World & Nation

Column: Hillary Clinton and us - a portrait of an abusive relationship

New inductee
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finishes speaking on stage during a ceremony to induct her into the Irish America Hall of Fame on March 16, 2015 in New York City.
(Yana Paskova / Getty Images)

Like a suitcase on the world’s longest luggage carousel, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s all-but-assured presidential candidacy is now drifting back toward us, begging to be claimed whether or not we still want — or even remember — what is packed inside.

Oh, right. Dirty laundry. Some of it dating back decades. And much of it so stained it damages everything it touches.

Though Bill Clinton may represent the gold standard in political scandals, Hillary Clinton was getting into trouble as early as her husband’s first presidential run in 1992. That was the year she found herself in hot water with country music fans by responding to a question about her husband’s alleged infidelity by saying “I’m not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.”

Clinton later apologized to Wynette, just as she had to atone for another campaign trail quip — “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession” — by entering a cookie recipe in a Family Circle magazine sponsored bake-off.


You’d think she’d have learned her lesson, but once the Clintons got to the White House, she managed to knock out tempests in various-sized teapots as readily as Wynette knocked out singles in the late 1960s.

If you were a sentient being during the Clinton presidency, surely you remember some of the greatest hits from the repertoire of scandals, many of which were perceived as bugaboos of a Hillary-specific nature.

There was Whitewater and Travelgate and all that business about her talking to Eleanor Roosevelt through psychics. There was Clinton’s insistence that the Monica Lewinsky story and Kenneth Starr investigation were products of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Then there’s “Hillary Clinton’s Greatest Scandals, Volume Two,” which starts, arguably, with her magic carpet ride to New York, where she set up camp in order to run for Senate, and ends with the modern classic of Clintonian scandals, Benghazi.


But of course that’s not the end. Now that it’s come out that Clinton used a private server for official work emails during her time at the State Department, we have (yes, it’s really being called this) “email-ghazi.” Even as Clinton explained herself at a news conference, insisting that all relevant messages were saved and turned over to the State Department when she left her post as secretary, Republicans were crying foul.

I don’t know about you, but given that Clinton is a 67-year-old grandmother, I’m just impressed that she’s not still using AOL.

Over the years, Clinton has been likened to any number of cultural (and often female) archetypes: the schoolmarm, the shrew, the doormat, the ambition-soaked megalomaniac. But as the prospect of another presidential bid inches ever closer on that luggage carousel, it’s increasingly clear that the role she returns to most often is that of a partner in an abusive relationship. In her case, a relationship with the public.

No matter how hard Clinton gets knocked down in the press and in the polls, she stays with us. No matter how badly her would-be supporters treated her in the past by switching their allegiances to Barack Obama (or, today, by flirting with Elizabeth Warren), she still wants our approval — particularly the ne plus ultra of our approval, which would be election to highest office in the land.

Of course, true to form, Clinton is an equal partner in this abusive dynamic. To many of her longtime supporters, her hawkishness and unapologetic embrace of Washington business-as-usual has felt at times like a right cross to the left cheek. That so many have nonetheless hung in with her — her unspoken campaign slogan sometimes seems akin to “Hillary: We’ve Waited This Long, So Why Give Up Now?” — suggests that Clinton takes a perverse pleasure in all the abuse. Otherwise, why wouldn’t she have just used common sense along with email at State?

Maybe because she already knows something that most commanders in chief don’t find out until they reach office. She knows that the relationship between the president of the United States and the citizens of the United States is largely an abusive one, or at least a tortured one. Full of empty promises on one side and constant dissatisfaction on the other, you’d have to be a glutton for punishment to venture into it at all.

Which is why Clinton, that ever-hopeful suitcase, may be perfect for the job. No matter how roughly she’s handled, she’s still waiting patiently for us to claim her.


Twitter: @meghan_daum

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