I have never liked Hillary Clinton but I don’t know exactly why. It has been such a long time.
Something like half of all voters don’t like Hillary either, according to years and years of polls. Hillary’s enduring turn-off power is the sole reason so many Democrats fret that she could actually lose the general election to the weakest imaginable Republicans – Ted Cruz, Donald Trump or a messiah immaculately conceived by a brokered convention.
Trust, the lack of it, is the key, say the polls. But there’s much more to Hillary’s likability deficit. If Barack Obama in 2008 was a Rorschach test for voters’ hopes and dreams, Hillary has been an inkblot reflection of voters’ complaints and grudges since 1992. The deeper “whys” are elusive.
I thought it might be interesting to reconstruct the history of my own, totally subjective perceptions of Hillary the human, not the platform.
▪ Embarrassment with pity. Hillary’s epic debut came in the famous “60 Minutes” joint interview in January 1992 where Steve Kroft grilled Bill and Hillary about Gennifer Flowers. Bill weaseled shamelessly. They both lied. Hillary was formidable. “I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she said fiercely. Despite her complicity and her gristle, I was embarrassed on her behalf.
▪ Hubris, with a side of entitlement. Bill put Hillary in charge of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. It was a dumb move with disastrous results, probably Bill’s fault. That she took the job, however, I thought displayed Shakespearean hubris, and forged a lasting impression that she felt entitled to high power.
Her task force was secretive and that caused trouble; her response was brittle and sanctimonious.
▪ Persecuted but paranoid. That bunkered-down style became a permanent part of Hillary’s image. She is still lampooned for saying in the Lewinsky period that she and Bill were targets of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
Barack Obama has faced a much more vicious right-wing onslaught – racist, bigoted and delusional. But he has never played the martyr and isn’t paranoid.
▪ Inscrutable. When Hillary announced for the Senate, I was irritated – and mystified.
How could a person who had been through such hell come back for more? Ditto her presidential runs. Is she like Richard Nixon, compelled to power? Or Eleanor Roosevelt, a wronged but charmless do-gooder? These character questions nag and disturb.
As senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate, Hillary has demonstrated stamina, discipline, knowledge and steadiness in the face of extraordinary vilification even for this era of polarization.
I will never be a fan. I can’t reinvent my gut-level intuition despite her achievements. Many people can’t. That is her burden, her baggage.
Hillary’s greatest virtue: She’s not Donald Trump and she’s not Ted Cruz.