Hillary's Second Term

FINALLY, THE LAST CAMPAIGN HER HUSBAND WILL EVER RUN IS OVER. AND NOW Hillary Clinton is on the cusp of deciding whether she's going to launch a final crusade of her own, one aimed at redeeming her reputation. The First Lady isn't content with taking foreign good-will missions, harvesting money from loyal Democrats and getting rapturous welcomes from carefully chosen crowds. She wants affection from the American public, or, failing that, at least a sympathetic understanding that she's not the monster who sprang full born from Rush Limbaugh's forehead.

It turns out that Hillary isn't quite so tough after all. As Shakespeare said of a different stereotype, if you cut her, she bleeds. According to her closest aides, she wants to suture the wounds and take her place on the national pedestal beside Eleanor Roosevelt and Barbara Bush. But two formidable problems stand between her and beatification: first, she is reluctant to play the pandering game with the public and the press unless she can control the outcome. And second,she has a special prosecutor armed with subpoena power laying siege to the East Wing.

There's not much she can do about Ken Starr and his minions. The conventional wisdom in Washington this week holds that Starr will call her before another grand jury to testify about her role, if any, in hiring White House aide Craig Livingstone, who allegedly misused FBI files. But Starr has yet to uncov- er a smoking gun, and he may not have the nerve to indict her if the case is even close. None of that will silence the virulent anti-Hillary chorus on prominent op-ed pages--columnists don't have to meet formal burdens of proof.

But Hillary has to do more to help herself. ""She's seen through a very narrow lens,'' says longtime friend and deputy chief of staff Melanne Verveer. ""What the public sees is a series of snapshots that make for a very inaccurate reflection.'' To change her image she has to court reporters, aides say--open up, let them and the public see the ""human'' side of Hillary, the wonder woman who can giggle like a sorority sister and wonk like a Yale Law grad.

It won't be an easy sell. The public seems to prefer Hillary in her fall campaign mode, flying below radar, seldom visible for very long. Like it or not, she remains a debate at every dinner table in the land. In the latest NEWSWEEK Poll, almost two thirds said they didn't want her husband to give her a ""major new policy role.'' More likely she will push ""empowerment projects'' for welfare moms and spotlight a host of children's issues about which she exhibits genuine passion. As one aide puts it, the First Lady now understands that ""the power of her job is mostly symbolic.'' In the end, Hillary may have to bask in what she has already. A lovely child just 10 months shy of leaving for college. A best-selling book, a syndicated column, hundreds of invitations to speak. And the ear of the most powerful man on earth.