Hillary Clinton changes images with the quickness of Madonna. Like the Queen of Pop, she provokes and reacts, rethinks and reforms, pushes at hot buttons and then cools off with a dip in the mainstream.
Madonna moved from "Like a Virgin" to "Married With Children," and began writing children's books. Hillary went from high-octane lawyer in Little Rock who didn't want to stay home to bake cookies to being a first lady sharing her recipe for chocolate chip cookies. She went from standing by her man in a way that Tammy Wynette might have sung about, to standing up for New York in the United States Senate.
Both Madonna and Hillary have made a lot of stops that women understand. Madonna, who was born Catholic, now seeks meaning in the Jewish mysticism of the Kabala, and has even taken a Jewish name: Esther. Hillary never abandoned the Methodist social gospel, and now she's making noises that fall lightly on the ears of the evangelical swing voters who were turned off by John Kerry's tinny attempt to talk about "values."
Madonna continues to surprise us, but Hillary's reinventions shouldn't surprise us at all. She's on a trip, guided by the road map first used by her husband. She's working at looking "moderate," and learning to feel the pain of others.
When she spoke to the Family Planning Advocates of New York last week, she actually expressed empathy - if not necessarily sympathy - with the fiercest opponents of abortion. "I, for one, respect those who believe with all their heart and conscience that there are no circumstances under which abortion should be available," she said. This from one of the fiercest defenders of uncompromising feminist voices in the cause of abortion rights; she voted against the ban of partial-birth abortion.
She said "common ground" was the best way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. She described abortion as a "sad, even tragic choice to many, many women." Hillary is nothing if not calculating and she chose her audience carefully. She was talking not to a pro-life group, but in a lioness' s den of abortion rights advocates on the 32nd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision declaring abortion a constitutional right. Her rhetoric has been characterized as a Sister Souljah moment like that of her husband to the Rainbow Coalition in 1992, rebuking the black rap singer for her hymns to hate. It worked for Bill, and the gasps in the audience, as if those present had witnessed their angel's dainty feet exposed as works of clay, suggest it might work for Hillary.