My View – Through the looking glass

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I look like Hillary Clinton. I used to deny it. But in 1993 when my then 18-month-old baby saw her on television, crawled to the screen and started kissing it saying, Mommy! I had to admit, there was something there.

For 15 years, valet parkers have greeted me with Hillary! Check-out ladies say, I know you have been told this before and men in elevators pose it as a possible insult followed by a sheepish, but you are much nicer. 

Taking the venom for Hillary Clinton, I am her defender. I say, I have met her and she is very nice. Or trying to be lighthearted:  I am flattered to look like her, and I only wish I also had her brain! Or if fed up at their hostility, I say, It must be difficult being so threatened by a woman. They look at me smugly thinking indeed, I am just like her.

As a one-woman, 15-year focus group on what people think of Hillary, I have had countless conversations with total strangers about what has become a Rorschach test of political outlook. Here are my conclusions on her high negatives.

In part it is the gender thing. Such a clich: the woman in leadership as dragon-lady. She is tough, she is smart, she is capable, and something about those qualities in a woman makes some people very uncomfortable.

But there is more. Part of it is how people remember the Clinton years. Today the nation feels about Bill Clinton the way I always did. He is the man from Hope with a Bridge to the Future bringing surpluses, peace and economic prosperity. Oh to have him feel our pain again! He is off helping Katrina victims, creating development programs in Africa, being smart, compassionate and diplomatic. He creates opportunities for others, he asks something of us, he works with old political foes, he operates in a way that suggests we can break out of our polarized conflicts and make positive changes.  

But Hillary, still in tactical mode as Senator and presidential candidate, remains the repository of the bad memories. The nagging feeling that positions are poll driven, triangulated, cooked up in a caldron of the possible.  The Clintons always suffered this duality, the good they did in contrast to the way they sometimes did it. In retrospect he has become the good cop, she, the bad.

You see it in her votes:  the vote for the Iraq war and the recent vote for the Kyl- Lieberman amendment. She is not for the war, just voted to allow the president to go to war. She is not for allowing Bush to attack Iran, just voted for an amendment that designates one third of the Iranian military, the Iranian National Guard, as a terrorist organization. It is the lets do but say we didnt approach to creating a record. While a clever way to successfully maneuver traps of electoral politics, there is a cost. The gain in survivability is counterbalanced by a loss in credibility, candor and even likeability.

In a nation up to here with back door calculation, secrecy and the say this but do that, old Clinton maneuvers look all too familiar. As much as looking back conjures nostalgia, theres an aching sense that you cant go home again.

My now 15-year-old daughter saw Barack Obama on Oprah Winfrey over a year ago, and has been for him ever since. When I asked her why she would not be for the woman in the race, she said Hillary seemed like all the other candidates. Barack was different, hopeful, honest, real. It was the same answer I would have given about young Bill Clinton some 15 years ago. I had to admit, there was something there.

Today the valet parkers say, Barack Obama? But you remind me of Hillary! My bumper sticker puts a new twist on things. I still defend Hillary. But when they inquire about my new candidate with a bridge to the future, I say, He reminds me of Bill Clinton! 

Megan Beyer is a journalist and commentator on the PBS womens political talk show, To the Contrary. She lives with her husband, Don Beyer and two daughters in Alexandria.

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