In 1948, my mother voted for Thomas Dewey--because (she confided to me then) she liked his mustache, which reminded her of Clark Gable's. That seems as good a reason as any I know for voting for Dewey, and pretty much on an intellectual par with my own pro-Hillary sentiments in next year's Democratic primary election for the Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Hillary is a New Yorker, of course, only in the metaphoric sense that anyone who has lived for so long at the center of the universe is a New Yorker. But so what? Residency requirements for a candidate for the Senate are only a legal fiction these days in many states. The real requirements are money and celebrity.
That isn't something the candidates themselves can discuss. They have to wear the state flower in their lapels and recite the usual pieties about how they will represent the interests of their particular state. Though, really, with a state as big and as diverse as New York, it would be hard to say how its interests differ from those of the nation as a whole. Indeed, one of the best features of a Clinton candidacy is that she doesn't represent the typical small-town cabals of construction companies and municipal unions and venal politicos that are the foundation of so-called grass-roots politics. The basis of her fund-raising ability, like her celebrity, transcends the pork barrel. She is a star with national charisma.
The real appeal of a Hillary candidacy is its potential for ongoing drama. With Hillary in the Senate, "The Clinton Story" won't be confined to reruns and the inevitable flurry of phony docudramas. It will continue in prime time for six or 12 seasons or even longer, with the marvelous plot twist of turning the leading role over to the faithful, much put-upon wife and relegating the philandering scamp of a spouse to the role of First Hubby. What karmic justice! What possibilities for the next generation of stand-up comics!
Best of all is the prospect of confusing the Clintons' enemies. All those NRA-funded whited sepulchers of the Republican right will implode like ancient, booby-trapped B-52s. Imagine the rage of Ken Starr! Think of Hillary's contests, on the Senate floor, with the likes of Jesse Helms. One would have to support her for the dramatic possibilities alone, even if one had no principles.
Indeed, principles are the only source of misgivings. I am not quite the knee-jerk liberal I used to be--I would be strongly tempted to vote for Rudy Giuliani, if he were running for the Senate against anyone but Hillary. He has been a terrific mayor--as outspoken as Ed Koch, as independent as Fiorello La Guardia, a politician (like Hillary) with all the right enemies.
I have been a New York resident since 1957, but couldn't vote (being too young) until 1964. Since then, I don't think I've ever voted for a Republican (having moved upstate before Giuliani ran for mayor). The impending Senate election would have been the first time, and I regret missing my chance to do the Unthinkable. I'll bet enough other voters share my feelings to make Hillary not just a viable candidate but the only one with the clout to beat Giuliani.
My reasons for plumping for Hillary, then, are aesthetic at base and as hard to defend as my mother's reasons for voting for Dewey. But a case could be made that those are the best reasons. Voters who didn't vote for Nixon because they just didn't like the way he looked were right. The fact is, there is no such thing as an informed voter, because the first concern of any halfway capable politician is his or her own image. If candidates have the money for the ads and the makeup artist, we'll never know quite what we're getting.
And that's why Hillary has my vote--at least in the primary. She has a great image--right up there with Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's. She has shown, like him, grace under pressure and lots of fashion sense. The very fact that we all speak of her and think of her as "Hillary" is a sign that she has achieved the status of a family member in the great soap opera of everyone's everyday life.
Thomas Disch, author of the upcoming novel "The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft" (Knopf), writes from his house in upstate New York overlooking the Delaware River.