The Cut-Rate Pursuit of Power

Posted: Nov 08, 2007 12:01 AM
The Cut-Rate Pursuit of Power

The drip, drip, drip of robotic, monotonous answers is finally revealing acute insights, exposing the real beneath the veneer. We're finally getting below the paint to see the real people hidden under the polished political surfaces.

Hillary's convoluted answers to simple questions suddenly betrayed her carefully applied cosmetic answers in the early debates, making it harder to keep her (face) powder dry. She's not just a front-runner and a woman, but half of a power couple who may finally be required to pay for the excess baggage, both his and hers. The former first lady is the most exposed candidate in the race, and the least known. Despite the endless revelations of scandal and sharp dealing, we've never got to the bottom of "Wifewater," her financial killings in the commodities markets, the whereabouts of the lost records that suddenly and inexplicably showed up in the living quarters of the White House.

We probably won't ever learn more about them than the mixture of facts and factoids in all the books by and about the Clintons. But the questions, like ghosts, haunt perceptions of her character as the focus on the present continues to sharpen. The double talk -- "the tripletalk, quadrupletalk, Olympic nonresponsiveness," as columnist and author Peggy Noonan calls them -- suddenly sounded an alert, like fog horns cutting through the mist on a dark sea.

Sally Bedell Smith documents in her new book, "For Love of Politics," how almost everything Bill and Hill did in their White House years was for the love of politics as a couple rather than for the love of each other, or for the love of country, for that matter. It's why Hillary characterized the Monica Lewinsky affair as "a vast right-wing conspiracy" rather than his betrayal of her. Bill was talking about their marriage when he said, "the truth is, most politicians are not candid with people." What they haven't been candid about is their love for politics as their primary (no pun intended) pleasure in life.

It's what Barack Obama understood when he said that Hillary was running a textbook campaign "that's all about winning elections but says nothing about how to bring the country together to solve problems." Despite the polls that suggest that many women are for her because she's a woman, many women are suspicious of her because she runs a campaign where women's issues are more prop than passion. After the last debate, when her campaign accused her rivals of "piling on," she ran to Wellesley, her all-female alma mater, to draw attention to those bad men in their boys club, though she's totally dependent on the biggest, baddest boy of all.

Hillary's still running on the script written by Bill, offering "two for the price of one." He runs interference for her when he can, as after the debate debacle, falsely blaming the Bush administration for their failure to release their promised voluminous White House records that he controls. She runs on her experience in the White House and calls for more transparency in the current administration while together they keep their records, which could reveal who knows what, hidden from the public.

Bill and Hill, as described by Sally Bedell Smith, are less of a married couple than two orbits of power, "more akin to John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby, who served as attorney general and operated as a de facto vice president while serving as the president's eyes and ears and closest adviser." The Clintons are "political warriors" and she wouldn't be running if not for his coattails -- his advice, contacts, connections. Ironically, Bill shows the more traditional female sensibility, and she reveals the masculine style. "You get a hug from Bill and a solution from Hillary, as one of her friends says." Bill is "mushy" and Hillary is "unsentimental." He feels everybody's pain but hers. She adapted.

Monica Lewinsky cut into Bill's historical legacy, but he saw Yasser Arafat depriving him of the Nobel Peace Prize when he refused to accept a promising compromise to make peace with Israel. Hillary's chance at the White House offers Bill the prospect of getting a do-over to right his White House wrongs. Nothing gets his dander up like the accusation that he had Osama bin Laden in his sights but couldn't pull the trigger. How much did Hillary know, and when did she know it?

The events of 9/11 revealed the Clinton years as particularly trivial, with his peccadilloes and her conspiracy theories measured against authentic tragedy, but together they've forged a fresh commitment to the pursuit of power. The question for the rest of us is, do we settle for two cut-rate has-beens for the inflated price of one?