MAXWELL:  Hillary has what few do: star power

4/12/2000 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Truth came out of the mouth of Sen. John McCain, and it nearly scared the Vietnam vet and ex-POW to death.

During a speech at Columbia University on Monday, McCain, who bowed out of the presidential race, offered this insight into first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s quality as political timber: “This is the first time in history a first lady has run. She would be a star of the quality that has not been seen in the Senate since Bobby Kennedy was elected senator from the state of New York.

“Many of us believe that in a scenario if (Vice President Al) Gore lost and she is elected to the Senate, she’d be running for the president of the United States.”

These are McCain’s true beliefs.

But after being pressed to explain himself, McCain, a supporter of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who’s running against the first lady, backtracked and sounded as if he had spent too many years locked up in the Hanoi Hilton.

“I believe she’d be very liberal and I don’t believe she would be good for the country,” he told the Associated Press.

No, McCain told the truth the first time, and he knows so. Mrs. Clinton would be a “star” the quality of Bobby Kennedy. McCain was talking about Kennedy’s grasp of complex issues, high intellect and broad education, passion for service, urbanity, willingness to defend the underdog, independence, courage.

Clearly, he was comparing the first lady to Kennedy. And he was right.

Mrs. Clinton would represent New York well in Washington. She would represent any state well. Like her husband, she is smarter than most of the elected and non-elected ne’er-do-wells on the Beltway, and she has a firm handle on the most important domestic issues. She was right, for example, about national health care during her husband’s first term in office.

She is still right.

Republicans savage her for her efforts, but the entire nation _ especially the thousands of uninsured children nationwide _ is the loser. The attacks started during the 1992 presidential campaign, when Republicans used her legal scholarship to convince a gullible public that she encouraged children to sue their parents.

I went back and read the articles in question and found no evidence to support the GOP’s claims. What I did find, however, was a brilliant legal mind at work and a woman _ a mother _ with a passion for the cause of young children and a long-time affiliation with the Children’s Defense Fund.

“Children are not rugged individualists,” she writes in her 1996 book It Takes A Village. “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 just doesn’t espouse family but values families and children.”

Describing her feelings after her daughter Chelsea was born, she 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.”

Corny? Perhaps. But it is absolutely the kind of stuff we need a senator saying these days. We, especially New York, do not need more spiteful claptrap from Bill and Hillary haters, those paragons of virtue.

Personally, I would love for my 17-year-old daughter to become a professional like the first lady. I would love for her to be just as brilliant, hardworking, straight-talking, witty and, yes, loyal.

The continued trashing of Mrs. Clinton in some media quarters and among Republicans is a national loss. The truth is that she is a role model for females everywhere, a woman who refused to be a toady first lady. She has the brains and the tenacity to tackle problems and issues heretofore reserved for men.

By the way, at $20 a copy before discount, It Takes A Village turned a profit. Guess where the proceeds went and are still going? To children’s hospitals, of course.

My biggest regret is that Hillary Rodham Clinton is not running for a Florida Senate seat. She is light years ahead of the our current candidates _ Bill Nelson, Bill McCollum, Willie Logan and Tom Gallagher. New York is fortunate to have a potential “star” in the race. Remember, John McCain was among the first to say so.