The Case Against Hillary Clinton , by Peggy Noonan. Regan Books, 181 pages, $24.
There was a time, not too long ago, when a girl could walk around Washington and feel pretty special. There were a lot of living male legends still around, and they appreciated us. At an American Spectator dinner in 1992, on my way to the bathroom, I ran into the gray eminence of Gen. William Westmoreland. I introduced myself as a reporter, and he responded, “Well, you’re a very pretty girl.” How cool it was to be complimented by the man who ran the Vietnam War! Now of course the miasma of political correctness has made such exchanges rare indeed in the nation’s capital. Our loss.
Peggy Noonan is the kind of woman who likes a male legend. She was the gumptious gal speech writer to Ronald Reagan in the napping years of his Presidency and the genius behind George Bush’s idea that welfare be replaced by a “thousand points of light.” Before Mr. Reagan, she wrote for Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather and revered them as much as she did the Gipper. She fit in with the boys, and in her memoir about the Reagan White House she always called her male compatriots “fellas” like a tough-cookie 1940’s gossipeuse instead of a 35-year-old woman in the late 80’s. Her last speech for Mr. Reagan was lavish with metaphors of hardness and strife, all granite ridges, storms and beacons, walls and wills. Like many members of her generation (born in the 50’s) who loathe Bill Clinton, she can’t forgive him for lacking the myth-making maleness of the World War II generation.
Her new book, The Case Against Hillary Clinton , urges New Yorkers to stop Hillary before she gets her political start. She believes that by electing H.R.C. to the Senate in 2000, we will be sending her on her way to the White House in 2004. So Ms. Noonan lists all the usual good reasons for anyone–right or left–to despise Hillary: She’s power-addled, calculating, secretive, politically tin-eared, changes her hairstyle too often and embarrasses other women by saying idiotic things about wanting to become independent at age 52. Ms. Noonan also covers the thing conservatives hate about H.R.C.: She’s a secret socialist who wants government to replace families in children’s lives.
Ms. Noonan also gives Hillary credit for something larger. She’s one half of a pair of pathological narcissists whose ideology is “Clintonism”–a creed of televised lying, professional spinning and personal ambition that has “damaged” the country in some materially unquantifiable way. Yes, the budget’s balanced; yes, crime is down; yes, prosperity is at a peak; but there’s something awry in America, and Ms. Noonan and her friends can feel it in their bones when they’re out driving or gardening or golfing. Clintonism has imbued the nation with a sense of uncleanness, unwholesomeness, and it’s everywhere–on TV, on the radio (except Rush), in the water and in the air. The little ones are being poisoned by it, and that’s why they’re blowing each other away at school.
To make her case, Ms. Noonan psychoanalyzes the Clintons and finds them wanting. For guidance she consults the usual authorities. One of them is the toe-sucking, prostitute-serviced midget pollster Dick Morris, who tells Ms. Noonan that Hillary “has an Eleanor fixation.” Another source quotes verbatim from a book on borderline conditions to give Ms. Noonan a clinical diagnosis of the President and First Lady.
No anti-Clinton screed would be complete without the offended White House Secret Service agent who’s seen it all up close. Ms. Noonan has her very own specimen. She runs into the man–whom she knew from the Bush and Reagan White House–at the 1996 Democratic convention (she was covering it for Time magazine). Here’s her account: “I asked him how things were going. And he stood there, and looked me in the eyes, and barely, just perceptibly, shook his head back and forth. As if he didn’t have words; as if the words he had should not be spoken. We said nothing for three or five seconds. And then I said, ‘It’s bad, isn’t it?’ ‘You have no idea,’ he said softly. ‘You wouldn’t believe.’ And then he said good-bye and walked by himself through the lobby. And I wondered if seeing me hadn’t simply reminded him of other, older White Houses, the ones he’d known before the current trauma, the ones that had given him his first and lasting sense and of what a White House is, and how it operates.”
The horror! This Secret Service agent is so much more effective than ex-agent Gary Aldrich, in whose tell-all book we got underwearless interns in miniskirts and George Stephanopoulos lapping up frozen yogurt while waiting in line in mess. Ms. Noonan’s “pained” Secret Service agent is so loyal he can’t describe the heart of darkness. But we know from his whisper and nod that whatever’s going on in the White House simply can’t be uttered by decent men.
Ms. Noonan has her own test of greatness in Presidents, and it is humility. Like the good speech writer she is, she can summon up pithy historical anecdotes. Lincoln told a free slave not to kneel before him, Churchill told an adoring crowd on V-Day that the victory was theirs, not his, and Reagan got down on his knees in his hospital room after being shot to wipe water off the bathroom floor. Bill and Hill have provided no similar acts of common decency for Ms. Noonan. Instead, Ms. Noonan writes that the Clintons “comport themselves as if respect is not what they owe you but what you owe them.” She reels off the ways the Clintons have taken credit for the economy and then notes that they fail to give credit to the people who “created the economic miracle”–all those poor nameless techies and their poor, nameless venture capitalists, I guess.
Her case rambles off into nonsense. Nonsense spiked with envy. Very few of those committed to the game have the decency to leave the stage when they lose. For the past eight years, Ms. Noonan’s former cronies from the Republican set in D.C. have hardly gone gently into that good night of law firms and consultancies and investment banking. No way. They have been scheming to retrieve their former positions by hook or by crook. That’s why Ken Starr stood at the keyhole, and that’s why half the town moved to Austin last year. We have them to thank for George W. Bush’s “conservative compassion” slogan morphed into “Reformer with Results” and back again, for the craven Bob Jones University appearance and the nasty breast cancer TV spot, for every little dirty trick used to wipe John McCain off the face of the map. If you think the good ol’ Governor of Texas himself is dreaming that stuff up, you would be mistaken. His handlers are, and they ain’t from Texas.
They are from a place Ms. Noonan misses a lot: “the Revolution,” the biggest frat-party, modern-day Washington Republicans can remember. When the Motown soundtrack was switched off by an ambitious country boy named Bill Clinton, the Reagan Revolutionaries were outraged that the voters had been manipulated by photo ops, spinning and televised lying, as Ms. Noonan defines Clintonism. They knew the voters were falling for Reaganism practiced by a younger, smarter, sexier man.
And that’s when the standard of practices in Washington changed. The Reagan Revolutionaries had never been offended by grand international-scale lies told to cover up the murders of little brown people in Guatemala and Honduras in the name of fighting Communism. Suddenly they were outraged at the petty exercise of power that emptied the Clinton White House travel office of its Revolution-era staff (apparently all legal, according to the latest special prosecutor’s report). They raged over lies about sex–sex and lies only made public because one of the Revolution’s own had the Government Printing Office publishing pornography. (It can be argued into infinity, like the chicken or the egg: Which defiled the republic, the public document or the private act? Ms. Noonan is sure she knows the answer.)
Ms. Noonan’s sometimes-clever, sometimes-dreary attack on Clintonism is delivered with a purpose: The thought of eight more years of Clintonism in the White House led by H.R.C. makes the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Her final words to her fellow New Yorkers: “Before Hillary Clinton gets to decide your future, you get to decide hers.”
For Peggy and the Revolutionaries, a vicarious Clinton defeat is better than none at all.