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Jun 05, 2008

In A Picture, What Went Wrong

Walker Bill Hillary
(click for larger size)

Way back in January, while studying Hillary's "I'm In" web announcement (and thinking mostly about Hillary's need to establish her identity free and clear of Bill's), I found myself obsessed with how the camera, panning back-and-forth, first included, then excluded a framed portrait of the couple sitting on the back table.

Come June, and the first sightings of Bill, what I saw as pivotal was the Clinton's Soprano ad -- Bubba's Back (If Without The Same Badda Bing) -- which I read as Hillary contracting with the American electorate to keep Bill under control, and on a short leash.  More than anything on her thirty-five year resume, what Hillary seemed to be offering as a fundamental test of her management abilities -- in light of what the Lewinsky scandal did to the previous Clinton presidency -- was the ability to take charge of her house, and maintain control.

Well, you had only to half-follow the battle in South Carolina to know what became of that.

In some ways, however, this wonderful shot by Diane Walker, published on TIME's White House photoblog in April during the Pennsylvania fight, is even more revealing of the post-Soprano ambiguity.  My thought is, if Hillary had somehow been able to keep Bill on that leash, we might have simply looked at this picture and thought: How sweet.

On the contrary, though, what the image does is unleash the same ten-year-old questions that swirled around the couple after the Lewinsky explosion.  What you wonder is, what is the complex bond that holds these two people together, Bill with his grip around Hillary; Bill enveloping her; Bill, the one holding the autograph pen (poised just inches from his wedding ring).  And then, there is no way to climb into Chelsea's head, but that look in her parent's direction feels miles from matter-of-fact.  Maybe she's only thinking about what Mom and Dad ordered for dinner at this obvious power event.  But, the complexity and fascination in the gaze makes it feel as if she's got some of the same questions.

I don't know about the "torture" part, but I agree with Sally Quinn that Hillary doesn't really know who she is.  I think this last week bore that out in particular, with Hillary deferring to hard-line advisers who put a spoil-sport mark on her for life.  Perhaps the ultimate reality about Hillary  is that she is so good at adopting a persona -- change agent; experience agent; policy agent; rights defender; brawler; ambassador; champion of the little guy; and 60-year old who never knew her own voice -- because she so lacks a central core.

And as a result, when it came down to distinguishing herself alongside America's ultimate power player -- when America, above all, needed to know where the boundaries were -- there was no way to know where, when and even if one left off and the other began.

TIME's White House photoblog

(image: Diana Walker for TIME. April, 2008  Pennsylvania)


Iraq vote (which is really a way of saying her leadership, or lack of such, around the time of the Iraq vote). Period. Rest was downhill.

No, he's right. I got a sense time and time again that Hillary Rodham Clinton knew what she represented to other people at all time but never knew what she stood for as an individual. She was a person who knew tactics and symbology above all else but never knew how to occupy that role at the center of American celebrity politics.

Most of all, and most sadly it seems she was denied that period of transformative introspection that would have easily led her to becoming the first female president of the United States. I think it's fair to say that with both of the Clintons now, neither knows what either one of them stand for. Not policy-wise, because they have strong stances on that. They just simply have lost the ability to create their public personas.

And perhaps it's just that. Hillary Clinton might not be this tragic figure, she might be simply a supremely introspective individual with a unique perspective on life not shared by many others and at her core she might be an anomaly of human society: there might be no one else like her, but that just redefines the tragedy then into an individual trying to artificially connect with people who have rebuffed her at every stage of her life. And now with Bill, who seems to have changed - at least in the eyes of the public - ever since his surgery, we now have the union of two people robbed of the control over their public identities, and that's something supremely sad, for both of these people who have meant so much to so many people.

Chelsea always strikes me as being remarkably well adjusted despite having been the offspring of two messed up, self-absorbed, codependent (power being the drug), parents. Perhaps Chelsea just gets the benefit of the doubt, since we don't know very much about her.

Oh, goodness. Hillary isn't a tragic figure, she's one of the strongest most powerful women in the country. And still is. She's going to be one of the power players of the next few years, even if her role isn't as clear now.

The Clintons are amazing and always will be. A strong, dynamic couple who are all too human at the same time. Like many couples their age. And also losing a bit of their power, like many couples their age.

This is the older boomers now losing control to the younger boomers. And believe me, we younger boomers are more than ready to shake things up a bit. ;^)

There are indeed some interesting dynamics in this shot. On quick glance it can be read as Bill literally controlling Hillary. Look at his hand on her shoulder, pivoting her in the direction he wants her to go, as indicated by the direction of his pen. And Hillary allowing herself to be directed, her head and glance already moving where Bill wants them to move.

And yet, you can also read it as Hillary trying -- in vain -- to break free of Bill. With his head and shoulders and hand he's attempting to envelop her, and she has just enough of an opening to twist away from him, if she's so inclined. And yet, as is also obvious, she will not take that opportunity.

Strip everything away and the lesson from this primary season -- and even from Bill's presidency -- is that this is a couple invested only in their personal ambitions. They want what they want. Nothing else matters. It's possible that Chelsea has been spared that awful trait of her parents, and realizes it. Her gaze looks like one of recognition and relief -- the gaze children give their parents when they realize that they don't have to become their parents.

I never knew so many people were able to read minds. It's one thing to speculate; it's quite another to speak as though your speculations were solid truth. Be careful, there.

I never knew so many people were able to read minds. It's one thing to speculate; it's quite another to speak as though your speculations were solid truth. Be careful, there.

Or... Chelsea's watching the photographer that made this photo.

Once again the Bag community has stepped up and provided some very perceptive analysis of the Clintons. I've been wondering, over the past few weeks, about just that and this photo encapsulates the entire struggle. No one else in this photo matters, just the Clintons. Even Chelsea stands apart, looking on as the mature child, already stepping back from their dramas, leaving them to themselves.

I think it has become fairly obvious in recent weeks that both of them have strong narcissistic tendencies. I suppose the danger of two self-centered people marrying is that they become a self-contained unit. This photo so captivates that feeling it's almost eerie. Bill perhaps pointing her in a certain direction while at the same time enfolding her in his embrace, as if to stop her from going. Hillary turning away from Bill, yet making no move to leave, rather giving in to his embrace. Perhaps Chelsea, having lived with this exclusiveness her entire life, is now backing off, leaving them in that embrace of which she was never part.

I realize some may think all this is psycho-babble. But we, as a country, have just witnessed an emotional battle for the prize of top dog. Simply because it's politics doesn't mean it's not just as emotionally engaging as a sports game (and the endless analysis after) or a play (where all the critics chime in), etc. The fact that the front-runner and heiress apparent actually lost still has her followers in a daze......which I hope they come out of. People will be talking about this for years. What part DID Bill play in her loss? Was her poor choice of advisors a key? If she couldn't manage a campaign, how could she manage a country? Did Bill really (perhaps unconsciously) subvert her candidacy? And so it goes.

The Clintons have always challenged our ability to receive, and maintain in our minds, the truth. Throughout the campaign he has presented himself as nothing but a loving husband -- no, the most loving of husbands. Yet there is enough out there about his infidelities to make it plausible that he has continued his relentless, remorseless betrayal of his marriage. People may want to see them as an "all too human couple", the man having outsize passions, etc. The reality is that he is an exploitative user, and she has to keep up the charade because otherwise she would be -- a doormat. He has denied himself nothing -- nothing -- for the sake of his wife, her mental well being, or the marriage.

perpetual worry is what i see in chelsea's eyes.

no drama,
I see it too, it's kind of heartbreaking isn't it.

To me this whole contest was a bit like the Giants taking down the Patriots in the superbowl. That. Wasn't. Supposed. To. Happen. Yet there it is.

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