Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Bernstein writes up Hillary.

I've met Hillary Clinton (r., by Getty Images) on a couple occasions, and there is no doubt she is a woman on a mission. I was in Seattle, in 1992, and Bill Clinton was stirring up the crowds at Pike's Place, just a week away from defeating George Bush, the First, and winning election as Clinton, the First, in a possible dynastic line of his own, distinctive in many aspects. The bumper stickers of the day read "Buy One, Get One Free" or variants thereof. Today, it's still a Two For One proposition that looms large. I saw Bill, and there was a palpable buzz in the air, and not just from the java that was ubiquitous in the caffeine crazed town (and why I was in Seattle to begin with) even if she was not seen on stage with him. Activists were giddy with the sense the Old Order was about to be toppled, and the new kid on the block had a wife that was part of the package.

With Bush, the Second, era not ending quick enough, the populi is anxious to get back to, ironically, a gentler and kinder time, as Clinton is now regarded as the best "Republican" to hold office since Ike. Balanced budget, surplus, all the standards of republican rhetoric, perversely abandoned like a drunken sailor on shore leave during Bush's tenure.

But as Bernstein notes, she is a polarizing figure, yet he is strangely ambivalent about her, with his peculiar verdict that the "jury's still out" on her. Hillary is on the trajectory of being nominated by her party for President. Historic, certainly. If she loses, she's still the junior Senator from New York, a position many feel she is more ideally suited. But, there's that super sale of Buy One, Get One, that may prove to be irresistible to a majority, just 17 months from now. However, it's a double-edged sword for many, too.

In politics, that is more than an eternity, it's unfathomable, almost, and the talking head crowd will have consumed bales of tea before the leaves in the cup can predict the outcome. This much is clear, that as the Primary process is getting rigged to insure the nominee is selected earlier than in recent past cycles, and quite possibly even before next March, the chips will have all fallen in place and voters will have been subjected to the longest election cycle in memory. Some would argue it's been non-stop since the debacle in 2000, with the contentious election of Bush by the Supreme Court.

The next time I met Hillary, or felt close to her, anyway, was in the summer of 1998, and oddly enough, during the period, unbeknowst to all, when Bill was having his White House affair with Monica Lewinsky (r.) . The Clinton family was enroute to their summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard, as they did a quick stop-over on Block Island. They were to simply be greeted at the tiny airport, dropped off by presidential helicopter, then limo to an island hotel restaurant, fortified by the Secret Service. I was on the beach at the time, reading (what else) the Sunday NY Times, as they flew overhead, whirling and whipping up the sky. Most islanders, already subjected to the invasion of the advance press corp, for the entire week leading up to their arrival, just wanted the Clintons to be left alone, as much if not more than, so our own privacy could be enjoyed. Let them arrive, and let them leave, as quickly as possible, was all the stoic and flinty reactions. Very New Englandy.

Shortly after the fly-over, I return to my cafe, just a hundred yards off the beach, and then suddenly, the entourage whizzed past the cafe, and it was all too apparent who it was. All black vans, tightly corraled and regimented. So there they were! Wow. The President. But as it turned the corner, only a hundred feet from the door, from Dodge Street to Water Street, all of a sudden, the train seemed to have stopped, and a huge roar went out, obviously from a crowd that had gathered on the narrow main street of the island, where the ferry would disembark the hordes of tourists, onto the two block stretch. I couldn't resist the allure of wanting to see what was happening.

As I walked and approached the now Fourth of July size-crowd, the street scene could not be pictured as anything except a mass citizenry coming out to see The President, in the flesh. And press it they did. Bill had stepped out of the heavily guarded vehicle and began walking down the middle of the street, and stopping to not just shake the hands of every outstretched palm, but to actually speak with every person who chose to, pose for pictures, laugh and nod his head apparently in agreement with the citizen's comments, and this went on for almost an hour - to walk the two short blocks, with the pitstop at an ice cream stand. I have a polaroid of Bill. Shaking my hand. It was a warm, comforting embracing handshake. Not the quick hand swipe of one being rushed along whether by the security detail, or by urgency to get where you're going, or to just get it over with. He obviously was enjoying every minute. I managed to utter a complete sentence as I asked him whether he was supporting some legislation of the day, of which I totally forget what it was, now, years later. I'm sure it was some high-minded subject, and not just a gushing, glad to meet ya, ga-ga, blabbering. It didn't matter; he looked me right in the eye, paused a moment, and then in that "I love a wonk" style responded with about 30 seconds of an informed position he held. None of that "oh thank you for saying blah, blah, blah, and I think blah, blah, blah" and move on with the same robotic and blithering on the campaign stump . He was a Rock Star! But just as amazing, Hillary was equally comfortable, radiant in the glow of the crowd's adulation, and attracted a mass about her that was almost more incredible. Plus, there was Chelsea, along with a girl friend, also just walking down the street, like a street fair, lapping it all up. The local crowd was loving every second of it and the famed New England, island reserve was thrown into the water like an undersized summer stripped bass. Which, by the way, is the finest eating possible on Block Island. The lobsters come in a far-distant second, or maybe third.
The next time I met Hillary was on the 2004 campaign trail in Key West, hustling for John Kerry. Big difference was the troop-strength of the train stop, although Flaglers's rail had ended almost 70 years earlier. Now, Key West attracts a more affluent audience, flying in, with big bucks being raised from the loyal liberals of the town, and, with all due respect, from more than a few who just wanted to be up close with the most famous political woman in the US. Assembled at probably the most lavish estate in the town, a mini-Versailles with waterfalls, extraordinary tropical landscaping, and exquisite food tabled. When the time came, she spoke crisply, stump speech style, hit the soft balls without so much as a sweat, and then posed dutifully with every single person in the gathering, who stood in line, good soldiers all, myself included, for the photo-opp memory moment.

Her Secret Service detail inspected every person with trained and grilling eyes, intimidating, given it was a crowd of Clinton-lovers, hardly a dissent in the humid yet fragrant air. I don't know what happened to my picture. I do recall my greeting with her, though. I said I was a former New Yorker, and my ex-wife, still living in the City, voted for her. Then, I said I hope she will support initiatives in support for the arts as vital for the health of a community. I mean, it was a flag-waving , apple pie statement, not meant to solicit, so much as register the issue as important, to at least myself, and, I spoke in behalf of the Film Society where I was President, etc. Why wouldn't she agree, after all. She didn't blink an eye and went right into how she ageed with me, thanking me for bringing it to her attention, and assured me she will indeed continue that support. OK. Yet, the contrast with the casual Block Island stroll down the unprotected street with a horde of people, and the controlled, tight and regimented scripting of a campagn stop, such as it was, was striking, Not unexpected, though. One, on vacation, the other, hard at work. But in the intervening years and experiences that had passed, clearly a more protected bubble, a guarded presence and on point. What the next year will unfold or reveal - about Hillary and as well as what the country will be focused upon - will be the subject of a cruise ship size vat of ink. Stay tuned! - MS

Here's Carl Bernstein and his take on Hillary Clinton

By Carl Bernstein
Alfred A. Knopf, 628 pages

Review by Chris Lehmann

This article was published in the June 3, 2007, edition of The New York Observer

It’s the piety, stupid. Carl Bernstein’s mammoth new study of Hillary Clinton (drawing, r., by Victor Juhasz, New York Observer) goes beyond the familiar theorizing about the gender politics of the New York Senator’s career, and instead homes in on her stolid Methodist enthusiasm for moral improvement. At key moments, Mr. Bernstein shows us a diligently observant Hillary, poring over passages in a small, well-thumbed Bible, underlining and pondering.

“Hillary’s faith is the link,” one of her former aides tells Mr. Bernstein. “It explains the missionary zeal with which she attacks her issues and goes after them, and why she’s done it for thirty years …. She’s not one of those people who’s out there doing the holy roller stuff. But that’s how she gets through it: some people go to shrinks, she does it by being a Methodist.” Another longtime friend of both Clintons observes: “With Bill, you felt he just wanted to be president, whereas Hillary had this religious zeal.”
And yet, as Hillary’s story unspools endlessly in the 628 pages of A Woman in Charge, the actual content of her religious beliefs seems only to grow fuzzier. With Don Jones, the charismatic youth-group leader of her Park Ridge, Ill., Methodist congregation, she encountered the socially engaged Protestant theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer—an experience that helped pry her loose from the Goldwater conservatism of her father and her own activist youth. At Wellesley, and at Yale Law School, the frame of spiritual reference widened further, as she became a seeker after the same direct, transcendent experiences that haunted many of her youth-culture comrades in the 1960’s. When she delivered a student speech for her 1969 graduating class at Wellesley, she famously rebuked the commencement speaker, Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, a liberal Republican and the only black member of the Senate, for his go-slow reformist sentiments. “We are, all of us,” she told the Senator on behalf of her generation, “exploring a world that none of us understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty …. We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living.” Groovy.

During Hillary and Bill’s rapid ascent, the substance of her faith seemed to take on the easily ridiculed, gooey New Age cast now associated with management retreats. There were the Renaissance Weekends amid well-heeled boomer seekers at the Hilton Head, S.C., resort. There were Hillary’s Camp David confabs with the spiritual-cum-motivational savants Jean Houston, Marianne Williamson and Tony Robbins. There was Hillary’s mercifully short-lived romance with Rabbi Michael Lerner and his “politics of meaning” (a man, I’m profoundly sorry to report, I once worked for).
This all came across, quite rightly, as a symptom of the Clintons’ terminal boomer narcissism—their well-documented penchant for attaching cosmic significance to passing fancies and pet campaign themes. But in Mr. Bernstein’s mostly admiring account, Hillary’s spiritual engagements set her apart from the pack, politically speaking—and apart, especially, from her often all-too-worldly spouse. “Through the years of their marriage, Hillary’s experiential openness would further delineate her capacity for personal growth and change,” Mr. Bernstein says with enthusiasm. And then ruefully: “As for Bill, only his political skills and judgments, as opposed to personal and emotional attributes, appeared to become more acute as he grew older.” The dichotomy seems even to extend to the couple’s taste in movies: Her favorite was the dreamy (and nothing if not transformational) Snow White; his, the guns-blazing Western-hero yarn High Noon.
Hillary’s New Age slogan for the couple’s joint enterprise, which Mr. Bernstein calls their “co-presidency”? The Journey.
For the rest of the review, go to: http://www.observer.com/2007/our-listening-tour