Polished in pink, White House columnist charms

September 28, 1997|By Sara Engram

HARDLY THE PICTURE of a typical ink-stained wretch, Hillary Rodham Clinton, syndicated columnist, was poised and polished and dressed in pink for her appearance before the Newspaper Features Council's meeting in Washington last week.

She charmed the room of, in her words, ''fellow journalists,'' giving the audience a witty and personal look at the way she balances her duties as a weekly deadline drone with her life as first lady of the United States.

This is a woman who speaks not just in perfect sentences, but in polished paragraphs, with only glancing references to her notes. Most of the people in the room would give their keyboards to be able to write half as clearly and concisely as she speaks.

She's funny, frequently at her own expense.

College concerns

She began by noting that among the topics she is pondering for her weekly column is an essay explaining why it would be in the national interest to establish a Western White House in Palo Alto -- site of Stanford University, where her daughter is enrolled.

She admitted that her husband had squelched her threat to expose methods of keeping golf scores ''according to presidents I have known.''

And she announced that she was exploring ways to use guest columnists, as when she enlisted the president of the United States to write a Mother's Day column.

Her next guest columnist, she suggested, might be Eleanor Roosevelt. The Eleanor column, Mrs. Clinton noted, ''was her idea, not mine.''

She's tuned in to the concerns of ordinary Americans. She confesses that with Chelsea away at college, she will have more free time.

''Bill and I hung around the White House endlessly, hour after hour, just for a sighting'' of their teen-aged daughter.

She can be inspiring, recalling the courageous people she has met or worked with, or highlighting the plight of girls she has met in Thailand and other countries who were sold into prostitution by their poor families.

And she has the ability to be personal without revealing too much. Asked if she ever felt overwhelmed by criticism and bad news, she acknowledged that many days are discouraging, but that those times were far outnumbered by the good days.

So why do so many people seem to hate her?

The criticisms of Mrs. Clinton are familiar, from the seemingly too-good-to-be-true futures investments, to the murky waters of the Whitewater deal, to the drubbing she took for her considerable efforts to reform health care.

''Hillary Clinton? She's a five-star phony,'' is the response of a typical Hillary critic.

Perhaps it was natural that she reached for the outlet of a syndicated column, the same outlet used by Eleanor Roosevelt during her White House days.

Welcome to the contradictions that will always follow a forceful and complex woman, married to an equally forceful and complex man, twice elected president of the United States.

Perhaps it was natural that she reached for the outlet of a syndicated column, the same outlet used by Eleanor Roosevelt during her White House days.

Mrs. Roosevelt wrote not weekly, but daily, and the column gained her more attention than Mrs. Clinton's ever could.

Unlike the days of the Roosevelt administration, Americans are accustomed to seeing presidents and first ladies on television.

Mrs. Clinton's column came along in an era in which most newspapers, like this one, are reluctant to give space on a regular basis to a writer so intimately involved in partisan politics.

Syndicates closely guard their numbers, but it seems likely that Mrs. Clinton's column may have a bigger impact abroad than in this country.

That would not be surprising, since foreign newspapers don't need to worry about partisan appearances.

In many parts of the world, Mrs. Clinton is revered by women as a beacon of hope -- not just as a political figure, but also as a mother.

She and her husband have chosen a political life, in which actions and policies are fair targets for criticism. But as parents, they have excelled.

As their only child leaves home for college happy, confident and eager to succeed in life, imagine what it must mean in many parts of the world to learn that the president of the United States has one child.

The fact that she is a girl makes her no less worthy of education or love or of dreams as big as all outdoors.

Hillary Clinton, politician, will always draw criticism. But Hillary Rodham Clinton, the syndicated columnist trying hard to avoid politics, can make some important points to people around the world.

Sara Engram is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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