Will the real Hillary please stand up?

Ah, Hillary. We still don’t know who you are.

After 16 years of high Clinton drama, after dozens of books examining the former first lady from every angle and ideological viewpoint, after hundreds of speeches and campaign rallies, the percentage of Americans who feel they really understand the woman who could be the first female president of the United States remains astonishingly small.

Part of this phenomenon is that we like famous women to fit stereotypes. Britney Spears is out of control. Martha Stewart is a control freak. Queen Elizabeth is dutiful. Benazir Bhutto was ruthlessly, irresponsibly power-hungry. Eleanor Roosevelt was selfless. Hillary Clinton is an ambitious, self-possessed creature that runs the gamut of human emotion from A to B, even when her husband cheated on her so recklessly that the whole world found out the sordid details.

So now here is Hillary Rodham Clinton, thought to be an iron lady marching down an inevitable road to the White House, losing the Iowa caucuses. What does she do? She mists up.

The country lurched into a hyper-speed psychoanalyzation of this amazing development. No, she didn’t really cry. She sort of choked up as she explained to a sympathetic woman that this election is about rectifying the mistakes of the Bush years. People should understand she doesn’t want the glorious burden of the presidency for herself but for the good she would do for the country! She is “hurt” that some people don’t like her!

Were the misted eyes calculated to make her more appealing by showing a softer side? Or was this an honest, if rare, look at a moment of vulnerability for this strong woman? And did the national fixation with a momentary salty sheen indicate yet another double standard? After all, Bill Clinton and his predecessor George H.W. Bush cried all the time, and few paid much attention.

Pundits and pollsters concluded Hillary, stunned by the possibility of defeat, had finally heeded her advisers who said that too many potential voters were turned off by her mantle of invincibility. Suddenly, Chelsea Clinton was there. Refusing to say much, she was pulled into the spotlight to prove that Hillary Clinton really is a mother. And there was the former president, so proud of his wife he could burst, hugging and kissing her on every stage in New Hampshire even as he whined he couldn’t make her taller or a male.

We’re told by “insiders” that when Hillary lost in Iowa she didn’t blow her top, as she has been known to do. She became “determined” and “firm” and “took charge,” beginning to think about cleaning house (shunting aside some advisers and bringing in a new team, not actually picking up a broom).

Yes, she chastised aides for not getting her “message” across, but she and her husband also blamed the media, yet again. This time it was for ganging up on her and not giving Barack Obama a thorough enough vetting, portraying his ride as a “fairy tale.”

And then, suddenly, women identified with her, spurred by the sight of a gutsy woman being kicked when she was down and the thought that maybe this historic moment might slip away and another man would win again. Cobbling up a victory speech in New Hampshire, the comeback lady barely stopped at home for a change of clothes before she was back on a grueling pace to fight another day with eyes firmly set on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Having covered Hillary Clinton for eight years as first lady and watched her find her footing in the Senate and find her voice on the campaign trail, I find her to be as disciplined and formidable as ever. I also find her to be as calculating (not necessarily a bad trait) and as smart and as infuriatingly secretive as ever. With her friends she is warm, funny and girlish. With her aides she is demanding but also appreciative of good work. With the public she can still be the tedious, strident, lecturing schoolmarm, wearing us down with the message that she alone knows what’s good for us. Maybe she does.

I also find her to be as exhausting as ever. A Hillary presidency would be a bumpy road, full of ups and downs. But then, all modern presidencies seem to be roller coaster rides. Her biggest weakness is that if you are not 100 percent with her, she assumes you are against her. For the shrewd “finding common ground” politician she has become, this is disconcerting.

We have miles to go before we might decide we know what makes the ever-changing, ever-the-same, hard-driving Hillary tick. Of one thing we can be certain — there won’t be many more tears.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com)


  1. tropicaltaco

    Hillary is too much of a politician, too tricky for me, her so-called health plan, she says, will be implemented in her second term. What’s that all about. These people are good at telling us what we want to hear, then if elected it’s back to business as usual and we can not have more of that. We are a nation of people who have been taught to fix the symptom not the cause. With Hillary all I see is a woman who desperately wants to be the first lady president. You all must know by now how much being in the history books means to both the Clinton’s. She, along with the other talking heads have no real plan of their own and that is scary.
    What we need is a man or lady with a plan to fix this country, a person who’s bible is the constitution, not the good book. Our economic problems started a little over eighty years ago when our elected officials unwittingly let a handful of men with a system of credit that put them and their financial institutions in control of our country. Way back then Woodrow Wilson said,” We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilized world. No longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.” I don’t hear many, if any, candidates saying they will take this country back from these institutions. If you are not against them, you must be with them or you don’t see where the problem is. The only candidates who even come close are Kucinich and Paul but they are being squashed by the side of the road by big money and the media. That in itself makes it easy to see that they are considered to be a danger to the status quo and who we should be supporting if we really want real change. The ones who are being crammed down our throat are the ones who we should avoid.

  2. JoyfulC

    Maybe when we look at Hillary, we see ourselves.

    I live in a federal government town, and many of my friends work for federal government. Over the years, I’ve watched them time and time again have to adapt to political trends, changing priorities. It’s appealing to think that we’d all stand up and do a Jimmy Stewart-style stand, but the fact is, most of these people have careers to think about, and they have to find a way to go with the flow and still be relevant. And that is a consummate professional.

    Further, I think we’ve all watched friends have to pull themselves out of the ashes of personal humiliations and maintain their professional dignity. This might take the form of a spouse who runs off, behaving indiscreetly; a kid or sibling who ends up in the news or in jail; or even a personal misstep. When many of us look at Hillary, we think, “there but for the grace of god go I!” Regardless of whether we’d vote for her, we admire her for surviving — and we take hope that if the worst ever happens to us, maybe we’ll survive too.

    I was sad when I saw that she chose to run in this election because 1) I think the next president is going to be in a no-win situation (unless he’s as dirty as the last one — and then I don’t think he’ll skip a beat); and 2) because we have enough problems right now in this country without revisiting the “As The Clinton’s Turn” soap opera.

    But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t admire her ability to rise above adversity. That’s what I see when I look at her. Today, as an American, I really want to hope that people can rise above adversity — because, man, we got adversity!

  3. LurkingFromTheLeft

    And that is

    …exactly why I can not bring myself to ever vote for her –

    …unless of course she’s smart enough to snag Richardson for the ticket –

    …but given recent events, that is as likely as Dumbass saying something intelligent –


  4. emurph

    And what exactly do we know about Barack Obama? He came from nowhere, he spoke, we swooned. What’s that about? Why do we need to “know” the woman, but all the male has to do is appear?

    Emily Murphy

  5. SEAL

    The only thing Hillary has provided any information about is her health care plan. However, all I have heard is that she plans to sit down with the insurance industry and formulate a plan whereby all would be covered under a mandatory enrollment program just like we have on automobiles. However, I have heard nothing as to what the punishment would be for failure to enroll.

    They created milions of criminals out of people who could not afford the exorbiant rates of mandatory auto insurance by revoking their licenses and then locking them up for diving with suspended license. Just another way of making being poor a CRIME. Do they plan on doing the same with her health care plan?

    Most of that 47 million they claim have no health insurance
    cannot afford it. I would guess at least half of them live below the poverty line and are eligible for medicaid. [Which is a joke because you can’t find a doctor who accepts medicaid] But there are millions who do not qualify bcause they make too much money. What is the plan for these people? Are they going to revoke their health if they can’t pay? Or just lock them up like they do all the other poor people. Being poor is the most common crime in America.

    The point is that even on the one thing Hillary has chosen to be the primary stimulous to vote for her, she tells us almost nothing about it other than it will be managed by the insurance companies who will profit enormously.

    T only way you could have an affordable national health care plan is to exclude the insurance industry from all decisions.

  6. DejaVuAllOver

    I think if you read any of Obama’s books you’ll get a very good idea of who he is. In this respect, he’s the most transparent candidate in years. And one of the most intelligent. I may not vote for him, I still don’t know. But if Hillary has guts, Obama has even more guts since he has already bared his soul and his brain (in his books) instead of Hillary’s constant double-talk and pandering. Along with intellect, compassion and charisma.
    Hillary’s refusal to ever say anything substantial to anyone scares the bejeezus out of a lot of people, including me.