To paraphrase the Bard, "Nothing in her life became her like the leaving of it." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton proved that yesterday in a rather masterful farewell address to the U.S. Senate.
This writer has hardly been a Hillary fan. I'm a veteran of the '90s battles, working on Capitol Hill for the Republican majority during the Contract With America. The Clintons, individually, combined, the entire administration were seen by the GOP as being unscrupulous to he point of being borderline criminal. Indeed, many Republicans "lost the plot" as they say in England -- and developed all sorts of fevered conspiracy theories revolving around the Clintons. Hillary was probably hated more than any other first lady -- by the members of the congressional majority.
Some of this anger and venom was brought on by the Clintons themselves. After all, Hillary was also the first first lady to immerse herself fully in a policy issue -- health care in 1993 and '94. Her overbearing way of putting together a secretive Health Care Task Force, completely out of sight, infuriated even members of her own party.
That included the then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In any event, the product the task force produce was a Rube Goldberg-ian complex structure that never even made it to a vote in either chamber, collapsing under Clinton hubris and a public rightly wary of an incomprehensible change that could endanger the health-care they had.
With that backdrop, the notion that Hillary Clinton, a sitting first lady, would run for Senate in New York seemed ludicrous when word first started to circulate in mid-99. That she would run for the seat being vacated by the retiring, aforementioned Sen. Moynihan seemed even more absurd. Yet, she did and, as they say, the rest is history.
And, she didn't do a bad job as junior senator. Even stipulating to the fact that a principal reason to move here was to find a good spot from which she could launch a presidential campaign, she was a harder-working "fake" than many "actual" senators. Which is to say, that Clinton actually seemed to like being a New Yorker.
Indeed, that's what comes through in this farewell address (which includes an embedded YouTube clip). The speech is primarily about her memories of and service to New York, dwelling in particular on 9/11 and the days afterward. But when also talks about the state's different regions and history. In contrast, there is only a little about other legislative priorities she might have worked on while in the Senate. In short, this was a farewell address to her New York constituents as much as it was to her fellow senators.
And she carried it off with charm, grace and good humor -- getting in a very funny line teasing New York's senior senator, Chuck Schumer, over his love for the camera. The entire chamber cracks up.
Watching this, one suddenly "gets" it. The focus of Sen. Clinton's confirmation hearings on Tuesday was Bill Clinton's foundation, the foreign contributions that he accepted, and whether that would create a conflict of interest for Secretary of State Clinton. But, the real news is -- that was it. Not one Republican had a criticism about Hillary Rodham Clinton that was unconnected to Bill. Again, given that she was seen by many in the GOP as a demon incarnate 14 years ago, this is a remarkable turnaround. And, given that the GOP hasn't changed that much, one must give credit where it's due.
In ten years, Hillary Clinton successfully separated herself from Bill Clinton and forged an identity of her own. That identity didn't merely give her greater political power -- enabling her to run for president. It gave her enhanced personal standing as well. She won over former Republican foes (including my former boss, Newt Gingrich). She may not become president, but she stands to be seen as a unique historic figure -- First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State -- in her own right.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Robert A. George is a New York writer who blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.