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Through the looking glass

By Megan Beyer

I look like Hillary Clinton. I used to deny it. But in 1993, when my then 18 month old baby saw her on television, crawled to the screen and started kissing it saying, "Mommy!," I had to admit there was something there.

For fifteen years, valet parkers have greeted me with "Hillary!" Check-out ladies say, "I know you have been told this before…" and men in elevators pose it as a possible insult followed by a sheepish, "but you are much nicer."

As a one-woman, 15-year focus group on what people think of Hillary, I have had countless conversations with total strangers about what has become a Rorschach test of political outlook. Here are my conclusions on her high negatives.

In part it is the gender thing. Woman in leadership as dragon-lady. She is tough, she is smart, she is capable, and therefore she is hated.

But there is more. It is how people remember the Clinton years. Today the nation feels about Bill Clinton the way I always did. He is the man from Hope with a Bridge to the Future bringing surpluses, peace and economic prosperity. He is helping Katrina victims, creating development programs in Africa, being smart, compassionate and diplomatic. He asks something of us, he works with old political foes, he operates in a way that suggests we can break out of our polarized conflicts and make positive changes.

But Hillary, still in tactical mode as Senator and Presidential candidate, is the repository of bad memories. The nagging feeling that positions are poll driven, triangulated, cooked up in a caldron of the possible. The Clintons always suffered this duality, the good they did in contrast to the way they sometimes did it. In retrospect he has become the good cop, she, the bad.

You see it in her votes: the vote for the Iraq war and the recent vote for the Kyl- Lieberman amendment. She is not for the war, just voted to allow the president to go to war. She is not for allowing Bush to attack Iran, just voted for an amendment that designates one third of the Iranian military, the Iranian National Guard, as a terrorist organization. It is the "let's do but say we didn't" approach to creating a record. The gain in survivability is counterbalanced by a loss in credibility, candor and even likeability.

In a nation up to here with back door calculation, secrecy and the say this but do that, old Clinton maneuvers look all too familiar. As much as looking back conjures nostalgia, there's an aching sense that you can't go home again.

My now 15 year old daughter saw Barack Obama on Oprah Winfrey over a year ago, and has been for him ever since. When I asked her why she would not be for the woman in the race, she said Hillary seemed like all the other candidates. Barack was different, hopeful, honest, "real." It was the same answer I would have given about young Bill Clinton some 15 years ago. I had to admit, there was something there.

Today the valet parkers say, "Barack Obama? But you remind me of Hillary!" My bumper sticker puts a new twist on things. I still defend Hillary. But when they inquire about my new candidate with a bridge to the future, I say, -- "He reminds me of Bill Clinton!"


megan beyer with her daughter, michelle and barack obama, oprah winfrey Photo:
Megan Beyer
and her now
15 year-old daughter Clara with Barack & Michelle Obama at a campaign fundraiser at Oprah Winfrey's home in Montecito, California.
Megan Beyer is a journalist and commentator on the PBS women's political talk show, To the Contrary. She lives with her husband, Don Beyer and two daughters in Old Town Alexandria.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the MMO or its staff.
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