Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2007
This column doesn’t make political endorsements or predictions. Its
prevailing orientation, however, is progressive. But because I’ve lived
in Arkansas since 1972, I’ve long been acquainted with Sen. Hillary
Clinton. How well I know her is probably best illustrated by a chance
encounter in October 1991. It was one of the oddest days in recent
Arkansas history. That morning, we’d learned that the Arkansas Gazette
had capitulated in Little Rock’s bitter newspaper war. It would
henceforth be known as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, its politics as
firmly Republican as the old Gazette’s were Democratic. Several friends
had lost their jobs. That afternoon, Arkansas and Texas would play their
last football game in the old Southwest Conference. David was losing
Goliath, the end of an era. My wife and I attended a pre-game barbecue
hosted by her former boss, then U.S. Sen. David Pryor, maybe the most
popular man in Arkansas. Anyway, here came the Clintons. At the time,
Bill Clinton was engaged in a ludicrous statewide pilgrimage asking
voters’ permission to run for president. He’d vowed not to during his
1990 re-election campaign.
Warm-hearted Arkansas patriot that she is, Diane gave him a big smile
and said, “Go for it.” Transplanted New Jersey wiseacre that I am, I
turned to Hillary Clinton and said, “Have y’all lost your minds? This
will be the end of your private lives forever.”
Politics interests me as a spectator sport, but I can’t fathom running
for office. Three fund-raisers a week would leave me begging for mercy.
Actually, shaving three consecutive days might do it. As the woman, I
figured Hillary as the sensible one, captive to her husband’s vaulting
How little I knew, either about the personal costs of running against
the Republican attack machine or Hillary’s own will to power. We had a
brief, animated conversation about the epic dishonesty of the press,
specifically a local figure she’d famously gotten off Bill’s back by
seeking his advice.
“The problem,” she said, “is that it never ends. His ego can’t be
satisfied. It’s never enough.”
I got the impression, possibly mistaken, that she thought the national
press would function more responsibly. Alas, it’s far worse. Politicians
can’t risk filing libel suits; hence, Washington is a virtual free-fire
How many times did reporters touting the bogus Whitewater scandal
predict Hillary’s indictment?
But it’s my wife who really has insight into Hillary’s character and
personality. They worked together when Hillary served on the governing
board of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Diane always mentioned two
things: how diligently Hillary worked to advance children’s health
issues, and how nice it was being treated as a colleague and equal by
the governor’s wife, who never pulled rank.
What really endeared her to Diane, however, was Hillary’s empathy during
a prolonged medical crisis involving our son. At times, my wife was
emotionally strung out, barely functional, a shadow of her professional
self. Little grace touches meant a lot.
Hillary never failed to express concern. Her questions made it clear
that our troubles had been on her mind. How were the new medications
working? Were we satisfied with Dr. X? Had we thought about consulting
Dr. Y? It was no big thing. She simply acted like a friend at a time
when Diane needed all the friends she could get.
(And no, I wasn’t a political journalist then. This wasn’t about me. It
was about two mothers.)
As a consequence, Diane will hear nothing against Hillary Clinton. She’s
traveling to New Hampshire at her own expense to campaign for her. She
doesn’t recognize the calculating shrew portrayed in the national press.
Me, I don’t participate in politics at any level. But I wouldn’t stop
her if I could.
Anyway, here’s my question. Ever since the Oct. 30 Democratic debate in
which moderators Tim Russert and Brian Williams abandoned all pretense
of evenhandedness, repeatedly inviting John Edwards and Barack Obama to
characterize Hillary as a two-faced opportunist, it’s clear that the
Cool Kids at Beltway High are determined to take her down. Both rivals
were foolish or ambitious enough to play along. Obama cleverly puts it
this way: “We’ve had enough of... triangulation and poll-driven
politics. That’s not what we need right now.” Yet their voting records
are extremely similar. Obama also claims he’s beyond partisanship. “I’m
not an ideologue, never have been,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” “ Even
during my younger days when I was tempted by... more radical or
left-wing politics, there was a part of me that always was a little bit
conservative in that sense; that believes that you make progress by
sitting down listening to people, recognizing everybody’s concerns,
seeing other people’s points of views and then making decisions. ”
Hence, my question: Exactly what’s the difference between wicked
triangulation and praiseworthy compromise? Isn’t it a distinction
without a difference?
—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.