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Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2000 /5 Adar I, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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HILLARY!: The latest version

      Politics, the art of the possible/ One shifts from left to right/ One praises fools, one smothers light/ Politics, the art of the possible.-- "Evita'' -- HILLARY CLINTON may have made a misstep or 20 in her campaign for the Senate in her latest home state, but she's certainly wise to distance herself from Unidentified Man in the Background, whose major role in this campaign is to stayin the background.

The president's assignment, whether he chooses to accept it or not, is to stay out of trouble, stand aside whenever possible and smile adoringly at The Candidate. In short, it's his turn to play Stepford Husband.

And it's about time. Women have had to do this sort of thing for what seems like forever in the interest of holding up the fragile male ego; now it's the men's turn to play prop.

Watching the Clintons do still another turn in their award-winning, husband-and-wife, Gower and Marge Champion routine, a faded headline from the New York Times occurs: "Clintons Present Their Act to an Admiring Argentina.'' It appeared during their successful tour of that country last year, and now they're doing their tango in New York. It should go over just as well. For in a way, they're our own Perons, and in matters of popular taste they've made Argentines of us all. Don't cry for her, Arkansas. Hillary was destined to take her show to the Big Apple.

With any luck, no one will remember that The Candidate now being test-marketed under the name Hillary has a last name at all. That way, she'll be immune to Clinton Fatigue by association.

In her latest incarnation, the former Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was Hillary Clinton before that, and Hillary Rodham before that, will be known simply as: Hillary. That's all the signs at her formal announcement said. She's been reborn, renamed and reconfigured yet again.

It could work. Or the new Hillary could go over like the new Coke.

It's not easy keeping track of just who Hillary has been over the years. "The Three Faces of Eve'' had nothing on our protean candidate, who has been successively billed as young reformer, the brains of the outfit, docile wife, co-president and now, the ultimate makeover, as a New Yorker. A different state, a different life story.

As she was announcing her latest candidacy, persona and name, the trucks were pulling up with some 400,000 leaflets to distribute under the title "Hillary: The Real Story.'' Does that mean the earlier stories were false or that they've just become impolitic? With the Clintons, truth can be a fungible quality.

By now our own, ever-malleable Evita has been through as many sequels as "Scream.'' She's had an assortment of personas, but no consistent self. And once again, that small omission is to be rectified in time for the next big election.

To quote The Candidate: "This has probably been the biggest surprise to me in the last six months. What I have found is that people don't know anything, really, about the work that I did before Bill was elected president. And know very little -- except about health care -- about the work that I've done in the White House.''

Hillary is being much too modest. Not only may Americans remember ClintonCare, but surely many will recall Travelgate, too, and the pivotal role she denied playing in it.

Then there's the care Hillary Clinton Esq. took with those disappearing billing records, which had the strangest way of appearing years later in the White House -- as if an occult hand were moving them about.

All of this is now to be explained, or at least explained away, in "Hillary: The Real Story.'' She'll come out warm human, caring, cookie-baking or at least salad-making, and still the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy.

In her new role, Ms. Clinton will doubtless prove as convincing as she did when not explaining her 10,000 percent profit in cattle futures. Her finesse on that occasions was such that TV Guide gave her its annual award for Best Performance in a Drama or Press Conference.

Remember the perfect poise, the pink suit, the dulcet tones, and how she had learned the finer points of finance at her daddy's knee? ("I was raised by a father who had me reading the stock tables when I was a little girl.'') Not since Loretta Young of the swirling petticoats has innocence been so perfectly portrayed. To quote one summation of her award-winning performance, it was "somewhere between Grace Kelly and Edward Bennett Williams.''

Somehow she had managed to turn $10,000 into $100,000 all by herself, thanks to "the heart and soul of the American economy, which is risk-taking and investing in the future.'' Gone was the old Hillary Clinton who used to blast the 1980s as a Decade of Greed. ("The 1980s were about acquiring -- acquiring wealth, power, privilege.'') Having acquired wealth, power and privilege, Hillary Clinton called it Americanism.

This year, Hillary Rodham Clinton has molted into the streamlined Hillary. She is neither social revolutionary nor market whiz, but a New Democrat -- a political persuasion that used to be called Eisenhower Republican. She's for balancing the budget and reforming welfare. Beyond that, things get a little vague. A lot vague. To quote a slice of her speech at a prayer breakfast at Riverside Church on New York's Upper West Side:

"I think it's appropriate to take a few minutes to reflect on some of the issues that people of faith have in common, and from my perspective, as I have traveled extensively now through New York and been in the company of so many different New Yorkers from so many different walks of life, I agree that the challenges before us, as individuals, as members and leaders of the community of faith, as those who already hold positions of public responsibility and those who seek them, that we do all share and should be committed to an understanding of how we make progress, but we define that progress broadly, deeply, profoundly.''

The emphasis on deeply, profoundly was The Candidate's. But if there's an idea anywhere in all that wordsoup, it's quite beyond my poor power to fish it out. Seldom has vacuity been served up with such an air of utter conviction, so deeply, profoundly.

Can this be the same speaker who once called for a politics of meaning? She's learned better, for nothing can be so dangerous in an American political campaign as meaning. In a happy country, it can be a recipe for losing. See the campaign speeches of Adlai Stevenson in 1952, which still make great reading but never produced enough votes. Governor Stevenson lost that year to, yes, an Eisenhower Republican. The Eisenhower Republican.

Who wouldn't have trusted Ike, with his record, his smile, his unmistakable good will? He was running not on what he said, but on who he was -- not on his speeches, but on his self. But what if a candidate has no self to offer, but only a choice of selves, each designed to fit the changing times and locales in which she finds herself?

Maybe the secret of running as an Eisenhower Republican/New Democrat is to say nothing at great, circumlocutious length. That approach worked fine for Ike, but there's a catch: The Candidate may have to be an Ike for it to work.

Paul Greenberg Archives


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