Hillary Clinton's many contradictions aren't hard to understand once you realize her need to suppress her natural instincts and policy preferences because they conflict with her lifelong presidential aspirations.
For the most part Hillary is not personally conflicted: She knows precisely what she wants. But her personality characteristics and the circumstances in which she finds herself force her to walk a tightrope between warring constituencies and to project a double-mindedness that is wholly inconsistent with her innate ideological certitude.
These themes were on display this past weekend as Hillary began her presidential campaign in Iowa. From the issue of her gender, to her kaleidoscopic positions on the war, she was trying to thread personal and policy needles to make herself attractive to Midwestern voters without triggering any more blue-state liberal landmines in the process. (Hollywood moguls have already sent her a message by hosting a fundraiser for Barack Obama.)
In the past, Hillary has vacillated between righteous indignation at any expectation that she should be home "baking cookies" and her acquired awareness that she must not go too far and project herself as cold and heartless.
So it was no surprise that in Iowa she reflected a bit of both sides: On the one hand she wore her gender on her sleeve in telling her audience she faced a "double standard" as a female candidate. In the next, shameless breath, she instructed them to look beyond "stories about my clothes and hair" to help her make history.
Similarly, Hillary wants desperately to project a soft, amiable side that is appealing to voters, but she doesn't want to come off as too soft to be chief executive and commander in chief.
Not to worry. She's quite comfortable with bare-knuckles political brawling. In this vein, she mildly criticized John Kerry for not having responded fiercely enough to his Swift boat accusers. "When you're attacked, you have to deck your opponents," she said.
Hillary has labored to cultivate the image that she's open-minded -- kicking off her first New York Senate campaign with a phony "listening tour" and pretending to absorb the people's concerns. Now, with an equally straight face, she says she wants to "chat" with voters and have "one-on-one conversations, just you and me."
Right. Surely even those not majoring in "Hillary Studies" can see she is nothing if not a woman with definite policy preferences and a singular commitment to accomplishing them -- no matter what anyone else thinks or chats.