The wrong woman

>> Saturday, April 05, 2008

I can't help thinking about the whole thing with Hillary Clinton. I should probably let it go, I know. I think Slate is guesstimating Senator Clinton's chances of securing the nomination at somewhere around 9%. The conventional wisdom at this point is that there's just no way she can secure enough delegates to stay in, even if she were to consistently win the popular vote in the next few big states.


But I can't help thinking about the whole thing. I don't mean the primaries, so much as the things she's said and that her supporters have said and the way she's running her campaign. Sometimes it makes me angry but I think it's also making me a little sad. She's an intelligent woman, a capable woman, an accomplished woman. But she's the wrong woman.


When you look at the kinds of lies she tells about Bosnia, the way she characterizes her experience, I have to think that somewhere in her head Hillary Clinton thinks she's Eleanor Roosevelt. FDR's health issues pushed Eleanor Roosevelt into an unconventional position for a First Lady--she was called on to act as a proxy for her husband as a President and as a campaigner, and after her husband's death she became the matron of her party, the Grand Dame of the Democrats. Even fifteen years after FDR's death, Senator John Kennedy was obligated to make a pilgrimage to Eleanor Roosevelt to curry favor and seek her endorsement--something Kennedys weren't particularly used to doing.


(A completely irrelevant aside: it's been a while since I've been to the Rathskeller in Chapel Hill, but they used to have a great photo on display of Eleanor Roosevelt eating at the Rat. It's become nearly impossible for me to think of Ms. Roosevelt without that image passing through my head.)


After the whole national health care proposal turned into a fiasco, Ms. Clinton receded into a much more traditional First Lady role, if there is such a thing. And, even more unfortunate (and hardly her fault) she became First Lady to a President whose historical legacy is likely to remain his unfortunate impeachment. Eleanor Roosevelt was the widow of the man who (at least in the minds of many) won the Second World War and ended the Great Depression.


Senator Clinton thinks she's Eleanor Roosevelt, and she isn't. And her whole campaign, I think, is built around that conception of herself. It's regrettable because she isn't Roosevelt, and it may be regrettable because Ms. Roosevelt's era is gone, too--women are under-represented in the higher echelons of government, but they are present and represented throughout to a vastly greater degree than they were in Ms. Roosevelt's lifetime, where a woman might be a kingmaker but never the monarch. I suspect this is another part of Senator Clinton's confusion about the collapse of her candidacy; she's not Eleanor Roosevelt, and it's not Eleanor Roosevelt's time to lead.


Of course a woman will be elected President, and probably in the near future. But I'm thinking it won't be from Roosevelt's generation or from Clinton's.


And as for Senator Clinton, it's a sad thing and a thing most of us have a hard time facing to realize that we're not what we thought we were. It would be a wonderful thing if she came to terms with being Hillary Clinton: like I said, she's an accomplished woman.


But she isn't the woman she thinks she is.





2 comments:

Nathan Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 6:43:00 PM EDT  

I'm not sure I quite agree with the Roosevelt comparison. Not so much whether its true or not, just that I don't think it's the central issue.

When Bill first took the White House, Hillary, as evidenced by the Health Care Fiasco™, was clearly trying to transform the First Lady's position into that of Co-President. She had the delusion that the American people had elected her First Lady every bit as much as they had elected Bill. She was quickly disabused of that notion.

Then when Monica-gate happened, she stood by her man, partly, I believe for the sake of his political career and in equal portion for her own. Don't for a minute think she didn't start pocketing chits with Democrats all over the country for throwing herself on her sword.

Next thing you know, she's elected to the Senate from her new home in New York by a landslide. (NY will pretty much elect a Democrat even if he's dead pedophile running against the likes of Colin Powell.)

So, anyway, here we are in 2008 and in Hillary's head, she's entitled to the presidency. She's sacrificed and sacrificed for her Party and she deserves to be the candidate dammit. And who is this upstart to try to take it away from her.

This sense of entitlement which just oozes from her pores is what's finally really turned me off to her. And don't look for it to make her behavior improve any time soon.

Eric Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 12:15:00 AM EDT  

The point with the Roosevelt comparison is that it isn't true; Senator Clinton is nothing like Ms. Roosevelt. But I am thinking that in her mind there are favorable comparisons. I could be wrong--I'm no psychic.

(If I am right, the Roosevelts' deep connection to New York may also have a certain psychological resonance for Senator Clinton.)

The co-presidency thing is a part of that. One of the things many people don't realize is that a marital co-presidency has a sort of shadow precedent--actually two shadow precedents. The first was Edith Wilson, who served as a surrogate when Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke during his second term in office. The second was Ms. Roosevelt, who frequently acted as a kind of in-the-field proxy for Franklin Roosevelt, who was physically handicapped by polio.

I have to think the Clintons were aware of those precedents and initially saw Ms. Clinton's role in the White House as being an open expansion of those kinds of roles. The problem with looking to Wilson and Roosevelt as precedents, though, is that Wilson's role was kept secret at the time and Roosevelt's role wasn't openly acknowledged as what it was (i.e. the pretense was maintained that FDR could go wherever and do whatever he wanted, but was too busy with running the country to make the kinds of public appearances that Presidents before and after made--but he could send the First Lady in his stead).


The precedent the Clintons should have looked to during the health care fiasco, in my opinion, was the Kennedys. JFK appointed RFK to AG as an extremely qualified and capable individual who just happened to be his brother. I don't know that the Clintons could have finessed Ms. Clinton's role as "trusted, knowledgeable advisor who just happens to be married to the boss," but it would have been less arrogant than the co-presidency airs that were assumed.

I don't deny the air of entitlement Senator Clinton presents, or the fact that it's offensive.

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