The Woman Who Would Be Senator
As you may have heard once or twice, we have a little Senate race going here in New York. The candidate on the Democratic side, by the middle of January, had subjected herself to many of the self-abasing rituals Democrats seeking statewide office in New York must submit to: The call on Al Sharpton; the obligatory trips upstate to prove that the aspirant is not merely the cat's-paw of urban liberals; the appearance before a power-broking Orthodox Jewish group to pledge fealty to Israel, even though there's no chance in hell that said group's members will vote Democratic. And she has subjected herself to one ritual most candidates don't have to submit to--moving here. The stage furniture, then, is set in place; the next nine months will bring character development, action, climax, coda.
Hillary's Choice, Gail Sheehy's new psychobiography of Hillary Clinton, was evidently intended by its author as an important piece of that stage furniture. It has not, of course, been received in quite so generous a spirit. You've probably read by now some of the sport the media have been making of the inaccuracies found within it. "The Reliable Source," the gossip column in the Washington Post, kept a running tally for a time. The most famous of these errors sits down there on the bottom of page 209, where Sheehy writes that Al Haig sought to reassure America that he was "in charge" not after the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, when he actually did it, but after the successful resignation of Nixon.
Before we push ahead, let's note another mistake, one The Nation, of all journals, would have done poorly to miss. On May Day 1970, it seems, Yale students--Hillary Rodham would have been in her first year of law school; that much is accurate--held a huge rally on campus in support of the Black Panthers, where "ripe-bosomed coeds" (?) dished up "a soul picnic" (??) for the "incoming Bedouins of the Woodstock nation." (???) Nine Panthers, Bobby Seale among them, were in jail in Connecticut, facing kidnapping charges. Jessica Mitford and husband Robert Truehaft came to town. So did 4,000 reservists from North Carolina, a presence made all the more ominous, Sheehy writes, by the fact that "the country had already witnessed unarmed college students being shot dead by National Guardsmen at Kent State University." Hmmm. Unless those ripe-bosomed nymphs and invading Bedouins moved May Day, not possible. Kent State happened on May 4.
Let's not make more of this error than we should. It symbolizes nothing and means only that the author doesn't know either when May Day is or when the Kent State shootings occurred and, if ignorant of either or both, didn't bother to look them up. These things happen, presumably even to the Washington Post's "Reliable Source" column from time to time. (Of course, to Sheehy, a lot of them seem to happen.)
I will say this, though: Factual particulars aside, the main arc of Sheehy's story, and much of her conjecture about The Relationship, reads to me as though it's pretty much spot-on. Hillary's decision to move down to Arkansas to be with Bill--the synecdochic "choice," it turns out, around which HRC's other choices and the book itself are all framed--is described by Sheehy, either explicitly or implicitly, as a function of three things: first, Hillary's ambition, and her belief that Bill would someday be the President of the United States, which she secretly wanted to be herself but knew, as a woman, she would not be; second, a rarely expressed desire on the part of the young-adult Hillary, finally out from under the control of her officious and right-wing father, to shock and dismay and do the unexpected, which she had so rarely had the courage to do; and third--hey, she loved the guy. This actually seemed to be true. And still seems to be.
Much is made, in the book and in reviews, of the possible life that awaited a hot young female Ivy League law school grad such as HRC, which the book's narrative thread virtually forces us to envision: After her Watergate committee work, a job at a white-shoe Manhattan firm. Service on various boards. Groundbreaking legal scholarship of some sort or another. Books. One foot in reform politics. Maybe the city's first female--what, comptroller or something?--with her hardheaded common sense. With any luck, this would happen during the fiscal crisis, when she would have won praise for being the sort of liberal who's not afraid to make "the tough decisions" that the Times loves to adulate. And then, who knows, maybe a run for the Senate someday.