Hillary's triumph

September 07, 1995|By Sandy Grady

Washington -- SHE CAME, she saw, she gave them hell.

Now the Chinese understand how crotchety American critics feel about Hillary Clinton.

They too wish she'd stick to baking cookies and working on her hairstyle.

Maybe her Beijing hosts were hoping Mrs. Clinton would stay with the softer, wifely image she's adopted lately. Or at least talk in genteel diplomatese.

Instead, she tongue-lashed the last communist superpower like a schoolmarm bullying a mob of muggers and misfits.

It was risky, overseas stardom no first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt could have performed. And for direct, in-your-face anger at tyranny toward women, Hillary Clinton out-Eleanored Eleanor.

China's deal makers must second-guess their swap: Did they spring Harry Wu only to get dissed by Hillary?

Oddly, it seemed nobody in the United States wanted Hillary to go to the U.N.'s World Conference on Women except Hillary.

Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., the '96 hopeful, argued she should stay away from "this misguided conference with its radical, left-wing agenda."

Other Republicans growled Hillary would do for foreign policy what she did for Whitewater and health-care reform -- another catastrophe.

Harry Wu, fresh from a Chinese prison, grumped that Hillary would be used as a propaganda pawn.

State Department stuffed shirts, nervous about upsetting Bill Clinton's summit with Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping, were jittery Mrs. Clinton might -- gasp -- speak the truth.

"If she insults them," one warned, "they'll go ballistic."

Even the prez, although mum, had to wince at his First Spouse invading the Beijing tumult. Chinese "security forces" who hassled delegates, videotaped protesters and shook down their rooms seemed to be as intimidating as Mayor Daley's cops at the '68 convention.

Could FDR muzzle Eleanor?

Nothing short of a missile exchange could stop the Chinese journey of Hillary, who has a suffragette's intensity about women's rights and a mother's outrage about abused kids.

Despite 13-hour jet lag and bickering with U.S. diplomats who wanted her tone defanged, Mrs. Clinton scolded the Chinese with blunt ferocity.

Her dress was soft pink but her words were brickbats.

Hillary hit hardest at China's notorious system of controlling its population by abandoning, starving or outright killing thousands of female infants.

"It is a violation of human rights," she said bitterly, "when babies are denied food or drowned or suffocated or their spines broken simply because they are born girls."

No names. But everyone knew China was the main target when Mrs. Clinton savaged countries where "women are forced to have abortions or be sterilized."

"Let me be clear," said Mrs. Clinton. "Freedom means the right of people to assemble, organize, debate openly. No one should be forced to remain silent for fear of religious or political persecution, arrest or torture."

She was scathing on Chinese harassment of women delegates. But her words could have won ghostly cheers from students shot or jailed for facing the Tiananmen Square tanks.

When Hillary finished -- "Women's rights are human rights" -- 1,500 women from Africa, Europe and Latin America stood and wept and clapped.

They shouted, "Yes, yes, yes!" -- roaring support Hillary rarely hears at home.

"She made me proud to be an American," Philadelphian Bonnie Squires told a reporter.

Her impassioned speech changed the skepticism of Harry Wu. "She rattled the bars of prison cells all over China," said Mr. Wu.

Her trashing of China won't smooth the president's October session with Deng Xiaoping. Even before Hillary's blast, her husband had a rough agenda -- China's sale of missiles to Pakistan, saber-rattling toward Taiwan, a $35 billion U.S. trade deficit.

Will Mr. Clinton shrug, "Oh, that's just Hillary," or stand by his woman?

He could be consoled that Hillary's Beijing bombshell should win approving nods from feminists and young, working women pivotal to Democrats' base and Mr. Clinton's '96 hopes.

But exultation over a China triumph hardly redresses Mrs. Clinton's dreary year. Her Arkansas real estate, stock market and law deals haunt her. She's watched ex-partners Susan and Jim McDougal indicted and legal pal Webb Hubbell shuffle off to prison.

Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., tried to paint her as lady villain at Whitewater's heart. While friends and aides were grilled by Congress, even allies wondered, "Why doesn't Hillary stand up for them?"

She had to go 8,000 miles to stand up to tyranny.

In her first newspaper column -- a no-pay, syndicated effort that hasn't caught fire -- Mrs. Clinton wrote, "Sometimes it is hard for me to recognize the Hillary Clinton other people see."

Critics should grudgingly admit she was brave and eloquent in the Chinese dragon den.

Hillary of Beijing was the real thing.

Somewhere Mrs. Roosevelt must have said, "Yes, yes, yes."

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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