Sex, Politics and President Hillary

I was trying to think of a person other than Hillary Rodham Clinton whose fainting would be breaking news on three continents. George and Laura, yes. Sen. John McCain, maybe. Jennifer Aniston? Possibly, if her swoon followed the sighting of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie en flagrante.

My point is that Hillary is in a class by herself, and not just because she powered through two more speeches that day. Her historic move -- straight from the East Wing to the U.S. Senate -- brought her one-name fame and made her the brightest star in the political firmament. If she wants the nomination, she is likely to get it, thanks to superior organization, fundraising and a base as solid as President Bush’s. If she does, gleeful Republicans and some frantic Democrats foresee a general-election loss reaching McGovernesque proportions.

What the glee and worry don’t take into account is how shrewdly Hillary is repositioning herself, in sharp contrast to the rest of her party. Sure, she carries a lot of baggage as a result of her husband’s misbehavior, and she attracts visceral resentment not limited to insecure males. But remember that Richard Nixon used the massive exposure of a presidential campaign to offload some of the heaviest baggage in American political history.

Religion is now so central to our politics that every candidate prays like Voltaire on his deathbed just to cover his bets. This comes easily to Hillary, who’s naturally self-righteous and a sincere, lifelong Methodist. For a while, she’s been a regular at the Senate’s weekly prayer breakfasts, clutching her own well-worn Bible, sometimes even holding hands with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), chief among her husband’s tormenters.


To get right with the military, which never forgave her husband for his “don’t ask, don’t tell” doctrine, she chose to be on the Armed Services Committee. On weekends, instead of hanging around the house in Chappaqua, she visits bases.

But nothing shows off her third-way skills more than her recent proclamation on abortion, which she called “a sad, tragic choice” that shouldn’t “ever have to be exercised, or only in very rare circumstances.”

The speech surprised many who have long known her as a die-hard feminist, but, in fact, it may have been brilliant. Democrats desperately need to recover some of the ground they lost when Republicans forced a vote to ban partial-birth abortion, a rare but gruesome procedure. In thrall to Kate Michelman and NARAL Pro-Choice America, many Democrats voted no because they could only see the hypocrisy of pro-lifers who also oppose condoms and turn a blind eye to those who would kill a doctor to protect a zygote.

What Hillary is saying now is that no matter how specious their partial-birth abortion ban, she recognizes that the world has changed since Roe vs. Wade. She voted against the ban, but apparently now sees the light. Babies can now survive at 24 weeks, and yet the “health of the mother” exception has grown so large that a teenager seven months pregnant could slip through. Hillary hopes to appeal to that huge swath of voters who want to protect abortion but see themselves as pro-life.

In the same Jan. 24 speech, Hillary tried to turn the spotlight back on the sexual hypocrisy of the other side by bringing up the bill she co-sponsored that would correct the ridiculous exclusion of birth control pills from insurance coverage, a lapse even more absurd now that the Bush administration’s new drug benefit is going to cover erectile dysfunction pills. No to Ortho-Novum, which can prevent unwanted pregnancies, and yes to Viagra, which can, well, I won’t get into it. How’s that for a mixture of sex discrimination and bad health policy? The little pink pill was excluded as a “lifestyle” drug. As you watch the ads for Cialis during the Super Bowl, you decide what those little blue pills are for.

Sometimes Hillary is a victim of sexual politics; sometimes she exploits them. But so far, she hasn’t transcended them. Once again, her husband, who she once said “was a hard dog to keep on the porch,” is off, first to Sri Lanka as a U.N. envoy and, if some old associates have their way, in a race to become United Nations secretary-general.

That effort -- which would require changing some rules -- makes you wonder whether Bill has signed on to an immensely clever “stop Hillary” movement, or whether he sees the U.N. job as a way to assure potential Hillary voters that he will be too busy abroad to interfere in domestic affairs, or to conduct one.

I bet the latter. And I think it’s about time he helped her. She’s not just building a tent big enough to bring back some of those centrist voters for whom her party moved too far left, but one big enough to keep the dog on the porch.