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Jewish World Review July 26, 1999 /13 Av 5759

Nat Hentoff

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Lady Hillary and the press -- WHEN THE FIRST LADY -- was Eleanor Roosevelt ever called that? -- contemplated running for senator in New York, she was warned to prepare herself for the ferocious New York press.

During her "listening tour" of the state, however, she has been received, for the most part, as if she were royalty and had already won the election by acclamation.

For example, in July, the Associated Press sent a bulletin to its clients: "News Alert: Hillary Rodham Clinton pledges to be strong advocate for New York."

Stop the presses! Christmas will come on December 25!

Only a few press reports noted that the natives who came to question her were actually hand-picked by her campaign staff, thereby greatly lessening the possibility of embarrassing questions.

And the horde of reporters in her wake often seemed to have been hand-picked as well. For instance, both Adam Nagourney of The New York Times and Lara Jakes of the Albany Times-Union wrote in alleged news stories about her "command" of "finely tuned" policy skills.

What policy skills? In 1994, her husband put her in charge of reforming national health policy. The result was disastrous, collapsing of its own ineptitude without even a vote in Congress. And because of her failure, the gates have been opened for HMOs and insurance companies to take over health decisions for millions of Americans -- with often calamitous and sometimes terminal results.

Mention is mechanically made by the press of her concern for children, citing her record in Arkansas as a "reformer" of education there. But when she left the state with her hollow husband, Arkansas was one of the worst states in the country with regard to the educational achievements of its children.

A few members of the press have not been dazzled by this celebrity candidate. Jimmy Breslin --- author of, among other successful books, "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," noted in Newsday:

"She says she is Eleanor Roosevelt and (unlike FDR's wife) she is for the death penalty.

"She says she is Eleanor Roosevelt and she and her husband promoted, and then the husband signed, the bill that did away with the center of Roosevelt's legacy to this country -- Aid to Dependent Children. She was in on killing it and she says her whole life is devoted to women and children."

Aid to Dependent Children provided a safety net so that kids, no matter how poor their families, would not go hungry. The Clintons did away with Aid to Dependent Children in the Welfare Reform bill that has thrown millions off the welfare rolls, with the result that many have lost their medical insurance, and many of their children are now in the same condition as kids were during the Great Depression of the 1930s: They are chronically hungry.

While Lady Hillary paraded through New York State as if her coronation were in the offing, William O'Shaughnessy, owner of radio stations in the state, declared that his Whitney Radio "will no longer cover any staged events arranged by the so-called Hillary Rodham Clinton senatorial exploratory committee.

"This charade of a `listening tour,'" O'Shaughnessy continued, "with its motorcades and flying squads of Secret Service agents, really does nothing to inform the electorate. In recent weeks, our colleagues in the public press have begun to resemble a bunch of damn ducks -- hoping for a morsel from the first lady or her considerable entourage."

But certainly, she is a gracious lady. Well, a few months ago, I received a call from the White House telling me that the first lady would soon officiate at the establishment of the Louis Armstrong Archives in Queens, New York. As a frequent writer on the most influential of all jazz musicians, I was being invited to come for the occasion -- and I was told that an official invitation would be in the mail.

The invitation never arrived. I also write for The Washington Post and have never been a member of the Clintons' fan club. So my name was flagged at the White House and expunged. All in the free spirit of jazz.

Lady Hillary was born in the wrong century. Despite what she says, she is not in the tradition of Eleanor Roosevelt. Rather, she's in the tradition of Catherine the Great, the imperious 18th-century ruler of Russia.

Except Catherine actually did get some things done.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Ammendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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