- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2000

Hillary Rodham Clinton looks like she's been through a "creative divorce." When New York's new senator-elect visited Capitol Hill for freshman orientation the other day, her smile was as broad as the Cheshire cat's.

She wore bright pink, but only to accent her collars and cuffs, a flash of femininity to relieve the heaviness of her signature black pants suits. She's learned a lot about a lot of things, including fashion, since she wore that awful hat on inauguration day in January 1993.

Gone is the clenched jaw and tight frown of failure she wore for months after her health care plan bombed. Gone is the unpolished blend of humiliation and aggressiveness on the day she blamed the "vast right-wing conspiracy" for her husband's adulterous dalliance with a White House intern. Gone also is the passive listener who toured upstate New York in the early days of her campaign.

She most resembles Richard Nixon, who had been kicked around and returned in triumph to win the presidency. She has been reincarnated with the bloom of success. Like Nixon, she's smart and carries a lot of baggage, ruthless in her reach for power, and she has made a lot of enemies and mistakes. But she never lost the hearts and minds of her partisans. It's too early to know whether the Nixon comparison will be sustained and how it may be extended.

More than her husband ever was, Hillary's the "Comeback Kid." She did it the hard way with neither his sunny personality nor his social ease. Anyone who has ever been in Hillary's public presence gets the impression that she's working all the time. Unlike Bill, Hillary doesn't enjoy politics for the sheer fun of the game. Her hugs are arch, her smile studied, her body language self-conscious.

The Hillary haters, as her critics are invariably called, were overcome with ambivalence on election night. With the Clinton administration in its waning days, and Al Gore (as I write) looking as though he's high on Percoset, a miraculous drug that kills pain but does not touch the cause of it, Hillary is the easiest target in town. But she looks so emotionally liberated that it will take a little time to create a new satirical image for her. Hillary doormats are out.

When, in fact, she was asked about the rumor that her husband might consider running for the mayor of New York, she quickly squelched the idea as "ridiculous," something that would "never happen." She sounded like she knew what she was talking about, because this time she's calling the shots.

As Al Gore's star continues to fall, Hillary's is clearly ascendant. She's a marvelous actress, too, giving a wonderful performance as a disappointed Gore partisan. But it's a long, long way from November 2000 to November 2004. No one will be scrutinized more than Hillary in everything she says and does, whether she adapts to her new assignment as a Senate grunt or a party commandant.

Eleanor Roosevelt has been left far behind. Hillary may continue with the seances, but Eleanor has no on-the-job experience tips to pass along for work in the Senate, or a road map back to the White House. Eleanor Roosevelt hated to be called a feminist. Hillary reflects the triumph of modern feminism, even if many feminists occasionally hated the way she did it. Like an opportunistic man, she used everything that came her way to get where she is.

She has always been a quick study. When her health care plan crashed and she was blamed for the election of a Republican Congress in 1994, she went into hibernation and waited for the right time to emerge again, and when she did it was in a fashion shoot in Vogue magazine.

When her billing records from the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock turned up in the White House living quarters, she got away with pretending innocent surprise. The $100,000 killing she made in cattle futures was as fishy as a Cajun gumbo, but she got to keep the money (and probably had to use it to pay for Bill's sexual harassment of Paula Jones). If she lied about Whitewater, as the independent counsel insists she did, she was shrewd enough not to let him prove it. She showed she could take a wifely mortification and emerge more "virtuous" for it. Feminists who despised her victim's role didn't understand that she was only calculating how to turn Bill's humiliation into her own redemption.

As she heads into the lion's den of the Senate, Hillary's a proven gladiator. But as any gladiator (or lion) could tell her, there are a lot more lions than Christians in Washington, and they're all hungry.

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