MAXWELL:  True to Hillary Rodham Clinton

1/28/1996 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


As members of the fourth estate, we columnists learn to pick our fights, reveal just the right amount of our soul both inside and outside the newsroom and, of course, ladle out, at appropriate moments, measured doses of moral outrage.

I utter that mouthful to warn that I now am breaking with the canon of journalism requiring us to cloak ourselves in a patina of objectivity by being tougher than tough on public figures. Columnists who want to seem really objective go after people or causes they respect or care about deeply.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is our current victim. On her back, we can prove that we can run with the pack. To show that our ethical pecs are chiseled, we body slam the first lady _ even if we like her and intend to vote in November to send her, along with her husband, back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Well, I am one columnist who does not run with the pack. Know up front that I admire Mrs. Clinton and will not join my colleagues in this newest of blood sports.

Yes, I am aware of the recent CNN/Time magazine poll indicating that 52 percent of Americans believe that the first lady is lying about her role in Whitewater and in Travelgate, the controversy over the White House travel office firings. And like other Americans who hold our leaders to a higher moral standard, I am troubled by the miraculous appearance of the subpoenaed Rose Law Firm billing records the House Oversight Committee had sought for two years.

If evidence shows that Mrs. Clinton played a direct role in having those records “appear” on that table in her living quarters and if, moreover, her grand jury testimony reveals that she has been involved in what Senate Whitewater Committee chairman Sen. Alphonse D’Amato calls “a criminal enterprise,” I certainly will have to reassess my opinion of her.

Until that time comes, however, I will be hard pressed to see evil in a bright, articulate professional woman and mother who has spent much of her adult life helping others and championing the cause of children.

I remain a supporter of Mrs. Clinton.

Granted, she causes some of her own political problems. But the bulk of them are the handiwork of her many enemies inside and outside the Beltway. The attacks started during the 1992 presidential campaign, when Republicans used her legal scholarship to accuse her _ this brash, female professional _ of encouraging children to sue their parents.

I have read all of the law journal articles of Mrs. Clinton, and I am impressed with her brilliance and logic. Indeed, I admire her passion for the cause of young children. Furthermore, her long-time affiliation with the Children’s Defense Fund is far more valuable than anything most of her detractors, including New York Times columnist and former Richard Nixon speech writer and lap dog William Safire, who called the first lady a “congenital liar,” have done to better the lives of America’s children.

A few days ago, I read Mrs. Clinton’s book, It Takes A Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us. And, of course, I am aware of the controversy journalists are instigating over how much of the final manuscript that Barbara Feinman, Mrs. Clinton’s researcher, wrote. Despite this latest demonization, I enjoyed the book. It elevates my regard for Mrs. Clinton and her willingness to open a vein in public.

While a recent former first lady, true to the traditional role of that position, earned gold stars for writing a frivolous book about the family pooch, Mrs. Clinton is having no such luck, even though her book, as with many of her other efforts, is serious advocacy of her singular mission to protect young people.

“Children are not rugged individualists,” Mrs. Clinton writes. “They depend on the adults they know and on thousands more who make decisions every day that affect their well-being. All of us . . . are responsible for deciding whether our children are raised in a nation that doesn’t just espouse family values but values families and children.”

This is not the philosophy of person deserving our contempt or that of D’Amato, the Senate paragon of virtue, veracity and family values.

I would love for my 13-year-old daughter to become a professional like the first lady: brilliant, hardworking, straight-talking, witty, loyal, and, yes, as honest as the rest of the frail republic. Most of all, if my daughter decides to have children, I want her to emulate Mrs. Clinton as a mother.

Describing her feelings after her daughter Chelsea was born, Mrs. Clinton writes: “Every uncertainty and doubt I had was mixed with wonder and astonishment. . . . Parenthood has the power to redefine every aspect of life _ marriage, work, relationships with family and friends. These helpless bundles of power and promise that come into our world show us our true selves _ who we are, who we are not, who we wish we could be.”

This is corny stuff. But I will take it any day over the nasty claptrap coming from the Hillary Haters. I am convinced that GOP moles, a la Nixon White House “plumbers,” are gathered in a dark hole plotting the destruction of Mrs. Clinton’s character to bring down her husband in November.

The trashing of Hillary Rodham Clinton is a national loss. She is a role model for girls everywhere, a proud professional who refuses to be a toady first lady. She has the brains and the tenacity to tackle problems and issues heretofore reserved for men.

Incidentally, It Takes a Village, retailing for $20 before discount, should be profitable. Guess where the proceeds are going? To children’s hospitals, of course. What else should we expect of a woman who has devoted her life to the cause of America’s children?

Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the Times.