Look Out, It's Superwoman!

There was the announcement that Hillary would head the health-care-reform package, the photo opportunity inspecting the china for the dinner party, the name change, the outing to watch Chelsea's soccer match, the weekend in Camp David with the cabinet, the interview with Kimba Wood for attorney general that was longer than her husband's.

Whew. It's exhausting even to watch. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's ... SUPERWOMAN.

It's Hillary, week two. Does it matter what we think? You bet it does. It's topic A-because Hillary is all of us. She's the working mother, trying to juggle a career, a child, a husband, a role, all at the same time, 24 hours a day. Can she do it? Can we do it? That's the big question.

Let's examine each item here because, ironically, the parts are better than the whole.

Hillary leading the fight for health-care reform is great-assuming that she has decided that being given a job by her husband is not retro, and that she doesn't mind being the "wife of," carrying out her husband's policies. Her presence means the president will put his full power behind her and will be totally committed to health-care reform, probably the most serious social and economic problem this country is facing. It shows what confidence he has in her, that he selects her for one of the toughest tasks in his administration, the success of which he will be measured by. And there's no reason to believe that she is not the best-qualified person to lead the reform effort, as long as she surrounds herself with knowledgeable people in the field. It is incredibly brave of her to take on this responsibility: she must know that she'll be the lightning rod.

When Bill Clinton announced his wife's appointment, he remarked that she would be "Sharing the heat." That was the understatement of the year. It was reminiscent of the antiwar demonstrations in Chicago in 1968 where the men made the women go first up against the policemen because the police were less likely to bash the women in the head with their batons. The battle cry was "Chicks Up Front." When Hillary went to Capitol Hill last week to meet with senators about health care, all the men in the photos were smiling. They knew they had a Chick Up Front.

The New York Times had a large picture and story on its front page of Hillary Clinton inspecting the china and flowers before a White House dinner for governors. The story caused much consternation in the Times newsroom, as well as other newsrooms, where requests for substantive interviews had been turned down. Hillary was photographed in the black bare-shouldered Donna Karan dress that Candice Bergen wore for the Emmy awards some six months ago. Murphy Brown's dress? Was this a coincidence or was it a statement about family values? Take that, Dan Quayle ... (See how every move gets dissected?)

A White House photographer who has covered both Ronald Reagan and George Bush for the past 12 years says she never once took a picture of either Nancy Reagan or Barbara Bush posing to inspect the table decorations. But they didn't need to. Hillary Clinton needed, or felt she needed, or her staff felt she needed, to make a statement about the fact that although she is in charge of health care, she is not eschewing her duties as First Lady.

Fine. It was a warm, fuzzy picture that obviously pleased and reassured a lot of people who are still not sure how to feel about Mrs. Clinton or what her role should be ... which is almost everyone. A case in point: the most interesting thing about the story and picture is that they were played above the fold on page one. Can you imagine a picture and story of Nancy Reagan inspecting the dinner table leading the paper? Newsrooms all over the country are struggling to define how to cover Hillary Clinton and where to play the stories. National or Style, health care or food, politics or fashion? Where does she belong. Her staff seems to be struggling, too, to define and control the message.

One minute she was Hillary Clinton, then as soon as her husband was inaugurated, she was Hillary Rodham Clinton. What's this all about? Her office says she's always been H.R.C. But reporters who covered her during the campaign insist that her press releases often referred to her as H.C. Clearly there was no edict the minute they moved into the White House. One news organization called to see how she would like to be referred to, and it was Hillary Rodham Clinton. Another news organization insists it will continue to call her Hillary Clinton.

Does it matter? She should be able to call herself whatever she wants to. The danger is seeming to be inconsistent, appearing to have used one name during the campaign for political expediency and taking back her own name after the election. Her staff should work to clear it up. It bugs people.

Terrific. She should go. And he should go sometimes, too-if that's consistent with what they always did in Little Rock, NEWSWEEK and if Chelsea doesn't become a photo op. Hillary was criticized for not being seen with Chelsea during the campaign, for wanting to keep her out of the limelight. People can't have it both ways.

Hillary went to the Camp David retreat when cabinet spouses were not there; she was also the only spouse at the White House governors' meeting. She spent more time with attorney general candidate Wood than her husband did, and the White House is being elusive about her day-to-day involvement in the president's meetings and other activities.

The danger here is that it will appear that she has as much or more power than the president. If he doesn't mind and she doesn't mind, it shouldn't matter. But the other night at the Washington Press Club dinner there were already several jokes about Hillary running the country. If the president becomes the butt of humor on this subject, he will ultimately become less effective. The whole point of their administration (whoops, I mean "his," not "their") is to get things done, to effect a change.

Is it bad for her to be so involved? Only if they fail. If they succeed at their goals they will be deemed brilliant; otherwise, it will be considered a disastrous mistake.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing it all. She's me and you and everyone who has ever had to juggle a life. So what's wrong with this picture?

Could it be the Superwoman thine.

Women everywhere want her to succeed, want it to work, want to like her. If it works for her it means we can all do it. But didn't we go through this a year or so ago, deciding that we could do it all and then watching people drop out because it was just too much? Didn't we decide that we could give ourselves a break, that we didn't have to be perfect? Didn't we decide that we shouldn't extricate ourselves from the Cinderella myth only to get trapped into another, even more defeating one, the Superwoman myth?

Hillary is being presented as Superwoman, the role model for the '90s. But we all know that this is a recipe for the loony bin.

But what seems to be happening is that women all over the country are personalizing the Hillary experience. Because she is so capable, so multifaceted, so talented, she is expected to be all things to all people. Nobody can do that.

Those who were with her on Capitol Hill say she looked more comfortable than they had seen her in two weeks. In a businesslike dark suit, she looked like our Hillary. Maybe when the pressure dies down she and her staff will realize that she is allowed to be herself and needn't try to suit everyone or be everything to everyone. She needn't rearrange either her china or her priorities.