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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who both fascinates and infuriates, has a new message in her determined quest to return to the White House, this time as president.
The new TV ad campaign, running in New Hampshire, the latest state she has adopted, trumpets the New York Democrat as the true agent of political change, although she has spent more time in the White House than any other U.S. presidential candidate except for Franklin Roosevelt.
“If we have the will, she has the strength. If we have the conviction, she has the experience. If we’re ready for change, she’s ready to lead,” says a male voice as she is shown shaking lots of hands, while wearing lots of suits. That’s the beauty of TV — you don’t have to say strength for what, conviction for what or change to what.
There have been about 48 books written about Clinton, most of which I have read. I covered her and her husband for eight years in the White House and while campaigning. I have watched her as she matured as a senator, winning respect and re-election in a landslide from a state she moved to in order to run for her very first elective office. And I am still at a loss when pondering what type of president she would make.
Not for nothing is she the Democrats’ current front-runner. Many women are thrilled that a final frontier might be crossed — election of the first female U.S. president. She is smart, disciplined, attractive, tireless and hardworking, and can be warm, friendly and funny. She has raised millions of dollars for Democrats.
She arrived in Washington in 1993 with amazing arrogance and a tin ear on how to practice politics in the nation’s capital, throwing the White House into turmoil, alienating the press and many in her party, stonewalling prosecutors and orchestrating a disastrous health-care policy that cost Democrats control of Congress.
Then she reinvented herself. She went abroad, wrote feel-good books about children and villages and her cat and setting a beautiful table, explored her spirituality, helped her daughter grow up and kept on supporting her husband despite his known serial infidelities. An Illinois native who failed the D.C. bar exam before passing the Arkansas bar, she wrote her memoirs, made millions and decided to become a senator and then president. Along the way, she emerged as one of the most astute politicians ever.
The week her new ad campaign aired, she also aired a new strategy: Here’s Bill! The ex-president, who also made millions writing and giving speeches while traveling the globe and doing good works, was brought forth to campaign with her in another two-for-the-price-of-one deal.
If she wins, their puzzling love affair — he once asked her for a divorce to pursue another woman before humiliating her with Monica Lewinsky and others — and symbiotic relationship no doubt will continue to befuddle us. Is she weaker when she is with him and stronger (and cagier) on her own, as her Senate career seems to indicate? Would he be co-president, as she was for a while to him? She says she would send him abroad to be a goodwill ambassador. (To get him out of the country?)
So far, Clinton fatigue does not seem worrisome to Democrats. There are five months to go before any candidate snares enough delegates for the party nomination, after the Feb. 5 glut of primaries.
But the five months will pass quickly, and voters want to know the real Hillary Clinton.
The other day, in Iowa, another adopted state, she said, “Ultimately, to bring change, you have to know when to stand your ground and when to find common ground.” She added, “You can’t always demand everything your own way or you’ll never get anything done in America.”
That suggests she herself has changed. Many think her health-care efforts were doomed because of her secretiveness, an obsessive need for control and her refusal to compromise.
But the old defensiveness and combativeness return when she defends her positions on Iraq, insisting her vote to go to war was a vote to authorize more diplomacy. She insisted there was a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda when there was none.
This is a woman who wants to make the world a better place but doesn’t always know how to do it, a woman admired and lionized but also hated and demonized. She’s known pain; she’s known glory. The race for the White House is livelier and more provocative than it would be without her, but she is also a woman whose roller-coaster fortunes will always be intertwined with those of her husband.
Stick with her and get “change,” Clinton demands in an often-strident voice.
She has a long way to go before Americans decide whether to trust her to give them the change they seek.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)