Hillary now has more than cookies on her plate

MIKE LITTWIN

January 29, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

The real Hillary has emerged. The one they warned us about -- co-president Hillary.

The vote-for-one-you-get-both Hillary.

Not the chocolate-chip-cookie baker. And certainly not the wifey wife who gazed up adoringly at Candidate Bill out on the campaign trail. You can forget that Hillary forever.

We have been reintroduced to the Hillary with all the brains and with a resume so fat it would choke a horse. And now she's got a job -- heading up a task force to reform national health care -- to match her credentials.

That scares some people. Let's call them the who-elected-her people.

For others, it's the hailing of a new day when the first lady (first woman? first spouse?) proves that a woman can handle the job, any job, up to and including president.

They say it's a fairness issue. These are the it's-our-time people.

Whatever your point of view, Hillary Clinton has definitely landed your basic big job.

The job description does not include hosting teas, which is what your typical first lady (first woman? first spouse?) is expected to do in the name of some safe good work. We love our first ladies for that.

One thing you can count on from Americans is that, whatever they think of the president, they'll love his wife. Heck, many people even liked Nancy Reagan. But this first lady is different, and not just because she used to wear headbands.

She has been asked to develop policy, and not the kind where you whisper into the president's ear about making nice with the Russians either.

All Madam Co-Prez must do is take one of the most difficult issues facing our country and in 100 days devise a plan the president can take to Congress and that a thousand constituencies and millions of people will accept.

One job qualification would be miracle worker.

Is sleeping with the president another?

That may not be fair, but it's out there. And it can't help matters that Tipper Gore has been appointed to the panel. (This is true.) There must be some qualified people who aren't married to White House staff.

A bigger concern for some, though, is how effective Hillary can be. Let's call them the you-tell-the-boss people.

Let's say she's not getting the job done. It's possible. She has never run anything like this. She has no particular expertise in health care. Maybe the staff will run over her. Maybe she'll run over the staff. Who knows what might go wrong?

But here's the point: Say things are going badly -- who's going to tell the president?

Put yourself in that position. It's your job. The boss has appointed her spouse, who doesn't work at your company, to oversee some new project. He's a disaster. Do you tell the boss?

No, you decide to keep your job instead.

The counter-argument comes courtesy of the yes-but-she-has-the-ear-of-the-president people.

You see, the president is not dumb. He understands this problem. He also knows pretty much what is getting done, because every night before they go to sleep, the Clintons climb into bed and talk about health care. Hey, it's what policy wonks do. She'll tell him the latest on health care reform, and he'll tell her how he jogged to McDonald's that morning and had only one Big Mac.

What seems obvious is there's no way he can ignore the problem if Hillary is in charge of solving it.

There are other issues. Nepotism is one. The remember-Bobby-Kennedy folks can be counted on to bring that one up.

Trust is another. Bill Clinton says there's no one he trusts more, and he's the guy who has to make the decisions. This argument is made by the he's-the-president-and-you're-not people.

Here's the problem that bothers me. I think Hillary Clinton is terrific. She's smart. She has an activist's heart. She knows how to push, and this thing will never get done unless someone is pushing very hard. But what about the next first lady?

What if it were Marilyn Quayle? (Yes, brought to you by the worst-case-scenario people.) If first ladies are going to be directly involved in policy, do we need to know more about them? Should they have to debate? I know Hillary Clinton and Marilyn Quayle is no Hillary Clinton. Neither is Dan-o, by the way.

So, what's your answer on Hillary's job -- yes or no? Whatever you decide, it definitely beats talking about her hat.

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