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An Exercise in Futility By: Ron Capshaw
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Woman In Charge
By Carl Bernstein
Knopf, 2007

In The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Condon solves the mystery of the chief villain—the woman controlling both her McCarthy-like husband and her Chinese-programmed assassin son—and her seemingly confusing membership in organizations both left and right through revealing her personality. The logic of her membership becomes apparent as the reader learns of her power hunger and the political traction needed to achieve it.

It’s a pity that Carl Bernstein didn’t have Condon handy in his biography of Hillary Clinton.  So much of her political behavior—her easy switches from Goldwater Girl to McGovern supporter, from feminist icon to the relentless protector of the promiscuous Bill Clinton (“IF I had her on the stand, “ she said famously of Gennifer Flowers, “I’d break her”), and her careful calculated stands even in the heat of the late 60s--might make sense in light of her personality.  Recollections of her from that mileu noted even then  she was more interested in the political process than political ideas—an iron-willed example of the long view of history, and one not at all typical of a New Left who thought contact with the establishment contaminating.

Such reminisces of power hunger  and the means covering the entire ideological spectrum  Hillary Clinton used to achieve it are scattered about and never connected to a thesis contrary to the author’s, much like modus operandi of the Warren Commission.  One could make the case that Bernstein is merely writing like a journalist, by presenting the facts in chronological order and letting the reader decide; but his occasional straining to paint an admiring portrait (he reports of Hillary’s incredible intellect by 20 evidenced by her ability to “speak in complete sentences”—a skill acquired by most people at age 5) allows him no wiggle room in this respect.
Instead, Bernstein sees emotional growth and development as the Clintons always have—as political success.  Hillary’s personality has evolved, asserts Bernstein, and the proof is in her climb from first lady to the Senate. 
In a sense, this is a wise prism, for detractors and sympathizers alike have always found her personality to be a mystery.  But a personality is present in Bernstein’s work—disciplined, calculating, always careful not to take the wrong step politically.  In 1968, surely one of the most white hot years in American politics, she is working for both the Republicans and the Democrats, helping the former with canvassing door to door and the latter with position papers.  All that is left to finish this process of working both sides is to find a position from both uniquely hers, and this equation, or more famously, this triangulation, would be completed with her marriage to Bill Clinton.  Both mesh perfectly and it is telling how much political power is an obsession with both that the reasons Bill cites for marrying her involve her political acumen and willingness to work hard.  The same thoughts run through Hillary’s mind about the marriage; while most wives would be concerned with either saving or abandoning the marriage, Hillary, during the Lewinsky scandal, has her eye on how it will play in the Iowa caucuses, and whether now is the right time to run for the Senate.
What remains a mystery about Hillary Clinton is the ideas she hopes to implement once she get her power.  Bernstein does seek to solve this by calling her “an emotional conservative and intellectual liberal” (a meaningless phrase when examined: does this mean in her heart she is a traditionalist and in her head an iconoclast?).  If so, why does she get heated—reportedly—over the plight of black people but dumped Lani Guiner when she became a political liability?  Or why did she attempt to channel Eleanor Roosevelt and yet retain the conservative Dick Morris for the purpose of keeping the poll numbers high?  It seems that in both of these instances, the head won out of over the heart and the former was not liberal, but a pragmatic one.
Ultimately the mystery of her ideas when coupled with her carefully-handled personality and her mercenary kidnapping of Republican and Democratic images (hawk on Iraq, supporter of teacher unions) is what makes voters and conservatives nervous.  Power-hunger alone is scary, but is even more so when the ideas motivating it are shrouded.  Ascertaining these ideas are like grasping at fog, and only the personality and calculated image making (bible thumper, chest thumper on Iraq, affirmative action supporter, feminist) are our only gauge.  But the power grasper, not an image she wants, ultimately cancels out all of these images; against the championing of black people, there is the dumping of Lani Guiner and carefully calculated damage leaked out against Barack Obama; against the feminist image, there is the crusher of the “bimbo eruptions.”  This yin and yang is disturbing, for it shows the desire for power overwhelms even the desire for image.  It hints that the hunger won’t stop with the presidency, but will continue in an effort to preserve it at all costs.
A Woman in Charge doesn’t fulfill what the country needs to know most about Hillary Clinton—what she wants to “change the world” into once she reaches the top.  A pity the biographer and toppler of a President who wanted to take over the entire intelligence/law enforcement apparatus of the country couldn’t or wouldn’t provide the answers about her.

Ron Capshaw has written for National Review, the New York Sun, Partisan Review and the Weekly Standard. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and is currently writing a biography of Alger Hiss.

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