries political risk because nobody gets the scrutiny that I get,” she said finally. “It’s not like I have any margin for error whatsoever. I don’t. Everybody else does, and I don’t. And that’s fine. That’s just who I am, and that’s what I live with.”

Still, as a mid-level functionary who just so happens to be one of the most recognizable politicians – and persons – on the planet, Hillary hasn’t a got a prayer at the White House, and it has very little to do with why conservatives despise, but rather, with why some of them are even beginning to like her:

Today Clinton offers no big ideas, no crusading causes—by her own tacit admission, no evidence of bravery in the service of a larger ideal. Instead, her Senate record is an assemblage of many, many small gains. Her real accomplishment in the Senate has been to rehabilitate the image and political career of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Impressive though that has been in its particulars, it makes for a rather thin claim on the presidency. Senator Clinton has plenty to talk about, but she doesn’t have much to say.

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