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Resume Imitates Life

Hillary Clinton's "Living History" shows that, to the senator and former first lady, politics isn't everything--it's the only thing.

8:45 PM, Jun 12, 2003 • By MATT LABASH
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The conservative caricature of Hillary Clinton has always hinged on painting her as a bloodless, calculating shrew who pulled Bill's strings and regularly packed the dirty laundry off to the dry cleaners. But there is a much more prosaic explanation for why so many detractors find her even less appealing than her husband. He, for all his faults and nods to political expedience, exhibited an anti-political impulse: a scampish charm and an insatiable, often reckless appetite to live life for it's own pleasures, consequences be damned. While Bill's detractors would call this his hedonistic side and his boosters would call it his human one, Hillary, as revealed by her own ghostwriters' words, is pretty much a one-sided affair. "Living History" paints her as a purely political creature.

Everything she does--no matter how pedestrian--seems to contain some golden moral or noble expression, which almost always rings false. Since it's not officially a campaign book, and contains next to no policy prescriptions, one could reasonably expect her to throw open the window and let out some of the hot air. The memoir give the impression that you are never being allowed a glimpse into her true world. Or more troubling perhaps, that you are--that Hillary's artificial world is also her real one.

Consequently, you never get the sense that she is trying to seriously arrive at the truth, but rather, that she's merely shining up her resume. She is a joiner, and an apple-polisher, the teacher's pet and the queen of the spelling bee--every twit you knew in school that was begging to be taken behind the gym for a game of full-contact dodge ball. Thus, we learn that she was president of her high school fan club for Fabian, and served as well on the Cultural Values Committee. After running successfully for student council and junior class vice-president, she tried to join NASA's astronaut training program. At the time NASA wasn't accepting girls--and even though Hillary was still in high school and wore coke-bottle glasses, this "blanket rejection" made her "more sympathetic later to anyone confronted with discrimination of any kind."

It doesn't end there. There was also her distinguished service at her church's altar guild, as well as her unsuccessful campaign for student government president, after which she settled on helming the "Organizations Committee." She was also the president of her college's Young Republicans, worked on the Steering Committee for the League of Women Voters' national conference on youth and community development, and in Arkansas, chaired the Education Standards Committee and Rural Health Committee, setting her up later for her belly-flop off the high-dive as chair of the President's Task Force on National Health Care Reform. Lest I be accused of manipulating a few committee assignments to imply that her inner life and political life are indistinguishable, I'm implying no such thing: Who else could seriously write of her grade-school appointment as "co-captain of the safety patrol" "This was a big deal in our school. My new status provided me my first lesson in the strange ways some people respond to electoral politics."

But this trait isn't merely evidenced by her playing Quick Draw McGraw with her resume every few pages. Every detail of her life is wrapped in a tidy little pre-package--containing all sorts of do-goodnik asides ready for a campaign bio or a stump-speech moral. Conceiving Chelsea? "We weren't having any luck," she writes, "until we decided to take a vacation in Bermuda, proving once again the importance of regular time off." Most people would just be happy to be having sex in Bermuda. She has to prove the importance of taking regular time off. Her delivery of Chelsea? An excellent opportunity to work in the factlet that Bill accompanied her into the operating room for her C-section--an "unprecedented" move at Baptist Hospital, though "soon thereafter the policy was changed to permit fathers in the delivery room during cesarean operations."

A hike through Yellowstone with Chelsea and Bill? "America's national parks have provided a model and an inspiration for other nations to protect their national heritage," and oh, by the way, she almost forgot to mention: "Bill announced a historic agreement to stop a large, foreign-owned gold mine on the border of Yellowstone from threatening the pristine environment." Vince Foster, one of Hillary's best friends in the world, committing suicide? She interrupts news of his death to tell us that right before she was notified, she'd been on a trip to Japan, where she "met with a group of prominent Japanese women--the first of dozens of such meetings that I held around the world--to learn about the issues women were facing everywhere."