The Magazine

An Exceedingly Strange New Respect

Hillary Clinton makes friends in some surprising precincts.

May 12, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 33 • By NOEMIE EMERY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

After March 4, she suddenly seemed to look and sound different: She began to seem real. The shrillness was gone, and so was The Cackle, and so were the forced southern accents that once caused so many so much merriment. Hillary!--whoever that was--never really cohered as a character; her previous poses--the Perfect Wife, the Aggrieved Wife, the Empress-in-Waiting--were all unconvincing, but in her new role--the scrapper, forced to the wall, and hanging in there with ferocious and grim resolution--she is suddenly all of a piece. Along with her inner JFK, she has channeled her inner Robert F. Kennedy (going back to the days when he was still "ruthless"), along with her inner Margaret Thatcher--"No time to go wobbly"--along with echoes of the John McCain who clawed his way out of the grave only last winter, and the George W. Bush who just as tenaciously saved his Iraq policy--and maybe Iraq itself--from the Democrats in Congress last year.

It is no accident that it was just at this juncture that she began to rouse outrage in parts of what once was her base. It is a truism that liberals think people are formed by exterior forces around them and are helpless before them, while conservatives think individuals make their own destiny. Liberals love victims and want them to stay helpless, so they can help them, with government programs; while conservatives love those who refuse to be victims, and get up off the canvas and fight. Hillary may still be a nanny-state type in some of her policies, but in her own life she seems more and more of a Social Darwinian, refusing to lose, and insisting on shaping her destiny. If the fittest survive, she intends to be one of them. This takes her part of the way towards a private conversion. She is acting like one of our own.

If this weren't enough to make right-wing hearts flutter, Hillary has another brand-new advantage: She is hated on all the right fronts. The snots and the snark-mongers now all despise her, along with the trendies, the glitzies; the food, drama, and lifestyle critics, the beautiful people (and those who would join them), the Style sections of all the big papers; the slick magazines; the above-it-all pundits, who have looked down for years on the Republicans and on the poor fools who elect them, and now sneer even harder at her. The New York Times is having hysterics about her. At the New Republic, Jonathan Chait (who inspired the word "Chaitred" for his pioneer work on Bush hatred) has transferred his loathing of the 43rd president intact and still shining to her. "She should now go gentle into the political night," he advised in January. "Go Already!" he repeated in March, when she had failed to act on his suggestion. "No Really, You Should Go," he said in April after she won Pennsylvania, which made her even less likely to take his advice. "Now that loathing seems a lot less irrational," he wrote of the right wing's prior distaste for both the Clintons. "We just really wish they'd go away."

And what caused this display of intense irritation? She's running a right-wing campaign. She's running the classic Republican race against her opponent, running on toughness and use-of-force issues, the campaign that the elder George Bush ran against Michael Dukakis, that the younger George Bush waged in 2000 and then again against John Kerry, and that Ronald Reagan--"The Bear in the Forest"--ran against Jimmy Carter and Walter F. Mondale. And she's doing it with much the same symbols.

"Clinton became the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11," the New York Times has been whining. "A Clinton television ad, torn right from Karl Rove's playbook, evoked the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war, and 9/11 attacks, complete with video of Osama bin Laden . . . declaring in an interview with ABC News that if Iran attacked Israel while she were president," she would wipe the aggressor off the face of the earth. "Clinton is saying almost exactly the same things about Obama that McCain is," Chait lamented: "He's inexperienced, lacking in substance," unprepared to stand up to the world. She has said her opponent is ill-prepared to answer the phone, should it ring in the White House at three in the morning. Her ads are like the ones McCain would be running in her place, and they'll doubtless show up in McCain's ads should Obama defeat her. She has said that while she and McCain are both prepared to be president, Obama is not. They act, he makes speeches. They take heat, while he tends to wilt or to faint in the kitchen. He may even throw like a girl.