Jewish World Review June 9, 1999 /25 Sivan, 5759
Stand by your ma'am?
WE'VE BEEN HOLDING our collective breath for a very long time, 'til the red
and white had practically drained from our national colors. But now finally,
we can breathe a deep sigh of relief. Hillary has made up her mind: She
wants to be New York's next senator.
Not since Dolley Madison fled the White House with the British in pursuit
has a first lady prepared to make such a spectacular exit from Washington.
And we're not quite sure what to make of it. New York will gain a senatorial
candidate, but the country will lose a first lady.
It's been a long time since the country lacked a first lady, not since the
presidency of James Buchanan just before the Civil War. As Hillary herself
describes the role on the official White House website (www.whitehouse.gov),
"The American people have made the role of the first lady one of the most
important jobs in the country."
But despite her words, it's never been clear Hillary really believed being
first lady was worthy of her talents. In the 1992 presidential campaign,
both Bill and Hillary Clinton talked about the co-presidency they would
establish if Bill was elected. When voters responded cooly, the Clintons
dropped their rhetoric of delivering "two for the price of one," but
explored other options.
At one point during the campaign, Hillary suggested the president might
appoint her to his Cabinet. After she learned that a federal anti-nepotism
law barred her from a Cabinet post, Hillary briefly floated the idea she
might become White House chief of staff, instead. Only when the president's
other advisors explained to her that the president needed to be able to fire
his chief of staff if the need ever arose -- and no one could imagine the
president firing the first lady -- did she back down.
But not for long. Within months of assuming the role of first lady, Hillary
was on to more important things, like trying to take over the country's
health-care industry. Of course, her role in drafting health-care
legislation became very controversial and may ultimately have helped doom
the ill-conceived measure.
Despite her preferences for a policy position over the more traditional
role of first lady, over time Hillary more or less accepted her
responsibilities to run White House social functions, in her own inimitable
style. According to a new biography by historian Joyce Milton, The First Partner:
Hillary Rodham Clinton
"," Hillary often waited until the last minute to
prepare for traditional holidays and White House celebrations. "I've
never been anyone who planned for Christmas much before mid-December," the
first lady admitted to a reporter -- with sometimes embarrassing results.
Milton recounts a story first told by former FBI agent Gary Aldrich about
preparations for decorating the 22 White House Christmas trees in 1994, with
their 27,000 lights and 7,500 ornaments. The first lady's staff asked local
art students to supply decorations for the tree with a 12-days-of Christmas
theme, but they waited so long to organize the tree-trimming that there was
no chance to screen the ornaments before volunteers arrived to place them on
the trees in the formal White House rooms.
Nervous giggles broke out as volunteers retrieved some rather unorthodox
ornaments, among them five greasy onion rings glued to a Styrofoam plate and
a gingerbread man decked with five rings, including a nipple ring and one
attached to his groin area. (Pictures of the latter ornament hanging from a
tree in the White House Blue Room appear in the second edition of Aldrich's
book, "Unlimited Access.)
Hillary Rodham Clinton may believe the role of first lady was beneath her,
but she learned some important campaign skills on the job nonetheless. No
first lady in history has raised more political campaign contributions using
the White House for social functions than Hillary Clinton has. From selling
the Lincoln Bedroom to offering cups of White House coffee for $100,000
apiece, Hillary certainly picked up some valuable fund-raising gimmicks whil
e official hostess at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
That's one role the country
certainly won't miss when it loses its first lady.
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©1999, Creators Syndicate