Love her or hate her, America can't seem to get enough of Sen. Hillary Clinton.
The latest literary examination of the former first lady - "The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President" by Edward Klein - has produced an interesting ripple in the Zeitgeist.
Nobody much likes it.
That liberals dislike the book comes as no surprise, but that conservatives are distancing themselves from Klein is interesting. As a former New York Times Magazine editor, part of the liberal mainstream media that members of the VRWC (Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy) love to hate, he would seem a proper new darling for conservatives.
As an apparent crossover, he might have expected a warm embrace. Instead, he got a Baghdad welcome. Short shrift from the natives, in other words.
This rejection from some (though not all) on the right suggests a couple of things:
One, that Americans of all stripes are tired of nasty, and Klein's treatment of the Clintons is reminiscent of a time we're trying to forget. He focuses overmuch on Hillary's alleged lesbianism, for instance (she didn't shave her legs and underarms at Wellesley!), and even writes that Chelsea was conceived one night when Bill raped Hillary.
Only the fringiest Clinton-haters could find pleasure with that level of prurient tabloiding of a former U.S. president and a present-day U.S. senator. After a few paragraphs, you find yourself reaching for the Brillo.
Another possible explanation may be that conservatives understand Hillary Clinton is a serious presidential contender in 2008 and that Klein's book is not helpful. By attacking her in ways that fair-minded Americans find indecent, Klein helps burnish her image as victim.
Recall that Hillary Clinton was not universally beloved as first lady. Her "Me, Too" co-presidency with Bill, notable for her failed national health-care plan (and her contempt for the stand-by-your-man, cookie-baking wife), won her few friends.
Enter Monica Lewinsky and, in a miracle of mass empathy, Hillary transmogrified from arrogant political animal to sympathetic do-right woman. Nobody kicks a wounded woman when she's down.
In fact, they elect her to the U.S. Senate.
Never mind that she had never lived in the state in which she was running. Those details could be sorted out in due course. Go Knicks! I mean, go Yankees! Go Palestine! No, Israel. Oh, whatever.
It's not about ideology after all, it's about winning, and that may be what Klein was trying to say. Too bad he got bogged down in the mud. Contrary to what some detractors claim, Hillary isn't an ideologue. She's a pragmatist. Whatever works is her ideology.
Ideologically, she wasn't a stand-by-your-man woman, but as a practical matter, she did stand by her man. Klein insists she always knew about Bill Clinton's infidelities and that their marriage was a Faustian bargain. Nothing new there, and who cares? Whose business is it how a man and woman manage their marital affairs?
What's more concerning about the ever-evolving Hillary Clinton is that no one really knows who she is. In quintessentially Clintonesque fashion, she's whoever you need her to be. Like her husband, she is a master of mirroring - of reflecting back to others a complimentary and complementary image of themselves.
Writing for The Nation's June 6 issue, Greg Sargent described Hillary during two speaking engagements in a single day. One was before an audience of Democratic activists, for whom she delivered a red-meat GOP-bashing speech. The other was to some 300 farmers, for whom she was jest a kuntry gal makin' fun of them city folks. They ate it up - both crowds - but which group saw the real Hillary?
Neither and both. Obviously, some of this is just politics and common sense. You check the temperature of a room before entering and adjust your shtick accordingly. But with Hillary, there's something more, a something-else that puts people on edge, something they distrust without knowing its name. It is, I think, rage.
It's the rage that comes from having to tamp herself down and play nursemaid all these years while Baby Bill swaddled himself in the raiment of public adoration. While playing the supporting role, Hillary wasn't idle. She was taking notes, building up armor, shoring up her psychic energy while keeping a finger on the nation's pulse and her hand near the thermostat. Biding her time, turning her cheek, waiting her turn.
The real Hillary Clinton is one ticked-off mother, in other words, and she wants to be the most powerful person in the world.