31 Jan 2007

The Vaulting Ambition of Lady Macbeth

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Gerard Baker, in the London Times, contemplates the dreadful horror that is Hillary.

As you consider her career this past 15 years or so in the public spotlight, it is impossible not to be struck, and even impressed, by the sheer ruthless, unapologetic, unshameable way in which she has pursued this ambition, and confirmed that there is literally nothing she will not do, say, think or feel to achieve it. Here, finally, is someone who has taken the black arts of the politician’s trade, the dissembling, the trimming, the pandering, all the way to their logical conclusion.

Fifteen years ago there was once a principled, if somewhat rebarbative and unelectable politician called Hillary Rodham Clinton. A woman who aggressively preached abortion on demand and the right of children to sue their own parents, a committed believer in the power of government who tried to create a healthcare system of such bureaucratic complexity it would have made the Soviets blush; a militant feminist who scorned mothers who take time out from work to rear their children as “women who stay home and bake cookies”.

Today we have a different Hillary Rodham Clinton, all soft focus and expensively coiffed, exuding moderation and tolerance.

To grasp the scale of the transfiguration, it is necessary only to consider the very moment it began. The turning point in her political fortunes was the day her husband soiled his office and a certain blue dress. In that Monica Lewinsky moment, all the public outrage and contempt for the sheer tawdriness of it all was brilliantly rerouted and channelled to the direct benefit of Mrs Clinton, who immediately began a campaign for the Senate.

And so you had this irony, a woman who had carved out for herself a role as an icon of the feminist movement, launching her own political career, riding a wave of public sympathy over the fact that she had been treated horridly by her husband.

After that unsurpassed exercise in cynicism, nothing could be too expedient. Her first Senate campaign was one long exercise in political reconstructive surgery. It went from the cosmetic — the sudden discovery of her Jewish ancestry, useful in New York, especially when you’ve established a reputation as a friend of Palestinians— to the radical: her sudden message of tolerance for people who opposed abortion, gay marriage, gun control and everything else she had stood for.

Once in the Senate she published an absurd autobiography in which every single paragraph had been scrubbed clean of honest reflection to fit the campaign template. As a lawmaker she is remembered mostly, when confronted with a President who enjoyed 75 per cent approval ratings, for her infamous decision to support the Iraq war in October 2002. This one-time anti-war protester recast herself as a latter-day Boadicea, even castigating President Bush for not taking a tough enough line with the Iranians over their nuclear programme.

Now, you might say, hold on. Aren’t all politicians veined with an opportunistic streak? Why is she any different? The difference is that Mrs Clinton has raised that opportunism to an animating philosophy, a P. T. Barnum approach to the political marketplace.

All politicians, sadly, lie. We can often forgive the lies as the necessary price paid to win popularity for a noble cause. But the Clinton candidacy is a Grand Deceit, an entirely artificial construct built around a person who, stripped bare of the cynicism, manipulation and calculation, is nothing more than an enormous, overpowering and rather terrifying ego.

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