The latest New Hampshire polls don't look good for Hillary, or for the Clintons. CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup has her losing to BO by 13(!) percentage points. If she goes down like that tomorrow, she's dead in the water. The only theatrics worth watching will be how the two of them--she and Bill--take their leave, because their bowing out of American politics is literally impossible to imagine.
But look, sometimes I can't help but feel a little sorry for her. In this incredible '08 race, her place is a puzzle and her positioning is a conundrum.
Starting here. She wants to be Hillary, of course, which means dodging, slightly, the name Clinton. But she wouldn't be where she is without Bill. Denying him is like denying her gender or shoe size; she is Hillary but, she's also Hillary Clinton.
People love Bill--lots of them. But a ton of others--including me--just don't care to go back to the soap opera. He's older now, right? He's not going to be pinching some waitress's butt anymore. Nonsense. Another conundrum about Bill--he's as loveable as he is (to those who love him) because he's such a darling, little, naughty boy, so immensely profligate with his love. Rob him of that quality, and he's Mitt Romney, the Dudley Dooright, as Chris Matthews called him, of this election cycle. That ain't going to happen. For better or for worse, she's stuck with the man she's had for lo, those many years. And he's as much a blessing as a curse, just as he's always been.
So pity Hillary. She's got this big conundrum lurking around her, all the time--her big gun and her worst press. Some people love her, others hate her--because of him. The woman who once chided reporters about going home and baking cookies is suffering horrific identity problems because she's too much a spouse. There's nothing she can do about it. That's a conundrum.
And that's why you can't really help but feel sorry for her.
How about this? As someone wrote recently, were she the young idealist that she once was and prides herself on being--the brilliant young, liberal Wellesley grad--chances are, she wouldn't be supporting herself. She's too old, too establishment. Iowa showed convincingly that the young idealists, both genders, are not only riding but empowering the great Obama wave. In a way she's a victim of her age, and that really smarts to someone like me of the same vintage.
Feel the sympathy?
And more. She campaigns tirelessly on her experience, her 35 years--yadda, yadda, yadda. But for most of those years she was, really, Bill's wife. She wasn't a part of his National Security Council, nor was she present at any of his cabinet meetings. That means that a goodly part of her vaunted experience, the experience she crusades upon, was, well, "spousal." If there was any real sharing of national policy it was pillow talk. Fine--everyone knows that spouses rely on each other, mostly, but if the poor woman is going to claim the centrality of pillow talk, that claim pulls us back into the Clinton bedroom and if there's a room of the house she doesn't want us in, it's that one.
You've got to feel sorry for her.
But the greatest conundrum of all is that you just can't. Despite all these implacable horrors, she still is, well "Hillary," the most recognized woman in the world, greater even than Oprah, and maybe even more widely recognized than her husband. It's hard--really hard--to generate sympathy for someone already wielding that much power.
But one more conundrum. In all the ballyhoo about "change" this time around, she can't help coming in second to Obama, despite that fact that her presidency--as a woman--would be just as historic as his--an African American. So she's been investing in her reputation, her tireless energy, her commitment to the issues, her hard, hard work, her 35 years. And who can doubt all of that? It is, as I've said, impossible to imagine the stage of American politics without the Clintons. She's been a presence. No argument there.
But push that argument a little too often and, as other have said, it feels very much like entitlement. And entitlement feels like arrogance. Even in politics, pride remains the first deadly sin. It's impossible to feel sympathy for arrogance.
All of which means, there's nothing she can do.
And that makes me feel sorry for her.
And yet I can't.
What a conundrum.