The Magazine

Hillary's History

From the July 7 / July 14, 2003 issue: Senator Clinton's opus.

Jul 7, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 42 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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Compared with Hillary Clinton, Bill is a big pile of humility. "While Bill talked about social change," says Hillary, "I embodied it," to loud hosannas and wild exaltations. In China, at the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, "The serious and stony-faced delegates suddenly leaped from their seats to give me a standing ovation. Delegates rushed to touch me, shout words of appreciation and thank me for coming." In Chicago, at the 1996 Democratic Convention, "The crowd erupted into a frenzy of clapping, chanting, and foot-stomping. . . . My motions to urge the crowd to sit down were futile, so I just waved and let the cheers wash over me."

"Living History" traps us in the heated daydream of an earnest and lofty-minded high school student--the kind who belonged to the Methodist youth group, sat on the student council, was elected junior-class vice president, got appointed to the principal's Cultural Values Committee "to promote tolerance," and would go on to become president of student government at some college for girls. As Hillary did. With a wonderful young person like that, well, some people are bound to be jealous and just act mean. Hillary points out that, during the Whitewater investigations, "public discourse was increasingly dominated by reactionary pundits and TV and radio personalities." You remember how the popular kids at summer camp got together and made sure we had acne.

But it's beyond me how those reactionary pundits concluded that Hillary is representative of the 1960s generation. Hillary's countercultural experience seems to have consisted of one visit, with another suburban girl, to Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic convention. "In the crowd behind us, someone screamed profanities and threw a rock, which just missed us." Heavy.

IN FACT, Hillary and her husband aren't representative of much of anything American. Neither can drive a car. Hillary hasn't been behind the wheel since 1996. ("I cajoled my lead [Secret Service] agent, Don Flynn, into sitting beside me. . . . Don's knuckles were white as dice by the time we arrived.") And Bill should never try. ("He has so much information running through his head at any given moment that he doesn't always notice where he's going.") In nearly twenty years of family life, the Clintons did not own a home or go to the mall without armed guards. And when they had a cat and dog, "I had to set up a separate correspondence unit . . . to answer their mail."

One senses profound superficialities here. Plumbing the shallows of Hillary is no easy matter, even for Hillary. She tries to give us the genesis of her worldview, but the anecdote runs out of control:

One snowy night during my freshman year, Margaret Clapp, then President of the college, arrived unexpectedly at my dorm. . . . She came into the dining room and asked for volunteers to help her gently shake the snow off the branches of the surrounding trees so that they wouldn't break under the weight. We walked from tree to tree through knee-high snow under a clear sky filled with stars, led by a strong, intelligent woman alert to the surprises and vulnerabilities of nature. . . . I decided that night that I had found the place where I belonged.

No fair consulting Freud. We need to work from primary sources. We must listen to Hillary's insights. About Princess Di and Mother Teresa, for example: "Aside from the obvious differences, each of these women had a talent for spotlighting the most vulnerable and neglected people and using her celebrity in calculated ways to help others." Aside from the obvious differences.

We must watch Hillary learn: "I always knew that America matters to the rest of the world; my travels taught me how the rest of the world matters to America."

We must recognize Hillary's principled outspoken feminism as elucidated in her U.N. Conference on Women speech: "It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small."

We must understand her ability to commune with the strong, intelligent women of past generations: "So, what would Mrs. Roosevelt have to say about my present predicament? Not much, I thought."

We must understand her sense of humor: "No one can make me laugh the way Bill does."

And understand her hair: "Thus began my lifelong hair struggles." "That was when my hair got me in more trouble." "It was another hair crisis."