Who, Me? President?
Whered You Get That Crazy Idea?
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
...O.K., she's ambitious!
O.K., the lady's ambitious;
What's so bad about that?
By GERALD NACHMAN
Im not (yet) much of a Hillary Clinton fan, but it isnt because of her ambition.
When did ambition become such a dirty word in America, or at least American politics? Isnt ambition what America is about? Wasnt that the theme of all those countless, much-admired, inspirational childhood books Americans once grew up on-- the Horatio Alger myth? Up from slavery, or the bootstraps, rags to riches and all that.
Edison, Ford, Lindbergh, Carnegie, Einstein--ambitious boys every one. Nobody reads Horatio Alger any more, but nearly every popular biography today still strums the ambition chord pretty hard. Ambitious used to be a good thing to be, indicating industry and initiative, generally considered sterling American traits. Perhaps its not Hillarys ambition so much as it is her so-called naked ambition, which sounds more to me like somebody else's naked sexism.
Men get to be ambitious as hell, but an ambitious woman has become a synonym for ball-buster, with ruthless the implied modifier. Nobody who runs for President is a shrinking violet--not even sweet ol Barack Obama, and maybe least of all Barack Obama. Perhaps Obama, with his who-me? attitude, is just cannier at cloaking his naked ambition in modest attire (no ambitious power necktie, for starters).
Has there ever even been an un-ambitious politician? Do we really want a slacker for President? America loves the fantasy that a truly great leader would never be immodest enough to actually thirst for the Presidency. Such a vulgar idea. We like the Ike model--a great man who, because the country loves him for himself, reluctantly runs for office or is drafted by a groundswell of devotion. Ike may have been the last who-me? President, or was it Gerald Ford? Its hard to recall many Oval Office accidents.
Not counting Jesus Christ--and Im not so sure about him--has anyone hugely successful ever made it to the top on sheer humility? Was Lincoln, heaven forbid, ambitious? I vote yes. How else would a poor, raw-boned, homely, gawky, self-educated small-town lawyer dare aspire to the Presidency? There is even evidence that Mother Teresa was one ambitious--some even say pushy--little nun.
The underlying assumption seems to be that Hillary Rodham married Bill Clinton because she planned to ride his own proudly ambitious coat-tails and one day become a powerful politician herself. Thats a big leap, but even assuming its half-true, what of it? A more logical assumption is that, about mid-point in Clintons Presidency, the idea occurred to Hillary, Hey, I could do this! Which is pretty much what ignites all politicians--Congressmen, mayors, corporate bosses, consumer advocates, farmers.
Americans love to believe that great politicians just sorta, ya know, er-um stumbled into greatness, Jimmy Stewart-style. Its what fuels the whole goofy American Idol mania: that any self-deluded no-talent off the street very well might, if things break right for him--and if he only dreams hard enough--become a rich and famous pop singer. Right. Look at Sinatra, a modest kid from Hoboken who was just in the right place at the right time. Or Bing Crosby, who actually titled his autobiography Call Me Lucky.
We all love the myth of the girl (Lana Turner) who is sipping a soda at Schwabs when a talent scout happens to spot her and asks if she might like to take a screen test, or the oft-told tale of the friend who drives an actor buddy to an audition and is asked if he also cares to try out, and, by golly, the friend turns out to be named, yes, Henry Fonda.
So, lets just concede that Hillary Clinton is extremely ambitious, unlike John McCain, Joe Biden, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Chris Dodd or Dennis Kucinich. How they got to be senators, governors and mayor beats me. Must be their looks.
©2007 by Gerald Nachman. The Nachman caricature is ©2000 by Jim Hummel. The cartoon is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted March 12, 2007.
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