Correction to This Article
The Rough Draft column in the June 4 Magazine incorrectly said that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) favors a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. She supports federal legislation to ban burning of the American flag in certain instances. The column also misspelled the name of Clinton's press secretary, Philippe Reines.

She's No Lady

By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, June 4, 2006

As you know, we live in a hereditary aristocracy. It used to be that any child in America, even one born in a log cabin, could one day grow up to be president of the United States, so long as he was a white male who looked good on television. But all that has changed, and the head of state will be a Bush or a Clinton until the end of time, or the year 2056, whichever comes first.

The other day Bush 43 joined Bush 41 in calling for younger brother Jeb to think about becoming Bush 44. Jeb has said he's not interested, but he will be when the clan threatens to yank his Jet Ski privileges in Kennebunkport.

Chelsea Clinton has been running for president ever since she got rid of the braces. You're crazy if you think she doesn't already have an "exploratory committee." As for Barbara and Jenna Bush, sure, they do not at present remind anyone of Churchill and Roosevelt, but that never stopped their father.

But the person everyone's talking about right now is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has $20 million in the bank, the great brand name and the iron will to crush every Russ Feingold who might stand in her way. She's running. You can tell by the hair, which has finally stopped changing styles, every strand frozen in place, as though she's ready to be on a coin.

Some folks in America still aren't sure a woman should be president, or even express political opinions when men are present. There are places in this country that are still adjusting to women's suffrage, and certain conservatives have made Hillary Hating a sport bigger even than yachting. In the same way that they argued that John Kerry was a coward in Vietnam, Republican strategists will claim that Hillary is secretly not actually a woman.

Sen. Clinton has tried to reassure conservative Middle American voters that she's one of them. She recently signed on to a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning, which enraged free speech advocates, flag burners, and the match and kerosene industries.

The senator's ideological meanderings have raised the question of what she really believes -- and who she really is. And so I sought an answer from her Senate Web site: I clicked on her official biography.

The first sentence -- "Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected to the United States Senate by the people of New York on November 7, 2000, after years of public service on behalf of children and families" -- prefigured a stunning omission. Of the roughly 1,000 words in the biography, two were nowhere to be found: "first lady."

Indeed, there was merely, at the tail end, a passing reference to Bill Clinton: "She is married to former President William Jefferson Clinton."

Not even Al Gore could have distanced himself more effectively from the Clinton White House. One almost suspects that the bio was put together after a domestic spat that ended with that classic spousal invective, "I'm dropping you from my Web site!"

It must be hard, when you're Hillary Clinton, to figure out how to mention the years of being first lady. It's one of the weirdest and, frankly, worst jobs in America. It pretends it's not a job at all! The first lady has a large staff, but she doesn't get paid. She's a volunteer. Just watch: When a man finally becomes first gentleman, he'll score a salary and do no work.

There have been powerful first ladies (Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt), but most were decidedly East Wing types, poised to throw a tea party in a crunch. Mrs. Clinton showed up ready to be deputy president. She was a high-powered lawyer and immediately tried to reinvent the nation's health care system. An overreach. Democrats lost Congress. She then kept reinventing herself, recrafting her message (raise your hand if you recall "the politics of meaning"), until finally, mercifully, she obtained a whole new identity: "Sen. Clinton."

On her Web site, her entire life before her Senate victory comprises a single paragraph.

I called her Senate office, and her press secretary, Philippe Reinnes, told me that the lack of a first lady reference was an oversight: "The omission was completely inadvertent . . . Senator Clinton is very proud of having served as first lady, and the biography should reflect that, which it now does."

The senator's office added one sentence:

"She is the first First Lady of the United States elected to public office and the first woman independently elected statewide in New York State."

Which is still not really about being first lady, but about becoming something else -- Sen. Clinton. Moving on, and ready to become something bigger still.

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