Try as critics may, more and more people seem to like Hillary. She is liked enough it seems to make her the next president of the United States. Her election will mark the beginning of the end of the disasterous presidency of George Bush II. Even Republicans may breathe a sigh of relief when the Sage of Crawford leaves in January 2009. But why Hillary? First, despite the observations of the Washington chattering class, she has broadened her appeal to women. Initially, she had considerable support among working class women of the nation who are most directly affected by downturns in the global economy, the lack of medical care, and the education mess in urban areas. It made sense, they said, since they saw her liberalism as good for them. They voted in their own self interest, and since many working class women do not vote, it looked like their support was less important than meets the eye.
Educated women were somewhat jealous of Hillary, or resented her continued willingness to “stand by her man,” yet, for some reason that jaundiced view has changed. Educated women are increasingly taken with the idea of seeing in their lifetimes a woman president. I guess the Bush years have shown them that we men do not necessarily have a monopoly on wisdom or good judgment in public policy. It is touching to see her shyly approached in New Hampshire by young girls who want to touch her and look at her. She is making history for us, and more importantly for them and their mothers.
Clinton haters try to resurrect Bill’s checkered fidelity. They’ve even produced a quote from Gerald Ford (who turns out to have been a rather nasty guy in private) on Clinton which finds him to be a not so subtle womanizer. Ford also thought that Ronald Reagan was a lightweight actor, and that Nixon was deceitful. He sure never seemed to have those reservations while he was alive—at least publicly, when it counted. So, from the grave, the GOP has resurrected the Clinton psychodrama. Why? To get Bill to admit he was wrong, or to sully Hillary?
But she has grown stronger and stronger with each poll, leaving the Obama enthusiasm in the dust. She seems so poised and experienced, and he seems so pedantic. And what happened to populist John Edwards? She even took the universal medical care issue away from him with her proposal which is remarkably similar and which postdated his by months. In the Halloween eve debate, on the other hand, she was positively awful as she dodged and weaved on issues like Social Security, Iran, and the recent proposal to issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens in New York. One can not be too confident.
One can still see Hillary winch when questioners get too close to the personal issues and to her marriage though it is quite possible that, in their own way, they still love each other and surely respect each other’s judgment. As Bill seemed to say so candidly, their relationship is similar to the relationship of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, a marriage also estranged by a husband’s infidelity. So Hillary talks about redemption, forgiveness, and her Methodist faith, and for a moment it sounds real and genuine. She has faced adversity in her life, a life familiar to many women for whom marriage fails to live up to expectations. Yes, most women can identify with a life like Hillary’s.
What has also made Hillary very real are the Republican candidates. They insist on trying to scare their own base in order to get the loyalists to forget the many transgressions and weirdness of their own candidates—to stop the woman barbarian at the gates of faith and patriotism. In this sense, Giuliani has already crowned her, as has Romney. Thompson is a little more honest. The front runners, at any rate, are running to save the country from her. So the fundamentalists have to forget Giuliani’s record on abortion, stem cell research, gay unions and gun control in order to prevent an even worse person from getting into the White House. And Romney, who has changed sides so often that one needs a road map to figure out where he comes out, has resurrected the horrors of Hillary. They think it will strengthen them in the primaries, and it may. However in the general election, they will have created another candidate of gravitas. Beware what you build up—what you hate— boys.
And so Hillary marches on in this long, much too long, season of our discontent. Lately she has shown us the type of dogged perseverance which she shares with Bill—and a degree of self discipline which she shares with nobody.
Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.