Ghosts of Hillary Past

Originally posted: March 9, 2007

Greencastle, Ind. – When asked if there was anything he’d like to say to his millions of patrons worldwide, the international hotel magnate Conrad Hilton advised, “Please put the curtain inside the tub.”

Commenting recently to a Des Moines audience about how to handle negative campaigns, Hillary Clinton was less droll. “When you’re attacked, you have to deck your opponent,” she advised. Straightforward, clear, knife-fight simple. It typifies the Clinton style of politics.

In 1981, again in Des Moines, at a Democratic Party election workshop ex-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton offered less experienced candidates his prescription for dealing with negative advertising: “When someone is beating you over the head with a hammer, don’t sit there and take it,” said Mr. Clinton. “Take out a meat cleaver and cut off their hand.” This is advice Bill has offered repeatedly.

Fast forward to the current presidential campaign, when the Hillary regime has imposed a strict order: You’re either with us or against us. Opponents — and would-be supporters of opponents — are expected to understand that they’re running against Team Clinton and there will be no mercy. No political spouse in America owes a candidate more than Bill owes Hillary. She stood by as the wounded wife during the Monica/impeachment period, when leaving might have cost him the presidency. That he intends to be at her side whenever needed was demonstrated last weekend in Selma, Ala.

It is well known that she believes John Kerry’s big mistake when his military record was “swift boated” is that he didn’t deck ‘em. Kerry showed weakness and he was beaten.

In the 1992 presidential campaign, it was Hillary who set up the war room in Little Rock, and she did the same thing again when, as first lady, she was put in charge of health care reform, the administration’s largest domestic initiative. White House aide Jake Siewert once said, “She was the only person in the White House that people were afraid of.” That included Mr. Clinton himself. When the president announced at a conference of the nation’s governors in Boston that he might compromise Hillary’s plan for universal health care with coverage at less than her prescribed 100 percent, he got an instant response by telephone from the first lady: “What the (expletive deleted) are you doing up there?” she thundered. “You get back here right away!” Mr. Clinton came home and promptly backed off his offer to compromise.

With Hillary away at Camp David, White House aide Rahm Emanuel thought it safe to invite a bipartisan delegation of legislators to the East Room for a reception and briefing on the North American Free Trade Alliance. The group included former Republican Secretary of State James Baker. When word reached the first lady, Emanuel got a blistering phone call. Sobbing in anger, Hillary demanded, “What are you doing inviting those people in my home?” These people are our enemies. They are trying to destroy us.”

In those days, Hillary had a fearsome reputation. These events return to mind because now, the Democratic frontrunner regularly tells audiences, “I may be the most famous person you don’t really know.” In a long article this week about the various Hillarys we have known, The New York Times characterized her current, remodeled image as “Nurturing Warrior,” tough but inherently feminine.

Along those lines, former Brandeis professor Linda Hirshman noted that on the same day in Iowa that Hillary showed her warrior side (the “deck your opponents” remark), she also invited people to vote for her on the basis of her entire life experience: “The fact that I’m a woman, that I’m a mom, is part of who I am.” In appreciation of Hillary’s political acumen, Hirshman added, “The candidate had the good sense not to reveal the War Room Hillary at the same event as Mom.”

This is the time when Americans are supposed to look carefully at the troop of would-be presidents. An important part of the job is to assess their temperament, insofar as that is possible. There is a bookshelf of biographies on the Clintons, and from them the impression is indelible that Hillary is a woman who divides the world into friends and enemies, much more so than her husband. As a father of daughters, I want to be alive when we elect our first woman president. But her current rhetoric conjures ghosts of Hillary past, and I must admit, considering her temperament, I have reservations.

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