Declaring her candidacy Sunday for the U.S. Senate from New York, the enigma wrapped inside a paradox otherwise known as Hillary Rodham Clinton revealed yet another incarnation. This time the world met would-be Sen. Clinton, New Democrat, born of humble means, a fighter for children, a woman accomplished in her own right. Her husband, the 42nd president of the United States, sat by and was largely unacknowledged.
"This is the day that Hillary Rodham came back to life and put Bill Clinton in his place," said Gail Sheehy, author of the bestselling biography "Hillary's Choice." "He was never introduced, he walked behind her for the first time, his name was never even mentioned."
Instead, Hillary Clinton took every moment to repeatedly explain "why I want to be your senator."
"I may be new to the neighborhood," she said, "but I'm not new to your concerns," going on to stress how children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way, show them all the goodness they possess inside, etc. The event was held in a gymnasium packed with well-wishers and reporters on the campus of the State University of New York at Purchase, about an hour north of New York City.
Her speech was preceded by an hour's worth of music, plaudits, surrogates firing veiled snipes at her likely GOP opponent, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and a biographical videotape we'll refer to as "Steel Begonia." The tape was made by first friends Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the same folks who repackaged a candidate raised in Hot Springs, Ark., as the Man from Hope -- and also coached a president into saying, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."
But the president appeared on the film only once, significantly fewer times than daughter Chelsea, an official from the National Council of Jewish Women and a dining-room full of New Yorkers who effused about the first lady, whom they met during her recent "listening tour" of the state. Everyone on the video testified to Clinton's lifelong dedication to big important issues -- gravely ill children in Arkansas, women's rights in Beijing, Gulf War veterans in Washington.
Viewers of the video also learned that, according to the candidate, she makes "a mean tossed salad, and a great omelet." Friends and family members attest to her inability to carry a tune, as well as a "great guffaw of a laugh to the point that you're embarrassed in a restaurant."
This presentation of a kinder, gentler Hillary Rodham Clinton was also shown at the more than 500 Hillary Clinton house parties going on throughout the state, part of the effort to present to voters the woman staffers argue is the real Clinton -- instead of the Lady MacHillary unable to wash those bloody Rose Law Firm billing records from her hand.
"She's amazed that people know so little about the work she's done," White House bag man Sidney Blumenthal said before the event. "It reminds me of Bill Clinton in June and July 1992, when voters had this impression of him that he was this privileged preppie." Campaign leaflets promised members of the press "Hillary: The Real Story," and it tells "the real story" as a positive one -- truth be told, a clever spin on the endless conspiracy stories about her. "We know everything -- and nothing -- about her," the leaflet's narrative begins.
Whatever, the day's testimonials, combined with the sight of the Incredible Shrinking President, were a remarkable attempt at repackaging. The event featured nearly every New York Democratic official living or dead -- from matronly Rep. Nita Lowey, the would-be Senate candidate before Clinton big-footed her way in, to raspy Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel, to outgoing Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to state Comptroller Carl McCall.
Lowey tore into a speech that repeatedly snarled at Giuliani without actually mentioning him by name. "Do we want a senator who will stand up to the NRA and pass real gun safety laws?" she asked. "Who'll stand up to [Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott and [North Carolina Sen.] Jesse Helms instead of standing with them?"
Then Rangel, in a slightly odd move, called the entire delegation to the stage to show that "Sen. Clinton [wouldn't] be lonely in Washington." He, too, laid into Giuliani by implication, saying that New York needed a senator who would oppose school vouchers and fight for the Democratic agenda. "When we have schools that are not working, you don't blow them up, you build them up," Rangel said. "When we have people who are jobless, homeless and hopeless, you don't put them in jail, you give them opportunity."
Sen. Charles Schumer, in rare form, then grabbed the mike and talked up himself and his achievements and how hard he works. And, oh yeah, he plugged Clinton, too. "We will make a great team in the U.S. Senate," he pledged. "Who better to fight for decent affordable quality health care than Hillary Clinton?" Ahem.
After a 15-year-old girl from Ithaca recounted her "epiphany" upon meeting the first lady, the audience was treated to the showing of "Steel Begonia" and then Clinton herself came out with her daughter, husband and mother, as well as Lowey, Rangel and Moynihan. The retiring senator recalled that he knew Eleanor Roosevelt and had shared "lots of martinis" with her. Calling Clinton to the microphone, Moynihan told her that "Eleanor Roosevelt would love you."
And then the cuckolded feminist and carpetbagging activist took center stage.
Though the video featured plenty of folks praising Clinton as different from just another politician, her speech was pretty standard stuff, mixing platitudes with parochialism. She mentioned the problems of teachers in Queens, breast cancer survivors at Adelphi U., her travels from Elmira to New Rochelle. She talked up "parents' concerns about the media's influence" on children, which she argued could be helped by V-chips and the idea of a "voluntary uniform ratings system" her husband first credited to her in his State of the Union address. (No mention was made of how hard she'd lean on her wealthy friends in Hollywood to stop their marketing practices.)
Kids were the focus of the day. "Every child counts," she said. "Every child deserves a chance. Raising a child is every parent's most important task. No child should grow up in poverty in America in the 21st century." And so on.
Long suspected of being a nefarious liberal influence on her pliable spouse, Clinton also took the opportunity to present a laundry list cribbing the best from both political worlds: "a balanced budget and more investment in education," welfare reform and better child care, more cops and fewer guns, an agenda simultaneously pro-business and pro-environment.
"I'm a New Democrat," she said. "I don't believe that government is the source of all our problems, or a solution to them."
Hitting the predictable list of constituent hot buttons -- Israel, abortion, middle-class tuition tax credits, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty -- Clinton was in an environment so friendly she even scored applause by promising to fight Republican tax cuts. "I'll be on your side," she said, over and over.
"One other thing I'll fight against," she said, in her only remark that seemed aimed at Giuliani, "is the divisive politics of revenge and retribution. If you put me in to work for you, I'll work to lift people up, not push them down."
After she finished, Des'Ree's "You Gotta Be" began playing ("You gotta be bad/you gotta be bold/you gotta be wiser"), a touch more on message than Billy Joel's "Captain Jack," which flooded the gym before she spoke ("Your sister's gone out/she's on a date/you just sit at home/and masturbate").
Beginning on Monday, Clinton will kick off a week-long tour around the state. For his part, Giuliani scored his own multi-faceted achievement Sunday, appearing on Fox News Channel's "Fox News Sunday," ABC's "This Week With Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts," NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation" and CNN's "Late Edition" all in one day. It was the first time anyone had achieved this feat since Monica Lewinsky's then-attorney, William Ginsburg, scored all five shows.