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Entitled to What?

Hillary Clinton’s long march through the institutions

Aug 4, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 44 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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I’ll just ride your coattails, dear.

I’ll just ride your coattails, dear.

AP / Doug Mills

Contrary no doubt to what she expected, Hillary Clinton has hit some serious snags in the rollout of her unannounced campaign for president. She has made Romneyesque comments about the size of her fortune, such as that she was “dead broke” when she bought her two mansions. When queried about events on her watch as secretary of state that proved embarrassing, she took responsibility without being accountable, projecting the impression that anyone who pressed further was crude. Most damning of all, what has emerged in plain sight from the first month of the publicity tour for her memoir Hard Choices is the extent of her sense of entitlement. She feels entitled to make $200,000 for a speech, to own two mega-houses in pricey neighborhoods, to be treated like royalty. She feels entitled to fawning coverage from reporters, especially female ones. Asked by the journalist John Harwood to respond to Jill Abramson’s comment that “she expects you to be 100 percent in her corner,” Clinton replied, “I think one of the points Jill was making is that I do sometimes expect perhaps more than I should.” Now she feels entitled to go back to her old digs on Pennsylvania Avenue, not as first lady this time, but as the Big Dog herself. This is a lot, but she thinks she deserves it, and her story explains why she does. 

As one of the first female stars to emerge from the best schools in the late 1960s, Hillary Rodham was a pet of a great many female professors, who assured her she was brilliant and could have it all. There was the pact that she made early on with her husband, a brilliantly gifted political salesman, to win and share power. There was the fact that from 1992 on she exerted an emotional hold over millions of professional and would-be professional women who thought her a leader, defender, and heroine, who formed an armed guard around her that reinforced her convictions. There was the Lewinsky scandal, which gave her an aura of martyrdom, cemented her hold on her feminist followers, and lifted her to a celebrity stardom few people will ever achieve.

Coming along at the right time in history, the plain and outspoken Hillary Rodham—featured in Life as valedictorian at Wellesley, then a standout at Yale Law School—was someone on whom her teachers and mentors could hang their ambitions for the future they wanted to see. The Supreme Court, the White House would not be beyond her, and when she threw in her lot with the Arkansas charmer, they were convinced that she’d married beneath her and helped her pack for her trek into nowhere with nothing but grief in their hearts. “I worked hard as a woman to help her get the opportunities she was entitled to,” said one mentor sadly. “I thought she was throwing that opportunity away.”

She wasn’t. She was joining forces with a man who would give her a shortcut to power unique to themselves: She would subsume her ambitions in his, get him elected, and they would share power, giving her clout of a sort rarely given a woman—plus the chance to succeed him when his term was done. Every office he held would become a joint venture, so much so that the pair were soon known as “Billary,” and Bill would tell the New York Times when he won his first race for governor, “Our vote was a vindication of what my wife and I have done and what we hope to do
for the state.” By 1992, when Bill was elected president, Hillary held the same place in his life that Robert F. Kennedy had held in the life of his brother John 30 years before; Sally Bedell Smith would write in For Love of Politics, her dual biography of the Clintons, that Bill “showed his intention to expand his election victory .  .  . to encompass Hillary, as if she had been on the ticket, too.” Thus he named her to head his task force on the reform of health care, planned as the highlight of his domestic agenda, a cabinet-equivalent post without the annoyance of a hearing in front of the Senate. At the same time, aides close to the couple speculated openly about her one day becoming president. “There are a great many people talking very seriously about her succeeding him,” Smith quotes Clinton aide Betsey Wright saying. “Friends, Democrats, people out across the country think it is a very viable plan.” 

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