I have a confession to make that will, no doubt, disillusion many of my fellow conservatives. I don't hate Hillary Clinton. Try as I might, I just can't muster sufficient vitriol to attack her or her new book. Don't get me wrong. I disagree with Hillary on most public policy issues and have frequently criticized positions she has taken over the last 10 years. I was terribly disappointed when she won the New York Senate seat. I was glad to see her leave the White House and hope she never comes back, certainly not as president. But that's about as far as it goes.
I suspected I was out of step with my ideological soul mates on the Hillary question when I turned down a chance to debate Living History on television last week. Usually, I can be counted on to debate almost any subject, any time, any place. Granted, I was worried more about my own reputation than Hillary's when I passed up the invitation. I didn't want to look catty, which is inevitable when one woman goes after another. What's more, I hadn't even laid eyes on the book, which seemed to me essential if I was going to criticize it.
But the real test of whether I am a true Hillary-hater came when I ran into her a few days later on Capitol Hill. I was alone in an elevator in the Russell Senate Office Building on my way to visit another senator when, suddenly, the thing screeched to a halt mid-floor and reversed track, taking me to the basement of the building. Before I could get my bearings, the doors opened, and two Secret Service agents stepped in, followed by the junior senator from New York, wearing her now-trademark pastel pink pantsuit.
We exchanged pleasantries, with her asking the perennial Washington question, "What are you doing now?" Roughly translated, this means: "You used to be (a) important, (b) famous, or (c) the subject of some scandal or gossip. So, are you collecting unemployment checks, or have you managed to land on your feet despite everything?"
This wasn't my first personal encounter with Hillary. Just before Bill Clinton's inauguration as president in 1993, I had dinner with the about-to-be First Lady at the Clintons' gabfest, "Renaissance Weekend," in Hilton Head, S.C. I've never figured out why I was invited, much less why I was seated at Hillary's table, along with a number of other people who ended up in the Clinton administration, including fellow Republican and Reagan White House alumnus David Gergen. During dinner, I found Hillary personable, though wary -- as much of job seekers and influence peddlers as of potential adversaries. Ten years later, having achieved power of her own, albeit with a bitter complement of public humiliation, Hillary Clinton seemed more relaxed and cheerful.
But the real surprise wasn't how Hillary behaved, but what I felt, which was pretty much nothing. My blood pressure didn't go up. I didn't feel any anger or resentment. I didn't harbor ill will. Where was all the pent-up animus any red-blooded conservative was supposed to feel in the presence of our archenemy, I wondered.
Frankly, I've often thought that conservatives might be partly responsible for Hillary's success. Conservatives and liberals are locked in a weird, symbiotic dance with Hillary. By demonizing her, we've elevated her importance and encouraged liberals to rally around her. And there is no question that all the vituperative attacks on her book have increased sales.
In truth, Hillary Clinton hasn't been nearly the wild-eyed radical some predicted she'd be if elected senator. From a policy standpoint, I doubt she'd be a worse president than John Kerry or Howard Dean or John Edwards, or any of the other Democrats running. But I'm betting we'll never find out. In the meantime, I'll wait to pick up a copy of her book when it hits the remainders table at my local bookstore.