This is a valentine I could, would, never write. Yet write I do, because praise I must a woman who would not go into the good night gently – indeed, at all.
Nothing in my life foretold such reappraisal. In 1993, Hillary Clinton booted from the White House George H.W. Bush, me, and hundreds of our friends. In 2000, I asked a question of her, campaigning for the U.S. Senate. Briefed about my sordid past, she eyed me, dagger drawn.
Unimpressed, I was not surprised, knowing Clinton’s ideology, memory, and soapbox mentality: then an arch, cool as a Kenmore Ivy-schooled child of wealth. Today, the child has, it not vanished, morphed from elitist don to Joe Six Pack’s Joan of Arc: Ma Kettle, meet Billy Graham
Forget the New Nixon, Bill Clinton becoming Bubba, or George W. Bush once seeming Presidential. Hillary Clinton’s 2008 extreme political makeover was — as television’s Maude would say, “God will get you [me] for this” – the most dazzling this nee Republican has ever seen.
In Kentucky, Hillary swills local whiskey. In Pennsylvania, the candidate thanks daddy for teaching her how to shoot. In West Virginia, she becomes pitchfork tribune of the working class: our girl, bub, and don’t you forget it. The only thing she didn’t do was defeat Barack Obama: finding, as Irving Berlin wrote, that “You can’t get a man with a gun.”
I write this not cynically, but admiringly. Tip O’Neill said all politics is local. It is also personal. “I’ll stand with you as long as you stand with me,” Hillary bays on a pickup truck. A unionist hails her “testicular fortitude.” To a governor, “compared to her, Rocky Balboa looks like a pansy”: inevitability gone, spine intact, heroine not of trendies but Main Street’s redeemed.
“Something’s happened. There’s been a miracle here,” an aide said of a once-callow Franklin Roosevelt. Hillary’s was to wow those whose perception of her seemed fixed. Did she mean her ode to work, family, and every dog that is under? Only she and hubby knew. She bared deceit: also, much-wounded, perhaps sensed wounds in others. Listening, Clinton learned. “Whatever happens,” wrote the New York Daily News’ Tom DeFrank, “it’s a profile in True Grit.”
Any campaign lights aspects already clear: here, ego, knowledge, belief (if errant), and self-confidence. (Hillary would be ready to be President from Day One. What kind is another tale.) It also reveals qualities that didn’t exist, or weren’t grasped: courage, tenacity, and loyalty, even warmth. Why not withdraw? Maureen Dowd asked. “Because she can’t go home and tell Chelsea she’s a quitter.” Even a GOP parent nods.
Such traits augur an able President. They also help elect one. John F. Kennedy said, “The hell of it is, I love … learning to talk to voters in their language.” Clinton talked Meadville and Muncie and Marietta’s. “I have a broader base to build a winning coalition,” she said, truthfully if self-servingly — whites, Catholics, right-to-center Protestants, blue collars, and union members: more Grant Wood than Yale and the Rose Law firm forming a mountain twang.
Thus, the rub. By any index, Clinton was more electable, Obama having trashed the rural, small-town, religious, swing-state and swing-shift voter. Yet his primary/caucus delegate, superdelegate, and popular vote edge endured, fueled by money, a vast youth and black vote, and shameful in-the-tank media, whose identity-group politics are his.
“Mountain Mama in Toothless Victory,” the Daily News smeared Clinton’s perceived West Virginia booboise, who ironically would help her rout John McCain. By contrast, Obama may lose this fall, swelling nascent buyer’s remorse. Hillary would then say, “I told you so,” turning to 2012.
Either way, she will end 2008 far more respected – God place the mark, beloved — than when this year began. “Go get ‘em, girl,” chant admirers. In a sense, their girl already has.
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