Hillary Clinton is fair game for the political snipers


March 23, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

Until a few months ago, I didn't know Hillary Clinton from the sandwich maker at the corner White Hen.

But now I know that she grew up in Park Ridge, Ill., was a teen-ager for Goldwater, excelled at Yale Law School, became a big-time attorney and an advocate of many liberal causes, has a daughter named after an English landmark, is married to the governor of Arkansas, and much more.

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've probably seen Hillary on TV, shouting an introduction of her husband into a microphone: "And I give you the next president of the United States ..."

In other words, she's not exactly a political wallflower.

So I don't understand why Clinton became so huffy when Jerry Brown tossed in a zinger about Hillary during their recent debate. Something to do with her law firm doing business with the state her husband governs.

Clinton played the chivalrous spouse, telling Brown he wasn't fit to stand on the same stage as Hillary. This put Brown, a bachelor, at a disadvantage, since he couldn't say that Clinton wasn't fit to be on the same stage as his wife. Of course, he might have responded that Clinton wasn't fit to be on the same stage with Linda Ronstadt, whom Brown used to date. Or with Mother Theresa, with whom he nursed the needy.

Later, while performing for the cameras at a Polish restaurant in Chicago (Arkansas governors just love Polish food), Clinton said he could handle political abuse but would "hit" those who maligned his wife.

I assume that he meant he would hit with words, not fists, although nothing would be a surprise in this campaign. However, if he challenges Brown to duke it out, Brown will probably say his choices of weapons are the laser swords used by Luke Skywalker.

But what is so terrible about Brown or any other candidate taking a political shot at Hillary?

She's not simply a wife tagging along on the campaign trail, gazing adoringly at her candidate/husband while being bored to death. She's one of the key players in his campaign, involved in strategy, spin, buzz and all the other modern political voodoo.

And if he's elected president, she's going to do more than redecorate the White House living quarters and keep her eye peeled for Kitty Kelley spies.

She has her own agenda of ways the federal government can be used to make our lives richer, fuller and bureaucratized. She'll instantly become one of the most powerful figures in American government.

So if she's out there grabbing for power as eagerly as her husband, there's no reason why she should be above the political brawl.

It would be different if she were sitting home, quietly watching the soaps, collecting recipes, pasting Bill's clippings into a scrapbook, and Brown had said: "I have it on good authority that Mrs. Clinton watches all the corniest soaps and makes a very bad meatloaf."

If that were the case, Clinton would have had good cause to pop Brown in the snoot for intruding on the privacy of an old-fashioned wife. Nobody ever sniped at Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower or Pat Nixon, who were classic stay-at-home first ladies.

But Hillary is a modern woman: independent, successful and ambitious. That's fine, because if Bill ever falls upon hard times, she can support them both.

Since she's reaching for the brass ring as avidly as her husband is, it shouldn't be necessary for him to play the protective husband.

If Brown had tossed a barb at Clinton's media huckster, his pollster, his advance man, his issues manager, his spin doctor, or any of his other professional campaign hucksters, Clinton wouldn't have talked about hitting him. Imagine Clinton saying: "You aren't fit to be on the same stage as my campaign strategists." Or, "I don't care what they say about me, but if anybody insults my pollster, I'll hit them." It would sound weird.

If he's nominated, he's going to pick someone with voter appeal as his running mate. And that person will have to expect the usual political bombardment from the Republicans. I wouldn't expect Clinton to say: "If anyone says bad things about my running mate, I will hit them." That would sound even more weird.

The fact is, Hillary will have far more power than any vice president. Based on her political activities, she'll be almost a co-president. Or as they might say in parts of Arkansas: "There goes Ma and Pa President."

To paraphrase Harry Truman's old saying:

"If you can't stand the heat, don't get out of the kitchen."

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