Don't Cry for Me, Oneonta
Can it be that Bill Clinton is merely a prequel, the horse she
rode in on?
By Lance Morrow
July 5, 1999
Web posted at: 11:15 a.m. EDT (1515 GMT)
The election results come to me in dreams. My kitchen table hops
and thumps like a flamenco dancer. I ask it, "How do you think
Hillary Clinton will do against Giuliani? What about the
presidency in 2004?" The table tells me Hillary is a great
American story forming. I seem to hear the distant voice of
Madonna singing the lead.
Perhaps the table is talking me into something. I am a sucker for
the opinions of agitated furniture. Sometimes I believe my
television set when the Sunday-morning fortune-tellers are on.
But it comes to me that with the Clintons, like it or not--and I
do not, much--we are in the middle of a primal American saga and
the important part is yet to come. Bill Clinton may be merely the
prequel, the President of lesser moment--except, so to speak, as
the horse she rode in on.
Do not underestimate Hillary Clinton's ambition, or her destiny.
It is no small thing. At the moment, condescension droppeth as
the gentle rain upon Hillary. Last week Jack Newfield, in the New
York Post, wrote an "imaginary secret diary entry" in which poor
Hillary wonders, "Am I running to solve a mid-life crisis? To get
even with Bill? ... I'm not sure who I am anymore ... Where did I get
so lost?" When the idea of a New York Senate race first surfaced
in February, George Stephanopoulos gave Hillary a pat on the head
and advised her not to run: "You don't need to prove anything."
Such smugness lacks imagination. The polls have Mrs. Clinton (not
yet formally announced but house hunting in Westchester County
and running hard) just about even with New York City Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani. She heads into upstate New York this week on a
five-city swing (Oneonta, Utica, Syracuse, Albany, Cooperstown).
But forget early polls. Over time, all great stories are subject
to transformation, surprise, sudden unexpected bloom.
Hillary Clinton has good instincts and is, I suspect, a
lightning-fast learner. My seance informs me:
--The carpetbagger issue hurts Hillary now but will matter less
and less as her media presence saturates the state in the months
to come--Hillary everywhere on local news, wearing that Yankees
cap, kissing babies, talking to mothers, posing with pigs at the
state fair in September.
"We New Yorkers," she'll say. The very acerbity of the fight will
neutralize the carpetbagger issue--you're not a foreigner if
you're in there getting beaten up. If it were a race for
Governor, Giuliani would win. New Yorkers would not elect an
out-of-stater to run the executive branch in Albany. But Senator
is a Washington job, in the oratorical branch of government.
--Rudy Giuliani will play disastrously as a candidate. He has
performed well, if autocratically, as mayor of New York City, but
rarely has a mayor of New York ever amounted to anything outside
the five boroughs. Giuliani has alienated approximately 99.9% of
the black vote (and the old pols' sneer "blacks don't vote" may
not apply anymore). People upstate may admire the man who cleaned
up Sodom and Gomorrah, but he will not wear well, I'd guess. With
his combed-over death's-head countenance, his bullying instincts
and his bizarre lack of self-awareness (he seems to entertain an
idea he might be President), Giuliani makes a perfect heavy. If
he gets rough with Hillary, it will backfire so violently that
she will pick up 10% of the vote on sympathy.
--The nasty New York press is said to be ready to eat Hillary
alive. Nonsense. The New York press is a scarecrow. Its famous
brutality is mostly saloon bragging by tabloid drunks on their
10th beer. Whitewater, Filegate, the commodity trades--old
business, forget it. After all, Ted Kennedy ran off a bridge a
long time ago, and a woman drowned, and he's had 30 happy years
in the Senate since then.
--Gender will play heavily in Hillary's favor. A lot of upstate
Republican women are confessing to friends that while they would
not normally think of voting for the Democrat, the feministic
appeal overrides their traditional loyalty. Hillary Clinton
recapitulates, in her life, the origin myth of liberated white
American woman--the journey from the Friedanish frustrations of
domesticity, from the shadow of the husband to the promised land
of independence, power, autonomy as a woman.
Yet Hillary's victory will result mainly from this: she has
Celebrity. In the politics of turn-of-the-millennium America,
Celebrity trumps all else, even when it may be disreputable. In
this case most voters judge it is the lady's husband who is
disreputable; she gains shine from the contrast and, at deeper
levels of our psychology, accrues a fascinating power (the power
of hardened martyrdom) from her stolid--not to say classy and
somewhat mysterious--endurance of the lout's squalors.
Admittedly, a certain Clinton-in-Kosovo logic is at work.
Outsider Hillary, like NATO, violates state borders (New York's)
in the interests of morally imperative do-gooding--a form of moral
colonization, what the French used to call une mission
civilisatrice. The transgression will offend some. But, as in
Kosovo, it will succeed.
I think I see a sort of Celtic mist forming around Hillary as a
new archetype (somewhere between Eleanor and Evita, transcending
both) at a moment when the civilization pivots, at last,
decisively--perhaps for the first time since the advent of
Christian patriarchy two millenniums ago--toward Woman.
It may all be hallucination, of course (in which case I will bolt
my kitchen table to the floor). But Hillary Clinton amounts to
something more than herself, and anyone who underestimates that
something is a fool.
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Cover Date: July 12, 1999