Hillary Clinton has a new opponent, but that does not change the case against her.
She is no more a New Yorker now than when she began her listening tour. The historian Sean Wilentz tried to address this defect by pointing out, in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, that New York has long been hospitable to non-natives, citing three senators, Robert Kennedy, James Buckley and, reaching back to the First Congress, Rufus King. True enough, but each of these senators had some connection to the state. Mr. Buckley was a commuter who had worked in New York City for years, running the family oil business. Kennedy had spent his youth in Bronxville. King moved to New York City after marrying a New Yorker, and was elected to the Assembly. Sure, we’re hospitable to Americans and other foreigners, but we don’t hand out Senate seats at the tourist information bureaus on the Thruway-at least not until Hillary Clinton arrived.
Rick Lazio, at 42, is one of those preternaturally fresh-faced creatures, with smooth skin, lots of hair and chipmunky cheeks. So the Clintonites will say that he is young and inexperienced. Less experienced than who? Mr. Lazio is a four-term congressmen. Four times he stood before the good people of his Long Island district and asked them to vote him up or down. That’s four more times than Mrs. Clinton has run for Congress, or for anything. Since Mr. Lazio won his four elections, he has actually served in Congress, dealing with other legislators. Mrs. Clinton’s primary experience with Congress was keeping it, and the public, in the dark while she worked out the details of her husband’s health care plan in 1993. Hillary Clinton is comfortable dealing with public policy only when she can treat it as a state secret. The two traits-lack of experience and lack of exposure-are related. Mrs. Clinton wants everything handed to her, and she wants to hand her decisions on to everyone else, with a minimum of friction and input. The give-and-take world of House-Senate conferences and press conferences is terra incognita to her, as strange and unfamiliar as New York State.
Mrs. Clinton’s only two marks on public affairs were to ruin her husband’s first term, by producing a Rube Goldberg health care plan, and to be his beard for 25 years. She is ambitious without ability; she craves honor without achievement. She is a parody of feminism; her political career is as much a credit to her sex as Mme. de Pompadour’s. I worship Margaret Thatcher and I loathed Bella Abzug, but neither woman got where she got by clinging to her husband’s trousers. Hillary Clinton took the express elevator to the First Lady level, and thinks she can stroll over the skywalk into the Senate.
Not that the Senate is Mrs. Clinton’s goal, any more than she views Chappaqua as her permanent home. Should she win, she will begin, the day after the ballots are counted, to run for president. For her, the Senate and New York are hub airports, like St. Louis or Atlanta, places you spend an hour before going on to someplace else. But she isn’t going cross-country, only from one part of the White House to another. The fact that she could plausibly entertain such ambitions is a symptom of the pretorianization of the presidency. It may seem odd to say this in a year when the two major party candidates are political sons. But the bug has spread: Speech writers (like Pat Buchanan) and lesser aides (like Gary Bauer) have caught it. Next it will be Mrs. Clinton. And who after that? Vernon Jordan? Craig Livingstone? Monica?
The motor of her ambition is not ideology, or even will to power, but justification. The bright girl with the Coke-bottle glasses got the man of her dreams-in H.L. Mencken’s phrase, got what she wanted, good and hard. In some strange way, he still seems to love her, and she him. That must make it worse. Rudy Giuliani, resolute and lonely as Milton’s Satan, probably has an easier time of it. Mrs. Clinton won’t seek therapy, and acting in The Vagina Monologues is not payback enough. Only winning the presidency in her own right will do. It is an interesting and harrowing story. But that is not enough reason for New York State to offer itself as Step 11 in her 12 Steps to Self-Esteem.
What about Rick Lazio, so precipitately introduced into this saga? It’s as if the North had turned to Canada halfway through the Civil War and said, “Here, we can’t deal with these damned Confederates anymore, you fight the battle of Gettysburg.”
Mr. Lazio signed the Contract with America, which prompted Team Clinton to label him a Newtoid. If Newt Gingrich was such a bad thing, why did Hillary Clinton unleash him on the world, by so bungling her only big-league assignment that the Republicans won the House for the first time in 40 years? Mr. Lazio, shopping for accessory ballot lines in the Century 21 of New York politics, has said he would accept the Independence nomination, even if Pat Buchanan were at the head of the ticket. Shame on anyone who would stand with rascally Pat! Mrs. Clinton, of course, accepts the support of the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is a home-grown menace. I have yet to hear that Pat Buchanan, or any associate of his, has ever shot or burned anyone. It was Mr. Sharpton’s soul mate and co-demonstrator who shot and burned seven people at Freddy’s Fashion Mart. If your husband employs Janet Reno, you must be inured to guns and arson.
Mr. Lazio is not an ideal candidate. He opposes subsidized abortions, and “infanticide,” which is what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the man he seeks to replace, calls partial-birth abortions, but no others. His attitude toward abortions is like the Mob’s attitude toward hits-they support them in principle, but not hits on wives or children, or in Little Italy. Mr. Lazio is a squish on gun control, an issue that is becoming polarized between confiscationists and constitutionalists.
But, at the end of the day, he is not Hillary Clinton, which is all he needs to deserve victory in this race, his fifth, her first.