First Lady Reminds Us of Mess We Left Behind

At the simplest level, Lucinda Franks’ piece on Hillary Clinton in Talk was a failure. The candidate wanted to put certain questions to rest; instead, she dragged them out. Some comments can be discussion-stoppers. When James Carville said of Hamilton Jordan, who had signed up with Ross Perot in 1992, that he wouldn’t piss down Mr. Jordan’s throat if his heart were on fire, there was no need for a follow-up. Mrs. Clinton by contrast opened herself to a string of them.

For New Yorkers wondering what to make of it all, here is a three-step program for acknowledging and engaging with the emotions the article induced.

Sympathy -for Bill Clinton, not his wife. The psychic dues he must pay and pay and pay would defy God’s own accountant. “What will happen with Bill and the marriage [during the campaign]?” Ms. Franks asks. “He’s a grown-up,” Mrs. Clinton answers. “He has to do this himself. He’s responsible for his own behavior whether I’m there or 100 miles away. You have the confrontation with the person and then it is their responsibility, whether it’s gambling or drinking or whatever. Nobody can do it for you.” Wouldn’t it be better if she just threw a pot? If the price of forgiveness is such merciless pity, how could he ever stray? How could he ever not?

Sadness . But of course she has paid, and keeps paying, far more than he does. She achieves her moral superiority only through subservience and denial. This is why she explains away her husband’s behavior, in pseudo-psychological terms as primitive as the Spanish-language dream books you buy at subway newsstands, as pathetic as the eggplant-faced girlfriend who tells the cops that she fell down the stairs, it’s only the trouble-making neighbors who claim to hear the sound of beatings. “[H]e was [so] scarred by abuse, that he can’t even take it out and look at it,” Mrs. Clinton says. “There was terrible conflict between his mother and grandmother. A psychologist once told me that for a boy being in the middle of a conflict between two women is the worst possible situation.” Who is missing from this picture? Who but Roger Clinton, Bill’s stepfather, who beat his mother. Surely that was worse. Even as Mrs. Clinton edits the bad man out of her husband’s past, so she edits the bad man out of her present. Hillary Clinton, the politician, would set up crisis hotlines for women who reason like Mrs. Clinton, the wife.

Resentment. But why are we here? The impeachment crisis is over. Ken Starr and Monica Lewinsky are vanished like dreams caused by last week’s red wine. Sean Delonas could draw a hundred cartoons in the New York Post and no one but the bitter-enders would notice.

We’re back in the mess because Mrs. Clinton put us there; she put us there because the mess is the reason she is running. Ms. Franks says so herself. After quoting former White House counsel and friend of Hillary Bernard Nussbaum-“It was clear that something dramatic had to be done to change their lives, to save their marriage”-Ms. Franks adds: “That something appears to be Hillary’s run for the Senate.”

Running for Senate is a bid for status, vindication, and growth. “I want to be judged on my own merits,” Mrs. Clinton says. “Now for the first time I am making my own decisions.” What an admission: A woman who tried to reform the nation’s health care system, who campaigned for children as First Lady of Arkansas, who practiced law, who went to the best schools, only now is making her own decisions. Study, work, altruism and public policy were not enough to give her independence and establish her as an adult; only the voters of the state of New York can put her on her own two feet.

We won’t be able to do it, of course, even if she wins. Phony growth is as meaningless as phony forgiveness and phony devotion. If she is not an adult after reaching the White House and the age of 52, she will not become one by touring the Finger Lakes and moving to Capitol Hill. Whatever Mrs. Clinton is now, she will be from here on.

The collapse of the pretensions of feminism is complete. Late last month, Gen. Joseph Ralston was tapped to replace Gen. Wesley Clark as supreme commander of NATO in Europe. General Ralston had been headed for the job in 1997, but the fate of First Lieut. Kelly Flinn-a bomber pilot who had been cashiered for adultery-held him back. General Ralston had had an affair of his own, and feminists in Congress demanded that one standard apply to lieutenants and generals, and to ladies and gentlemen.

But that was B.C.L. (before Clinton-Lewinsky). Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat of Manhattan’s East Side who had backed Lieutenant Flinn and attacked General Ralston, supported Bill Clinton during the impeachment crisis. Now she is backed into a corner, as far as General Ralston’s deferred promotion is concerned. “I’d like to see Kelly Flinn have a comeback,” she says cheerily, but she knows the chances of that are as great as the chances that she will continue to uphold her principles in a Clintonized world. I think they were bad principles, but they were the only ones she had. By betraying them she forfeits consistency, the only merit open to the deluded.

The only place in New York State where feminism has had a worse time of it was Woodstock. Here we are, in an age of newly assertive female fans, and yet Woodstock ended in rapes. Why the shock? Rock-and-roll is about raging libido, and when one sex has an edge in muscle mass, there is bound to be Clintonesque behavior. Hillary Clinton thinks she is Courtney Love, but she’s just a mosh pit screamer at heart.

First Lady Reminds Us of Mess We Left Behind