By e-mail, video and on Twitter, Hillary Clinton made it official Sunday afternoon: She is a candidate for president.
Barring something completely unforeseen, that means the country is in for a minimum of 20 months of the Hillary and Bill Clinton show. And that could be followed by a four-to-eight-year booking in the White House.
If you’re like me, this prospect arouses mixed emotions. Not to be jaded about presidential politics, but we’ve seen this movie before. And I fear the next installment in this franchise – “She’s Back: This Time It’s Personal” – may just be more of the same.
Sure, the hair, the flare of the pantsuits, the net worth and girth of Bill (he complained about being called “frail” in the New York Times last week) have changed since I first met the Clintons in 1991, but none of the fundamentals really are different.
Hillary was the smart Yale Law grad who could work in any New York firm but instead became a star as the co-governor. You could see the seeds of the temperament that would hobble her again and again in her response to then-former California Gov. Jerry Brown’s suggestion that Bill Clinton had funneled state business to Hillary’s Rose Law Firm.
Hillary’s retort was one schoolchildren could recite: “Well I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,” managing to alienate any number of constituencies in one fell swoop. Despite the gaffe, after Gennifer Flowers came forward to claim a longstanding dalliance with the governor, Hillary upped her campaign appearances. A missed campaign stop or a cold shoulder to her husband would have looked like she wasn’t standing by her man.
But her common touch left something to be desired. For example, arriving at a stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, where people were chatting amiably about the cost of groceries (and making fun of the incumbent president, George H.W. Bush, for not knowing the cost of milk), Hillary killed the light buzz with a treatise on infant mortality. Her introductions of the candidate were as long as the candidate’s speeches. She seemed to hate every minute of it and probably did.
But maybe, just maybe, we'll get something a little different. Back then as now, friends insist that behind the helmet-haired, concede-nothing public persona, there is a funny, warm and loyal woman.
I saw flashes of that side of her when I got to ride from one event to another with her during the 1992 campaign. She explained how she endured campaign food by pulling out a bottle of Tabasco. She wolfed down popcorn while calling about Chelsea’s booster shots and joked about being a bad athlete. “I should have learned profession enhancing games like tennis and golf, rather than volleyball.” Her friend, the television writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, says Hillary was always the one to inject spirit into an evening, to “try the hippopotamus stew, or order the blue drink.”
As a candidate, or president, can she show more of that? Al Gore’s friends insisted, also correctly, that in private he was ever so loose, dry-witted and fun to be around. But in politics, if you can’t take it public, you don’t have it.
Even Hillary’s most fervent supporters say this campaign has to be different from her last one. But when you listen to them talk, you realize that they know it’s not just the campaign that has to change, but the candidate, too.