The Art of Being Eternally Hillary

The NY Times is running a series of articles about front-runners for the presidency. I’ve read the two about Hillary Clinton carefully, because I’m stuck about her. She’s someone I’d like to feel enthusiastic about but can’t. She always, to my mind, testifies strongly at first, then cancels herself out. She’s an enigma wrapped inside a Senatorial seat tucked inside a stand-by-your President/husband kind of woman. She’s someone who didn’t bother reading key briefings to the Senate apropos the invasion of Iraq. (Whatever you want to say about Obama — “political virgin” is what I say — all credit to him for sensing, from the first, this war stunk).

Hillary though, despite her abundant intelligence, has had to work day and night, it seems, to convince herself that G. W. Bush is no less than a calamitous idiot. This is discouraging. Hillary’s forte — would it were not so — is to snuff herself out.

Harvey Blume

In the first Times piece, she comes across as formidably articulate, capable of subtle, unpretentious self-examination. This is way before blogs, so her missives are not all about style and attitude, not, to put it bluntly, masturbatory, not merely mental cams. You feel her effort to master (mistress?) the written word, and its reward by substance. For example, in a letter to a friend (April/1967), she writes “Since Xmas vacation, I’ve gone through three and a half metamorphoses and am beginning to feel as though there is a smörgåsbord of personalities spread before me.”

Not bad for a barely twenty year old Wellesley girl. Others of her generation would have been unable to put so much into words (might have rocked on, instead).

Or take the admirable self-consciousness in her writing, at about the same time, re her upper-class suburban Chicago background: “God, I feel so divorced from Park Ridge, parents, home, the entire unreality of middle class America. This all sounds so predictable, but its true.”

It’s true, though, that in none of these letters does she confess to any downright naughtiness. William Jefferson Clinton, we’ve heard, never inhaled. His wife-to-be seems, in her way, never to have heard of breathing.

At a time when innumerable members of her generation (like me), did all sorts of things richly worth regretting later, Hillary seemed hypnotized by some hypothetical center, some baseline, some middle muddle. She seemed to need to know she could quickly duck back in under the protective awning of authority. Wellesley student government president that she was, she seemed never to have budged without an exit strategy.

Her need for caution comes across more strongly in the next Times piece. The year is 1968, the big year for her generation. Martin Luther King is murdered in April that year, Robert Kennedy assassinated in June. There are riots. There is talk of revolution. (The Times piece shows that even at Wellesley the now phantasmagorical theme of revolution was current and had to be addressed).

And of course, like a tsunami crashing down on everything, there was Vietnam.

All this, plus inhaling, exhaling, etc. drove many of us around the bend. Maybe Hillary too. But her way of showing it baffles me. The Times writes: “She attended both the Republican National Convention in Miami . . . and the Democratic donnybrook in Chicago (smelling tear gas at Grant Park).” She managed to work for antiwar campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy in the winter of ’68, and then, that summer, for the stridently pro-war campaign of Melvin Laird.

Being both emphatically anti-war at the same time as you are actively pro-war seems, unfortunately, to be eternally Hillary.

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