Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hillary Gets Motherly II

Hillary’s close-out in the Austin debate could be her pre-New Hampshire tear-up moment squared. I believe it struck a deep chord, what perhaps is and should be Hillary’s dominant campaign chord: her bid to nurture the nation, to be mother of us all.

If Hillary were a man, her governing philosophy would be dubbed paternalistic. She wants government to take care of us. When Obama says “yes we can,” that “we” is fruit of his bottom-up political trajectory: he began public life as an organizer. Hillary’s “we” is a royal “we,” a Queen Mother “we.” In her stump speeches a while back, and in her Super Tuesday speech, she fused herself with the Statue of Liberty as provider of refuge for the downtrodden:
We must continue to be a nation that strives always to give each of our children a better future, a nation of optimists who believe our best days are yet to come, a nation of idealists, holding fast to our deepest values, that we are all created equal, that we all deserve to fulfill our God given potential, that we are destined for progress together.

It's the ideal inscribed on the base of the Statute of Liberty in this great city that has overlooked our harbor through wars and depression and the dark days of September 11, the words we all know that give voice to America's embrace -- "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free" -- a constant reminder that here in America, we face our challenges and we embrace all of our people.

So today we say with one voice -- give us the child who wants to learn, give us the people in need of work, give us the veterans who need our care. We say give us this economy to rebuild and this war to end. Give us this nation to heal, this world to lead, this moment to seize.

The tear-up moment in New Hampshire tapped into this self image, albeit with a strong tincture, as Maureen Dowd was pleased to highlight, of self-regard or self pity: it’s hard, but I keep trucking because I want so badly to do so much for so many. The Austin peroration started in the same vein –

But people often ask me, how do you do it, you know, how do you keep going…

But it packed a much more concentrated maternal clinch—perhaps because the object of her care was less abstract. Here, the stand-in for all of us was not the huddled masses at Liberty’s base but the “Intrepid” wounded warriors home from Iraq:

….with all of the challenges that I've had, they are nothing compared to what I see happening in the lives of Americans every single day.

You know, a few months ago I was honored to be asked, along with Senator McCain, as the only two elected officials to speak at the opening of the Intrepid Center at Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio, a center designed to take care of and provide rehabilitation for our brave young men and women who have been injured in war. And I remember sitting up there and watching them come in: those who could walk were walking; those who had lost limbs were trying with great courage to get themselves in without the help of others; some were in wheelchairs and some were on gurneys. And the speaker representing these wounded warriors had had most of his face disfigured by the results of fire from a roadside bomb.

You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country. And I resolved at a very young age that I'd been blessed, and that I was called by my faith and by my upbringing to do what I could to give others the same opportunities and blessings that I took for granted. That's what gets me up in the morning. That's what motivates me in this campaign.
Rereading this gave me chills --even as I weighed how calculated it might be. (Seeing it live didn't.) I don’t pretend I can read the tangle of motivations powering Hillary – or for that matter, the motives of anyone else with the odd mixture of megalomania and humility that makes it possible to mount a credible run for the Presidency. But here --Obama supporter that I am -- I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She does want to bind up the nation’s wounds, and she thinks there’s something in her little black surgeon’s bag for everyone. (The link with the 71 year-old McCain casts an odd Mom-and-Pop-gazing-down sidelight on Obama.)

The final sentences in Hillary's Austin peroration cast the nation as an extended friends and family circle:
And you know, whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about. Thanks.
My wife points out to me that Hillary here adapts an Edwards line (and the alchemy casts an interesting light on the plagiarism debate). Edwards said in several debates about himself and his opponents: we’re fine, we’ll be fine. There was a two-Americas bite to this: “we,” the wealthy and privileged candidates, will be fine because we have money and government-supplied healthcare. Hillary softens this: she and Obama will be fine because of their personal networks. Then there’s a segue: surely she’s not suggesting that the American people have weak friends-and-family ties, or that this election is about strengthening them. She’s sliding from the personal safety net to the governmental. And that segue is her governing philosophy. It takes a village. Thanks.

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