Hillary's N.Y. folly

February 23, 1999|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON -- Am I the only one in my homeroom class who thinks that Hillary Clinton would have to be nuts to run for the Senate?

My fellow media majors are all salivating at the prospect of what they have collectively dubbed "The Battle of Titans." They actually want to see the first lady wrestle New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the same seat.

Doesn't anyone else remember what happened to the original titans? The giant children of Uranus and Gaea set out to rule heaven and ended up overthrown by Zeus and his family in a disaster of, well, "Titanic" proportions.

Ever since Mrs. Clinton acknowledged, as a kind of thank-you note to her supporters, that she was giving the race "careful thought," I've had a feeling that HRC was being set up as a gladiatrix. She's being urged into the coliseum for the amusement of the masses. Or at least the mass media.

She doesn't get to choose between the lady and the tiger. She gets the possibility of being the senator from New York and the certainty of being mauled within an inch of her life.

I am not in the advice biz and, as "Dear Abby" demurred last week, "the most unwelcome advice is that which is unsolicited." I don't know what makes HRC keep ticking or what internal muscle lets her hold her chin up. If I were HRC, I would have spent the last year in bed -- and not Bill's bed.

Yes, there are attractions in an Empire State campaign -- chief among them finding a legitimate reason for being a Metroliner away from Washington.

The transformation from wronged wife to front-runner would probably be good for the soul. After years as the freebie in a two-for-the-price-of-one package, it would a relief to run on her own. Instead of being psychoanalyzed by Vanity Fair -- "a long-suffering, lamp-throwing wife and her straying husband" -- she could have her position papers scrutinized by policy wonks.

Add to that the delicious prospect of watching President Clinton do 1,000 hours of community service as a political spouse. If she won, he'd have to work to pay off the family debt while she went to the Capitol. (Memo to the Prez: See those brackets around your net worth? That means debit.)

I have no doubt, after last fall's performance, that Mrs. Clinton has the name recognition and the skills in fund-raising and crowd-pleasing. But New York? Now?

Dear Hillary: If Washington is the frying pan, New York is the fire. If Ken Starr is the frying pan, Rudy Giuliani is the fire. Those folks who are urging you to run, aren't they the same cheerleaders who rooted for Geraldine "Head-handed-to-her" Ferraro?

New York isn't a village, it's Bosnia. "Giuliani," says Ed Koch the formidable former mayor of the Big Apple, "will run the most ruthless, vile, loathsome defamatory campaign he's capable of. . . ." There will be some gnome at every stop with a Monica mask and a Whitewater map.

New Yorkers have a way of cutting newcomers -- with or without carpetbags -- down to size. Did you check the New York Post editorial last week that warned: "No cozy sequestrations of the sort that accrue to all first ladies. No more Matt Lauer softball interviews. She can expect to get the rough-and-tumble treatment that every other candidate does."

Well, nobody doubts Mrs. Clinton's metal. But by the fall of 2000, the first lady's stardust may have faded in the country's exhausted desire to end the entire Clinton melodrama.

But there's another reason for passing this up. HRC is at one of those moments when the right question is not what the New York Democratic Party wants. It is: What do you want to do with the rest of your life?

For decades, Mrs. Clinton has been interested in both the politics of nuts and bolts and the politics of meaning. She's a Methodist and a pragmatist, a big thinker and a strategist, the woman who can inspire a U.N. conference and complain about a right-wing conspiracy. Which way now?

Even if she runs and wins, has Mrs. Clinton given up the chance for a world stage to worry about the potholes in Queens? Or has she chosen a powerful seat at the table of policy-makers?

Anyway you look at it, this is not the time to run. The motto of the Hillary Fan Club has always been, "You go, girl." How about: "You go slow, girl."

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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