The Seduction of Hillary Rodham
The frustration on the right wing has been palpable during this election. Nothing Bob Dole was trying seemed to work. But many of his troops felt that nothing should be needed. To the right wing, Bill Clinton is so self-evidently evil—and his wife even eviler—that a righteous public would welcome the chance to get rid of them, no matter who was running on the other side. Talk show hosts, who regularly praise “real people” as opposed to “government” or politicians or inside-the-beltway types, were horrified that the public was not as indignant as it should be. Neal Boortz, the talk show host known as “the Mouth of the South,” said: “We can survive a dishonest President. We can survive a scheming First Lady. We can’t survive an indifferent and lazy electorate.”
Dole shared the frustration of his extremist allies. He desperately swung from one charge to its opposite, saying one day that Clinton believes in nothing and is willng to become a crypto-Republican at the imperative of polls, but claiming the next day that Clinton is a “liberal, liberal, liberal,” who will undermine all that is good with his wild beliefs. An attempt was made to bridge this contradiction with the myth of an “unleashed” second term. The argument was that Clinton feigned moderation when he was still facing re-election, but he will let his principles dominate him when he has no further elections to face.
The idea that presidents in their final term are unfettered by anything but their own imperious will is nonsense. Our presidents do not rule by fiat. They sway Congress by influence with the people. Take away the influence, and the Congress is unfettered. It can defy a president with impunity. It was in Nixon’s second term that he became so unpopular he could not even meet the public except at military bases. It was in his second term that Reagan was called to account over the Iran-contra dealings. A president is exposed to the aggression of Congress and the courts whenever he loses popular approval. He must continue to solicit that, no matter what point of either term he is at.
Still, a number of people do believe in the unrestrained power of a re-elected president, and Dole has tried to work on that belief, not very successfully. A more deft use of the argument is implicit in David Brock’s book on Ms. Clinton, but it is published too late to give much help to Dole. It will be around to feed suspicion that Clinton is out of control in his second term.
Brock’s thesis has the advantage of playing off the unpopularity of the President’s wife. It was a point of great disappointment to the right that Dole, already hampered by the gender gap, felt that attacks on a woman would backfire. She is the real target of right-wing zealots’ outrage. Brock has found a formula for attacking her while pretending to defend her.
Hillary Hate is a large-scale psychic phenomenon. At the Republican convention there was a dismemberment doll on sale. For twenty dollars you could buy a rag-doll Hillary with arms and legs made to tear off and throw on the floor. The entrepreneur demonstrated with furious rendings: then he pulled the head off—you can dash it down, or eat it, or burn it, or whatever. Talk shows are full of speculation about Hillary’s purported lesbianism and drug use. Fine conspiratorial reasonings sift whether she was Vince Foster’s mistress or murderer or both. The Don Imus show plays a version of the song “The Lady Is a Tramp” with new lyrics about the way the lady “fornicates” and “menstruates” and “urinates,” concluding: “That’s why the First Lady is a tramp.” Wesley Prudhan, a political columnist of the Washington Times, wrote that Bill Clinton must be allowed his Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones because “the devil in Miss Hillary made him do that.”
Brock is shrewd enough to know that all this unfocused hatred just jams its own signals. He carefully eliminates some of the wilder charges, adjudicating between Hillary Rodham (an extremist, but principled) and Bill Clinton (weak and vacillating, but doing her will). Though Clinton is ideologically bewitched by “Rodham” (Brock keeps the pre-Bill name for the true Hillary), he first seduced her from her principles before serving those principles himself. Brock’s tone is pitying toward both. Bill is unresponsive to anything except his libido, making him “perhaps the weakest chief executive since Warren Harding.” Hillary is principled to excess, but she had to abandon her liberal ideals to bail her husband out of his political troubles.
It began when she gave up her own name. “Hillary was not a phony, and she should not have had to play the part to advance Bill’s career.” Then she was drawn into the shady dealings of Bill’s friends. “In a figurative sense, she had married the mob.” Seduced by her husband, she gave up her own career—which was not, according to Brock, at the Rose Law Firm, but at radical power centers like the Legal Services Corporation, the New World Foundation, the American Bar Association Commission on Women, and the Children’s Defense Fund. Her energetic work for these allegedly leftist groups had made her, on her own as Hillary Rodham, the “figurehead and unofficial leader” of “like-minded liberal activists of her generation.” Even before her husband ran for the presidency she was “the informal head of the liberal wing of the Democratic party” and “the symbolic leader of the liberal establishment.” Because of her work in the ABA, “every major initiative of the left-wing legal activists—fought tooth and nail by the right—bore the stamp of Hillary Rodham.”
La Rodham showed her hard leftness by her willingness to work with an ex-Communist lawyer, Robert Treuhaft, in whose office she was a college intern. She even went to a party hosted by Treuhaft’s wife, Jessica Mitford! Since she, like other law students of the time, was an observer of the Black Panthers’ trial in New Haven, she became a lifelong “supporter of the Black Panthers”—which explains why her allies hired an ally of one of the Panthers’ lawyers many years later.
As a trustee of the New World Foundation, Ms. Clinton gave money to what Brock calls the Communist-tainted Institute of Policy Studies (full disclosure: I was on the board of IPS at the time, along with fellow subversives like Frances (Sissy) Farenthold, the Texas Democrat and Vassar College trustee, and we did wonder at all the radicals’ bombs and whiskers lying around the Institute). At the Legal Services Corporation, Mrs. Clinton dealt with the people giving legal service to the poor, including the National Lawyers Guild, Joe McCarthy’s target in the 1950s.
Brock assures us that he does not think Rodham is a Communist—no Joe McCarthy here! No, he just recognizes that Rodham learned from the Chicago reformer Saul Alinsky that any means is acceptable for reaching the goal of a good society—which means subverting an American system that is rotten: “Hillary gradually put Alinsky’s end-justifies-the-means philosophy into practice.” References to Alinsky pepper the book, one of whose chapters is called “Alinsky’s Daughter.” The basis for this is the fact that, on the advice of her senior thesis director at Wellesley, Ms. Rodham interviewed Alinsky on the effectiveness of LBJ’s poverty programs. (Alinsky had little good to say of them, which would normally please Brock.) Alinsky—in fact a pragmatic neighborhood organizer who liked to play rough on things like garbage pickups—is made the evil genius of Rodhamism, a master of subversion.
Following Alinsky’s dictates, Rodham became a leader on her own in the 1970s and 1980s—a hardlining fanatic, but at least not a phony. It was only after Bill drew her into his feckless campaigns and fishy deals that she had to compromise herself, change her name, and do legal work for the mob. Brock acquits her of criminal acts in Whitewater and related affairs, which were all Bill’s fault. The only thing she tried to do was save him from himself. Poor little honest revolutionary, she got sidetracked when Bill’s career made her put the revolution on hold.
Why did she prove so “seducible” by Bill? We are told that it was the insecurity of a plain-Jane bookworm dizzy with the “feeling of being wanted by a popular and desirable man.” There was more, and murkier, too: “At the same time, she may have been perversely drawn to the rejection implied by Bill’s philandering.”
By such things was a leader of the left directed into an Arkansas bywater. But her drive and discipline shaped up the hapless Bill, got him through a stormy presidential election, and safely installed him in the White House. Then she could revert to form, calling in her lefty friends to do the real work of governing behind and around the weakest president since Harding. Bill the compromiser could not block this powerhouse. In fact, he did not even want to: “Bill had no agenda but Rodhamism,” and since Rodham is best at handling Rodhamism, there was “precious little for Bill to do.” Brock calls this chapter “Rodham Rides Again.” Alinsky’s leftist disciple had reached the center of power to destroy the government from within. But, once again, Bill brought her down. Travelgate (which Brock blames mainly on Bill), along with Whitewater, led Hillary to attempt to organize a coverup with her friend Vince Foster (who broke under the strain of her demands).
In these pages I recently argued that there is no effective political left in America, though the Republican Party still beats that non-existent dead horse.* Brock confirms my contention. If Ms. Clinton can be declared the figurehead and leader of this shadowy entity, it must be very insubstantial indeed. During the time of her reign, as Brock traces it, few of the most activist liberals even knew who she was. She was working out of such conservative institutions as Yale Law School and the ABA. When she tried to prevent Ronald Reagan from gutting the Legal Services Corporation, she succeeded by calling on that leftist institution, the Congress.
Though the Clintons’ management of her health care program was a disaster, most of its self-defeating complexity came from her unwillingness to seek a governmental (“single-payer”) solution. She tried clumsily to incorporate market incentives—but not enthusiastically enough for Brock: “She made no bones about her distrust of the free market system.” Only if lack of idolatry toward the market is made the definition of leftism can Brock find leftists everywhere (thoroughly sprinkled with Communists) in this society where the wealth is concentrated in fewer hands than at any time in our past—and in fewer hands than any other modern democracy tolerates.
Brock admits that the left is invisible in this country—but only because the complicitous media hide it from sight. Once again, Hillary is not at fault:
Hillary has been nothing if not up-front about what she stands for, but the mainstream press has been unreliable in reporting on her real views…. Wittingly or not, these reporters have been a key element in a long-term strategy of the left to coopt centrist liberalism…. That is why most of the mainstream press…effectively disinformed the public about the true aims of Hillary’s health care initiative—letting fig leaves like “managed competition” obscure what amounted to a socialized government takeover of the private health care system.
The mainstream press also covered over the reality of Hillary’s power in the White House, making the nation think that other people had something to do with the administration.
Brock’s clever strategy solves the problem Dole could not explain—how Clinton can be a dangerous liberal and a man without principle. By Brock’s reading of things, Hillary’s is all the principle—evil principle. Clinton is seductively amoral and unprincipled. Actually, his hedonism is a blessing in disguise. It diverted Hillary for a while from her designs against the American system of government. But all that will change with a second term. In the first term, Hillary Bound was bad enough. Hillary Unbound will be very hell.
The only way to block Hillary from effecting her final coup, governing through her wimpy husband, is to prevent a second term. Second best is to make sure Republicans keep control of Congress, to maintain the pressure of investigations into the mob Hillary married. Third, as a last resort, if both the presidency and Congress are lost, Brock must break through the journalistic fog bank laid down to obscure Hillary’s illegal exercise of power. Brock has taken the vast but random energies of Hillary Hate and disciplined them, driving them like steam down simple channels to make the engine of opposition to the Clintons keep on working. And it will.
—October 17, 1996
"A Tale of Two Cities," The New York Review, October 3, 1996, pp. 16-22.↩
“A Tale of Two Cities,” The New York Review, October 3, 1996, pp. 16-22.↩