The Hillary Problem

SUSAN TRAUSCH

November 24, 1992|By SUSAN TRAUSCH

BOSTON. — Boston -- Call me out of touch with America, but I don't think most people are pacing the kitchen floor worrying about the Hillary Problem.

I don't think there is a Hillary Problem except as it exists in the minds of people paid to think depressing thoughts -- namely journalists and Republican campaign strategists.

The second group lost, so that shuts them up for a while, but the first group has a license to yap and has been doing it about Hillary's brain for nearly a year.

Is she too strong? Has she been muzzled? Did she get a new haircut so she wouldn't look too strong and could subtly muzzle herself?

Can she host the White House Easter Egg Roll and still voice opinions on Bosnia?

The yapping is especially intense during this transition period when George Bush isn't quite over and Bill Clinton hasn't quite begun. Nothing is going on, but reporters still have to file stories to impress editors who are making decisions about their Washington bureaus.

That's why we've been reading that Mr. Bush is depressed. This is news? The man just lost the big one. If he were tap dancing on his boat and writing jokes for Jay Leno, I'd say that would be news.

We've been reading that Mr. Clinton is thinking. Zounds! ''Robocandidate'' has shifted gears and wants to spend a lot of time talking with people in private meetings. He might not be able to move as quickly as he thought he could.

So let him think good and hard is what I say, and let him alone until January 20. Let his cat alone, too, so he (the president-elect, not the cat) doesn't have to issue directives to the press as he did last weekend when photographers kept cornering Socks at the governor's mansion.

''Special note to all press from the highest authority,'' it said. ''Don't touch the cat again.''

We are definitely talking slow news day in Little Rock.

Which brings us to the front-page headline in the New York Times this week: ''Hillary Clinton's New Role -- A Spouse or a Policy Leader?''

She has to be one or the other? She can't do what she has always done, which is to be a spouse, mother, independent career woman and closest adviser to her husband?

The job of first lady is just that -- a job, with its own agenda, long hours and power. It's not a four-year stint as national prom queen, and the country is smart enough to know that.

This constant drumbeat about ''what America expects from its first lady'' and how Hillary's presence will somehow blow our narrow little minds, and probably put a crack in the White House tea service as well, is pretty insulting.

I'm not expecting Bess Truman, OK? I'm not expecting Nancy Reagan. I'm not expecting anybody but whoever Hillary choses to be.

She's got a brain. She'll use it. She'll speak out about issues and, by speaking, demand change. She'll be a partner in her husband's presidency.

Whether that means she'll sit in on high-level meetings or get a briefing from Bill at the breakfast table doesn't really matter. She should do whatever feels comfortable and works.

If the Clinton administration gets the country on its feet and the first lady is a force in accomplishing the task, we're not going to complain.

If Cabinet members and presidential advisers with ego problems complain, then Bill should tell them where to file the complaints. But I think anybody signing on with this team would expect to see Hillary playing a strong role.

She's an individual, not an inaugural gown at the Smithsonian.

She's got room to be creative, and most of us, men and women, will be disappointed if she isn't.

Nobody is questioning whether husband Bill can handle the ceremonial duties in the Rose Garden and still make policy decisions. Al Gore is not expected to be merely a dark suit at state funerals. So let's pitch the first lady stereotypes.

Go, Hillary! Or, as Ross Perot used to say -- just do it!

Susan Trausch is a Boston Globe columnist.

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