NEW YORK CITY.
Wanting what you can’t have is only human, but it’s a phenomenon perfected in New York. Only yesterday Rudy Giuliani was the Senate candidate everyone loved to “dis.”
Not now. If the election were held today, 49 percent of 600 likely voters polled for New York magazine say they would love to vote for the mayor. Only 42 percent would vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
This seven-point margin mirrors almost exactly the polling percentages in the race between Hillary and Rick Lazio, the actual Republican candidate. Only it’s the first lady who appears to be coasting toward a victory next month.
Hillary has been campaigning nonstop for nearly a year, and it shows. She appears to have worn away at least a little of the emotional animus that dogs her everywhere she goes. Michael Wolff, writing in New York magazine, even sees the first lady as this generation’s Richard Nixon: She won’t ever escape the scorn of half the population because so many people see in her their own “dark side.” That seems to be OK with the other half.
“Any conjecture, allegation, or accusation about Hillary becomes, if not the truth, a working metaphor,” he writes. “What is the most wrenching, painful, shameful thing she could have done (or had done to her) to have gotten this far? She would have done it (or endured it), don’t you agree?”
He continues: “Not since Richard Nixon has the essential humanity (does she think what we think, feel what we feel, bleed what we bleed?) of a politician been so much the underlying issue.”
This is ironic, because Hillary’s first real job out of Yale Law School was a position on the Senate committee studying the impeachment possibilities against Richard Nixon. So maybe the old school yard taunt, flung back at bullying accusers, is right: “It takes one to know one.” (And my daddy can lick your daddy.)
Which brings us back to Rudy Giuliani. The tough, abrasive mayor who cleaned up the city that everyone assumed no one could ever make livable again is probably still as tough and abrasive as he ever was, and that was enough to make a lot of New Yorkers grow tired of him. He wasn’t showing nearly as well in the public opinion polls last January as he shows today. But he was available then, and he isn’t now, so naturally that makes him more attractive now.
Not with everybody, of course. Some of the Republican barons here in New York are sympathetic, but only up to a point, with his health concerns. They notice how healthy he looks, and how unhealthy Rick Lazio’s numbers look. “He wanted to be a candidate for the Senate badly,” the wisecrack about Mr. Lazio goes, “and he got his wish, he is running badly.” They grumble that if the mayor isn’t history already he’ll be history long before his term ends on New Year’s Day 2002, and it serves him right for letting their side down.
Even if he had lost, the barons generally agree, the mayor would have had a future in the party, perhaps as a candidate for governor two years hence. But now, though he is not yet 60, his history is over.
His health aside, His Honor may be more astute than his critics. When everyone was saying that Hillary’s carpetbagger status would kill her in Gotham, the mayor might have known better. Hillary Clinton was actually made for New York. Besides, calling a Southerner, even a pseudo-Southerner from Illinois via Arkansas, a carpetbagger bends irony out of shape.
When New York magazine’s pollsters asked 600 professionals from across the state for their impressions of the two Senate candidates, they got interesting answers. Reporters, editors and others from newspapers, television stations, magazines and book houses by the expected overwhelming margin (62 to 25 percent) like the first lady best. Despite her debacle with the health care initiative, so do surgeons, physicians and various medical administrators (60 to 35 percent). Trial lawyers like her, and so do “fashionistas” and Madison Avenue hypesters. Only on Wall Street does Rick Lazio have more friends than the first lady, and there by only a razor-thin margin (54 to 52 percent).
The first lady, whatever her politics (still evolving, with the trademark Clinton self-interest always at the top of the agenda), turns out to be the perfect celebrity candidate, famous for being famous and forgiven for everything because she is famous, and nowhere is this more appreciated than in the city that imagines itself to be the manufacturing center for celebrities and fashions. And what is fashion, after all, if not the yearning for something you can’t have?