The Rudy-Hillary Senate race looks so certain there may already be sandwiches named for them at the Stage Deli. (Rudy’s comes with a sauce of Robitussin and Kaopectate. Hillary’s is white bread, no meat.) But don’t order just yet.
New York has a multiparty system, and Mayor Giuliani will lack the auxiliary lines that successful Republican candidates often use to win statewide. He will never get the Right-to-Life line; having it saved former Senator D’Amato in two tight races (though not in his last). The Conservative Party has not formally closed its door to him, though his support of liberal issues (gay rights and gun control, as well as abortion) and the Liberal Party (Ray Harding and his family) makes winning it unlikely.
Representative Rick Lazio, from the Second District (Suffolk County), has floated himself as a challenger, and Representative J.C. Watts Jr. came out to endorse him (which was far more harmful to the Mayor’s ambitions than parading with Al Sharpton at 1 Police Plaza). Mr. Lazio is a blandish four-termer with squishy social positions. Representative Peter King, another four-termer from the Third District (Nassau County), is anything but bland, and quite a bit more conservative.
This will surprise those who remember him as Mr. Clinton’s loudest Republican supporter during the House impeachment vote. Presumably his position in a race against Mrs. Clinton would be that you can only stop criminal Clintons at the voting booth. Among conservatives, Mr. King is saved by the fact that impeachment passed the House despite his efforts, and it is harder to stay angry at ineffectual traitors when the Senate is so full of effectual ones. Temperamentally, Mr. King is a scrappy Irishman. (It is supposed to be impolite to make ethnic references, but when one is dealing with Sinn Fein’s major Congressional supporter, it’s hard not to.) An early and prudent deserter from Newt’s army, he called Mr. Gingrich “roadkill on the highway of American politics.” He is fond of reminding the G.O.P. that the South lost the Civil War, and that a national party has to woo northern Catholics as well as hillbillies. If Catholics would actually vote their supposed beliefs on issues like abortion, they might even be worth wooing. A King candidacy, with a chance of picking up the Conservative and Right-to-Life lines, would give them a chance to be counted.
If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, of course, all this is academic. Pro-lifers and right-wingers would vote for the Republican nominee even if he was Slobodan Milosevic. That is a plus for Mr. Giuliani. But the argument from anti-Hillary zeal cuts both ways. Since money and support will flow to whomever runs, the G.O.P. is not obliged to pick such a high-profile figure.
Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, on the other side, is a study in self-esteem, or better, lack of it-hers, and ours.
Mrs. Clinton asks New Yorkers to overlook a lot: her slight achievements in private life (she had no lucrative offers coming out of law school, and she was only a part-time litigator for the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas, trying five cases in 15 years); a political career that was parasitic on her husband’s; the high price she paid to enjoy even her dependence; her lack of connection to her would-be state. The profile of her in The New York Times Magazine highlighted the last point when it mentioned, in passing, that Eleanor Roosevelt also considered running for office here. That First Lady shared many of the weaknesses of this one, but the name Roosevelt (which was both her married and her maiden name) did ring a bell locally. Hadn’t her husband and cousin Franklin been Governor? Wasn’t her uncle Theodore Governor and New York City Police Commissioner? Hadn’t she lived here all her life, and hadn’t Roosevelts been living here for 300 years? Mrs. Clinton may have wished she had come here after law school, instead of schlepping off to Arkansas, but she didn’t (chiefly because no one was willing to pay her). All she has ever done in New York City is change planes, and raise money.
She comes to us, not because she loves Zabar’s (still less, Tonawanda), but to fill the hole in her life. The deal of her life was not meant to include Kenneth Starr and Monica Lewinsky rolling her husband’s betrayals through the streets like garbage cans. The lies she had told for years had been told mostly to herself; there was, if not honor, at least control in that. The lies she had to tell from January 1998 on were damning. To get revenge on her husband and his doxy tart she needs the balm of electoral victory, and the sense of worth that office conveys. Finally she will stand alone, with the unworthy one in her shadow, not her in his.
To fix her psyche, we’re supposed to give her one of our Senate seats. We are a One-Step Program for the emotional and political addict. “My name is Hillary, and I believe that a Power lower than myself-the voters of New York-can restore me to self-esteem.”
That is what she is after. What we are after is the pride of the concierge, in having such a famous guest. We are like some jabbering Third World tout in a Paul Theroux travel book. “You stay here, Meester. Special place. Many famous American come here. Donald Trump, Desi Arnaz, Mark Twain. You stay here.” We think our ability to attract the very highest society of Washington, D.C., Little Rock and the Chicago suburbs is a sign of our cosmopolitanism and sophistication, when in fact it is a sign of our cheesiness, our need, and our being down at the heels. We have the easy availability of an ex-Empire State, settling comfortably into third place. Where are our home-grown leaders? California produced Gov. Gray Davis; you may think he is dull, but he is the Third Way incarnate. Texas grew a Bush. We rely on the kindness of strangers.
Come, dear lady, we deserve each other.