A Campaign of Her Own

By Sally Quinn
Monday, February 4, 2008; 12:00 AM

The shrinks must be having a field day with this one. Hillary Clinton has a real chance to be the first female president, but the perception since New Hampshire has been that she is running as the first female stand-in for her husband's third term.

The first female president should be elected on her own merits -- because she is the most qualified candidate. Just as she should not be held to a different standard because she is a woman, she should not be treated differently because her husband is out there campaigning with her.

Yet it now appears now that the Clintons are running as a couple -- a team, not a candidate and a spouse. In fact, after Obama's big South Carolina win, Clinton said: "We went there and asked the people to vote for us. They voted for him."

It is also becoming clearer each day that Bill Clinton has more than just the good of the country at heart. He has his own administration, his own reputation to vindicate. The minute Hillary "found her voice" in New Hampshire, Bill went out on the hustings -- face red, eyes narrowed, finger wagging -- and pushed her out of the way.

Of course it would be exciting to have a female president (as it would be to have an African American president). What we also want, though, is someone who has earned it on her own, whose power is not derivative.

It's true, as Chris Matthews recently dared to suggest (and was unfairly slammed by feminists for doing so), that part of the reason Hillary was elected senator in 2000 was because voters felt sympathy for her after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Others suggested that she got the sympathy vote last month in New Hampshire.

There's nothing wrong with that. People vote for candidates for myriad reasons. It was charming in a debate when she said, "That hurt my feelings" after it was implied that the voters didn't find her "likeable." It was moving when she teared up in a diner talking about the hard campaign.

At last, we thought, there's a real person behind the superwoman façade. "I found my own voice," she said, and the quote was splashed on the cover of Newsweek.

But has she? Since then, her voice has been almost drowned out by her husband's.

After Hillary's triumph in New Hampshire came Obama's big win in South Carolina. Still, even amid speculation that Bill's meltdowns may have contributed to her loss, reports were that Hillary staffers had decided not to muzzle the former president. The plan was just to let Bill be Bill.

But Bill Clinton has gone way off the reservation these past few weeks, and he has hurt his wife badly. We've seen this movie before, and it's not pretty. Hillary needs to get the hook, get him off the stage and win or lose on her own. "Fair and square," as he likes to say.

Do we really want our first female president elected out of sympathy because her husband humiliated her again? If I've heard one person say it I've heard it from 100 in the past few weeks: "If she can't control her husband, how can she control the government?"

There's really only one person who is responsible for getting him off center stage effectively, and that's Hillary Clinton herself. Harry Truman had a famous line about the presidency that could well apply to her now: The buck stops here. For Hillary, Bill's campaign should stop now.

Sally Quinn is moderator, with Jon Meacham of Newsweek, of OnFaith, an online conversation about religion.


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