Time and again, she didn’t want to do it, but did it.
That’s the theme of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s public adult life–pretty much her entire life–as presented in a highly touted four-part documentary unveiled Friday on Hulu.
The documentary, titled Hillary, offers lengthy interviews with the seemingly introspective Bill and Hillary, as well as candid behind-the-scenes video of Hillary’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Bill explains remorsefully that he dallied with Monica Lewinsky to take his mind off things.
Many people will despair of the subject matter, citing fatigue. I despaired. But I watched. And the documentary provided an invitation for new contemplation of Hillary, if one were willing.
Arkansas was not the place Hillary would have chosen to live after law school and a stint as an aide for the House Judiciary Committee working on Richard Nixon’s impeachment in 1974.
But she loved the boy from Arkansas who was determined to run for office there. So she came down, even as he told her he wished she’d marry him but didn’t think she should because she had so many opportunities of her own in law and public service.
She didn’t want to give up who she was–an emerging feminist icon, unfettered by superficial concern for makeup and hairdo, who was the choice of her Wellesley College classmates to give a graduation speech. She ad-libbed the opening of those remarks to counter the commencement address of then-U.S. Sen. Edmund Brooke that seemed at times an ode to conventional female stereotype.
But when Bill got beat for re-election as governor of Arkansas and people blamed her appearance and use of her name rather than his, she said, OK, if that’s what is required, I’ll call myself Clinton and get my hair done and replace these thick glasses with contact lenses.
When Bill was running for president in 1992 and a woman accused him of a lengthy love affair with her, Hillary thought it absurd that she and her husband would sit down with 60 Minutes and let their marriage be invaded in a public spectacle.
But the political advisers told her it had to be done, so she did it.
She didn’t want to apologize for saying she could have stayed home and baked cookies rather than pursued a career. But, on about the fourth try, she managed to say it because her husband’s political advisers again told her it simply had to be done.
When Daniel Patrick Moynihan declined to seek re-election as a U.S. senator from New York, people instantly encouraged her to make the race, but she didn’t see herself as candidate material in a state where she’d be a newcomer.
But then she did it, because, as a friend from college puts it in the documentary, not running would have betrayed the cause back at Wellesley.
It seemed always to be demanded of Hillary either that she blaze the trail others eschewed or concede to conformities for her husband.
Perhaps there was a reason she always seemed so put-upon.
Bill tried to explain it on a plane ride from Mount Nebo to Texarkana on a Saturday afternoon in the autumn of 1982. We were headed from the annual chicken fry to a courthouse-lawn rally. I was tailing his comeback campaign for the then-Arkansas Gazette.
He said he understood I didn’t like Hillary. I, uncomfortable, hadn’t known that his campaign staff would relate that to him.
He said rather clinically that she and I had a cultural disconnection. He said that a Southern boy–and, by implication, an unevolved one–simply had trouble dealing with a strong Midwestern woman, and vice versa. He said Hillary was the most brilliant person he’d ever known and that I owed it to myself to reconsider her.
So, here it is 2020 and I’m still trying to sensitize myself to the education her husband sought to give me.
It still seems to me that Hillary lost the presidential race because she was Al Gore–an unnatural retail campaigner and poor communicator who made a couple of fatal strategic errors.
But women have told me, and will now tell me again, that I just don’t get it.
They’re probably aghast that I’d equate a mushy privileged male like Gore with a woman like Hillary resented because of her strength.
But it’s not only unevolved white Southern males with a problem.
The documentary quotes a female Hillary campaign aide expressing exasperation that, in focus groups in 2016, women said they couldn’t vote for Clinton because she had stayed with her cheating husband.
But they said they’d vote for Bill.
They were blaming her for his behavior.
Often, the aide said, a woman in a focus group would admit she had stayed with her own cheating husband, and others would relent to tell that same truth of themselves.
But that was different somehow.
It sounds as if some women need to contemplate themselves.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 03/10/2020