Ten years after the Monica Lewinsky scandal rocked the White House, Hillary Clinton is again finding her voice. This time it’s not an off-the-cuff admission in a coffee shop in New Hampshire, but rather a calculated move on Fox Television.
The Senator from New York described the pain and embarrassment she suffered as a result of the affair between Lewinsky and her husband, Bill, then president of the United States.
While she was hurt she never doubted her husband’s love for her and now is often asked by women whose partners have been unfaithful what they should do. Her response is to tell them to be true to themselves.
Excuse me while I get out the anti-nausea pills.
Where New Hampshire appeared to be a spontaneous, genuine cry from the heart that touched primarily women voters, this “catharsis” during the Tyra Banks interview, where aides and advisers would have primed her, may well be seen as a misguided attempt for more of the same.
The sensitive side of Hillary?
Do the maths — for 10 years we’ve battled to get Clinton to open up on this issue and suddenly, after seeing what emotion can achieve at a primary, she lets us have it with both barrels.
Hardly spontaneous and definitely by design.
Twice now the Clinton camp has skated on thin ice when a fork in the road appeared — firstly in respect of women, as we are seeing here, and of course on the issue of racism. In dealing with the issue of Martin Luther King, her assertion that it took president Lyndon B Johnson to make the civil rights dream a reality is not sitting well with African-American voters. The better path to have travelled would have been to endorse King and his achievements.
Again, where she could have chosen to allow New Hampshire to stand as testimony to the softer side of Hillary Clinton, with the presidential side to dominate from hereon in, it seems she may well be ready to deal from the same deck over and over again. Unfortunately for her, it may well be a case of too much sentiment to be a president.
Treading the path of Lewinsky may well prove to be the wrong move at the wrong time.
Lewinsky was a White House intern who had sexual relations of some sort with president Bill Clinton. He immediately denied that anything had happened but was found out because Lewinsky had been confiding in a co-worker, Linda Tripp, at the Defence Department, where she had been employed after leaving the White House.
When the story first broke on January 17 1998, Clinton denied the allegations. Later that same month, Hillary supported her husband by styling the whole thing as a “vast right-wing conspiracy”.
Later that year, when the affair became incontrovertible, she blamed her husband for misleading her but reaffirmed her commitment to the marriage. This earned her praise in some quarters but many felt that she stayed married to further her political career.
Moreover, there were those who felt that she was an enabler of her husband’s indiscretions by refusing even to entertain the idea of a divorce.
What her aides may well have noticed was that her public-approval ratings were at their highest yet at this time. This, when weighed together with what happened after she displayed her vulnerability in the coffee shop, may be considered the way to go. Hillary the tough guy, but with loads of emotion and sentimentality thrown in.
In addition, they may well have factored in that the press down the years was repeatedly to hammer Hillary on her failure to deal with the affair at length, although she did touch on it in her memoirs in 2003.
Yet even then and on Larry King Live she repeatedly referred to a zone of privacy that she felt was her right despite being very much in the public eye.
Accordingly, we can only conclude that until she went out for a cup of coffee and hit the jackpot at the polls, Hillary saw the tough, unmoving and insensitive route as the way forward.
Now it seems that she is now learning that intrusion into her private life and thoughts may well be positive in her thrust for the White House. Whether the voters perceive her as becoming more in tune with them or as employing a cynical campaign of fake sincerity is going to be the real decider on this question.
As we know, the Americans love to analyse issues such as marriage and infidelity and its effect on couples to death — get close to their candidate and see what’s inside their heads.
Yet, despite Hillary’s win in Nevada this approach may prove to be costly on the way to the Democratic convention and, if triumphant there, beyond. There are many highly charged and dangerous global issues that will dominate 2008, and an emotional and sensitive candidate might not be what American voters are looking for.
In dealing with Iraq, Iran and now Pakistan, the voters might look to a strong hand in the form of a McCain or Giuliani as opposed to a candidate who, even on the issue of whether to get into her personal affairs, appears to flip-flop with the polls.
I believe that her remarkable turnaround in the New Hampshire primary, as a direct result of the coffee-shop incident, has given rise to a deliberate campaign to give women voters a more feminine Hillary for whom to vote.
Happy accidents should be seen for what they are, and this cynical approach may well come back to haunt her if she gets the Democratic nomination.