Hillary's Milquetoast "Rosie" Turn

Robin Dougherty comments on Hilary Clinton's appearance on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show".

By Robin Dougherty
February 5, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)
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memo to the first lady: He won, already. So stop playing the goody-goody and speak up.

Yesterday, the White House let Hillary Clinton out to play.

The first lady visited the "Rosie O'Donnell Show." What a coup for Rosie, who was able to top the high-voltage buzz she got from trotting out Madonna several weeks ago.


And what good luck for the White House. It's no mere coincidence that Hillary and Rosie harmonized on "The Telephone Hour" from "Bye Bye Birdie" (really) just 24 hours before the president was due to deliver his State of the Union address. America's good sport whoops it up with America's sweetheart. If that's not good media buying, I don't know what is.

Of course, now that candidates and anchormen show up on MTV and hip, late-night talk shows with frightening regularity (and Bob Dole has made a third career out of cameos on "Saturday Night Live"), a first lady flapping her gums in an afternoon time slot shouldn't turn heads.

But Hillary's TV appearance, actually taped last week, is a front-page headline. For the past two and a half years, the first lady has been in virtual seclusion. Early into President Clinton's first term thanks to her ill-timed remarks about moms who bake cookies, not to mention health-care reform Hillary was sentenced to the political equivalent of having to spend the rest of the day in her room.


If memory serves, Hillary's last utterance on national television occurred sometime during the 1994 Winter Olympics, when she ran across David Letterman's mom in Norway. Whatever she said then has already been taped over.

Indeed, Hillary has been hidden away like a social embarrassment the maiden aunt who babbles on about the family secrets. Or, more to the point, like an intelligent woman in an era that gives lip service to the ideal of women's potential, but when confronted by the reality of women in power, still turns pale and makes hostile jokes. God forbid such a creature should actually speak her mind.

Of course, none of this would be happening if the second Clinton term weren't already in the bag. With no voters to offend, there's no reason why the first lady can't go out in public. What's disappointing is how muted she still remains.


The truth about Monday's 40-minute appearance is that Oscar the Grouch actually stole the show before Hillary set foot on the stage, a basket of official White House M&Ms (the peanut kind only, not the plain) in tow. As the perfect straight man, his misconception about fellow guest Michael J. Fox allowed Rosie to explain to him, "He's not a fox, he's an actor." The same cannot be said for Hillary Clinton -- she's neither an actor nor a source of provocative discourse.

Along with the M&Ms and a kids' book for Rosie's son, Parker, the first lady also brought along a trivia quiz based on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." (One tidbit: Betty Ford was the only first lady to appear on the sitcom.) Hillary, who looked pale and ill at ease and happened to be wearing a deadly dull navy blue suit seemingly designed not to offend, also delivered a handful of earnest remarks about the importance of literacy.


Can't argue with the importance of literacy, can you?

To be fair, the first lady actually seemed delighted to meet Oscar the Grouch and to give him some official White House trash. But the most poignant moment of the show wasn't when Hillary offered Oscar "some golf balls sliced by the president of the United States," but when Rosie asked her if, as a child, she had been interested in politics.

Her response: "I wanted to be part of what was going on." That's what you'd expect from the first baby-boom first lady. Then why is it that even now, after the election's over and there's nothing to lose, Hillary Clinton is still handing out candy and making pleasantries? Here's hoping she finds bolder, more important ways to be part of what's going on.

Robin Dougherty

Robin Dougherty is a frequent contributor to Salon. She is a freelance writer who lives in Miami Beach.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton White House