More digestible Hillary now offers cookies DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

July 16, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- If convention week is any indication, Hillary Clinton's image has come down to 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 cup sugar.

The woman who so alarmed homemaker sensibilities by remarking that she chose to pursue a career instead of staying home to bake cookies and have teas, has been offering audiences here samples of her chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies -- and, in general, a new, more digestible version of a campaign spouse.

Introducing Hillary Lite.

Gone is Mrs. Clinton's talk of "our" running for office, language that unsettled crowds during the primaries with its inference of a sort of "co-presidency."

Gone is the "buy one, get one free" slogan that Clintonites bandied about during the early campaign assuming, for the most part wrongly, that Mrs. Clinton's high-powered resume and activism would be an asset.

Gone, too, are the bold-colored power suits and preppy black hair band.

In softer, more stylish pastel suits and with an updated haircut, the Yale-educated lawyer and longtime children's advocate has been charming state delegations and caucuses all week -- still speaking forcefully and eloquently about issues of concern to her, but rounding off some of the hard edges with more talk of children and family.

She even sponsored a tea for congressional wives.

The campaign denies any kind of Hillary make-over, but those close to the Illinois-born lawyer say she's thought much about her role and how to take the chill off her image.

"The core of Hillary does not change," says friend Diane Blair, on leave from the University of Arkansas to assist the Clinton campaign. "But she does understand that sometimes there are better ways of communicating your beliefs and your values."

Indeed, since the early days of the campaign when she quipped on television that she was "not some little woman standing by her man like Tammy Wynette," she's mostly conveyed an image of an acerbic, hard-charging, fiercely feminist career woman.

One newsmagazine called her "the overbearing yuppie wife from hell." In a New Yorker cartoon of several months ago, a woman asks a salesperson for a jacket, adding, "Nothing too Hillary."

In a more recent cartoon she's depicted as Catwoman, and in a forthcoming article in the conservative American Spectator magazine -- "The Lady Macbeth of Little Rock" -- she's described as a "left-liberal, baby-boom feminist . . . best thought of as the Winnie Mandela of American politics."

Polls, too, have showed that the bright, ambitious, high-profile spouse, ranked as one of the nation's top 100 lawyers, has ironically become an election-year liability. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that only 22 percent of those questioned approved of Mrs. Clinton, while 30 percent thought of her in a negative light.

The disapproval and criticism is nothing new for the 44-year-old wife and mother who's done some personal repackaging for political reasons before. She took on her husband's name only after voters in Arkansas, who failed to re-elect Bill Clinton as governor in 1980, decided she was uppity and arrogant for keeping her maiden name.

The role of a political spouse is a subject she's thought much about, having studied first ladies of the past and having advised others in her position.

Associates of Mrs. Clinton's say she never expected her personality and independence to become such hot-button campaign issues, especially in a political year when the accomplishments of strong, professional women have been encouraged.

"She said it's as though we have accepted the legitimacy of thinking, acting, independent women almost every place else -- except in the role of first lady," says Ms. Blair, describing a conversation she had with her longtime friend. "The American people have a certain sense of fitness about someone in that role. Hillary's first portrayal alarmed that sense of fitness in terms what is and isn't appropriate."

On the other hand, there are many who welcome the thought of a strong, vocal and accomplished woman in the White House. "Reagan and Bush gave us trickle-down economics, and their wives gave us platitudes and a call for philanthropy," Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski told a women's caucus this week.

"Hillary Clinton will tell you that platitudes and a call for philanthropy are not substitutes for public policy when it comes to helping America's families and America's children."

Families and children, in fact, have been the buzzwords for Mrs. Clinton this week, as she has traveled through her full schedule of appearances -- speeches, lunches, photo opportunities, teas -- in an effort to present a more domestic side.

Startled by a poll that showed that most people thought the Clintons were childless, the mother of one has been not only posing with her 12-year-old daughter, Chelsea, for photo opportunities, but also incorporating her into the campaign rhetoric.

"I have a new test. I call it the Chelsea test," she told the Asian Pacific Caucus on Tuesday, explaining it was named for her daughter. "What I hope and what Bill hopes is that, as president, what he will keep in mind as he worries about jobs and health care and education is whether what he proposes and does will pass the Chelsea test.

"Because what we want for the children and families of American is what we want for our own child and our own family."

And if the "Chelsea test" doesn't help take some of the icy glare off Mrs. Clinton, there are always the cookies, produced here by a local bakery according to Mrs. Clinton's recipe as part of a Family Circle bake-off with Barbara Bush.

"My cookies, in some way, put the honor not only of myself but of the whole Democratic Party at stake," she told the Illinois delegation this week to laughter and applause.

"If you like them, vote for them. Even if you don't like them, vote for our party, vote for the future, vote for America."

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