Clift:The Hillary I Know

At a Washington hotel in the spring of 1992, I had tea with Hillary Clinton. I remember thinking that if it weren't for the tape recorder perched on the table between us, we could be friends. I really identified with her, her passion for the issues, her earnestness about doing good works. I defended her at every turn on "The McLaughlin Group."

The moderator began calling me Eleanor Rodham Clift. Hillary and I would laugh about that, and after the Republican Revolution in 1994, she seemed genuinely concerned that I would pay a price for this sisterly solidarity. She has shown me other kindnesses as well. The day after my husband died following a long battle with cancer, Hillary called me at home. Her first words were, "Oh, Eleanor, oh, oh, oh." We talked about the vagaries of life, and how quickly things can slip away. Bill Clinton had undergone heart surgery the previous fall. He was getting his energy back, she said, but he was impatient. We talked awhile, and she told me when I was ready, I should come have lunch with her in the Senate Dining Room. I didn't make the call, but six weeks later, I heard from her scheduler.

It was the summer of '06 when we got together, just the two of us. There was no tape recorder this time. We joked about the right-wing conspiracy, the one she faced every day, and the one I jousted with on television. We talked about travel, hers and mine, and the challenge of overcoming flat hair, which she has mastered in this campaign. She didn't say so, but it was clear she was running for president. There was a little of the old Hillary, the imperious way she sets out to achieve what she wants, ready to mow down whoever and whatever might intervene. I remember her White House health-care effort, her hubris and naiveté about the ways of Washington. All she would have to do, she declared with a wave of her arm, is to get a bill to the floor of the Senate. She was adamant that no one would dare vote against universal health care with the world watching. She never even got a vote in committee. It would be years before she recognized her failings in dealing with Congress, and even now, listening to her campaign rhetoric, it's the special interests that bear the blame, not her missteps.

I recognize that she's in the fight of her life. But I'm having a hard time with her campaign tactics. When she airily dismisses Barack Obama as someone who just makes a speech, she's insulting all the people who are drawn to him, including many who support her. He's touched something that has restored faith in politics, and that's what the Clintons did when they first burst upon the national scene. I worry I'm too tough on her, that what makes her a viable contender is her ability to play hardball. No one doubts her intelligence and capability to lead the country. The danger signs are more personal, the scars she bears from all the years of being under attack, and her yearning for a zone of privacy that keeps her tightly cocooned and prone to an unhealthy degree of secrecy.

Clift:The Hillary I Know | U.S.