Murray Polner: Review of Gil Troy's Hillary Clinton: Polarizing First Lady (University Press of Kansas)
Pity poor Hillary Clinton. Or not. Still, has any female national political figure been subject to as many nasty and venal attacks? Not since Eleanor Roosevelt has a First Lady received as many body blows. The ultra-rightwing N.Y. Post once had Bill and Hillary second to Hitler on a most hated list. In 2006, however, after having made nice to the Post owner Rupert Murdoch, the newspaper, without much explanation, endorsed her successful senatorial run.
Is she then, a conservative, moderate or liberal, a conservative website recently asked its viewers. Or is she, perhaps, as Arianna Huffington, who switched from right to left herself asked, “the quintessential political weather vane,” one who poses for photos with Newt Gingrich, supports the criminalization of burning American flags and evades any effort to explain clearly why she backed the invasion of Iraq and continues to fudge this central issue.
Faced with deserved and undeserved criticism, she is also the wife who literally saved her errant husband after his sexual escapades, but who now faces the problem of “electability” in her assumed run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, even as she continues raising tons of money and is hiring an ever-growing army of “consultants.”
Her candidacy also raises the question of whether Americans can ever accept outspoken women as presidents. Why are we different from, say, the U.K., Ceylon, Liberia, Nicaragua, Chile, Israel, Germany and others who have had female leaders?
Gil Troy’s “Hillary Rodham Clinton” –he is a McGill University professor of history-- will surely not be the last word on this controversial yet quite fascinating woman politician, but his “Hillary” is an untendentious effort to understand, not attack. It is neither a simplistic campaign biography nor just another ephemeral piece of psychobabble.
There were, Troy believes, different stages in her political life (she was, famously, the daughter of a conservative Republican and who, while still young, backed Barry Goldwater in 1964). After Bill first entered the White House she moved her office closer to his, apparently prepared to become “assistant president” and assume the role of rescuing America’s troubled health delivery system, for which she was derided as much too pushy and aggressive. Even so, Troy shrewdly points to her “most authentic phase” when, reflecting on the stark divisions in American life, she sought to find a consensus which “reflected the kind of centrist she wanted to be, but did not always succeed in being.”