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Jewish World Review Sept. 18, 2000 / 17 Elul, 5760

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Consumer Reports

Tough questions target Hillary Clinton's elitism -- Gloria Steinem, a founding mother of modern feminism, once said a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Alas, Ms. Steinem got married last week. But after watching Hillary Clinton debate Rick Lazio Wednesday night, it seems Mrs. Clinton -- perhaps the most famous feminist in modern America -- may be a new believer in Ms. Steinem's adage.

Debate moderator Tim Russert did something no major TV journalist has been either willing or able to do since Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy: He asked her tough questions, starting with a zinger about Clinton's early effort to nationalize America's health-care system, and, specifically, how it would have hurt New York.

Her answer, boiled down, was "I've learned a lot" from her historically big boo-boo and she won't try it again.

Lazio came prepared. His very first words exposed her weaknesses: "You know a New Yorker would never have made that proposal. In New York we say you've got to tell it like it is. And the way it is, is that Clinton has had two opportunities - two opportunities to make policy, one on health care and one on education. And on health care, it was an unmitigated disaster. Even the people in her own party ran away from it."

It only went down from there for Clinton, who lacks the experience and authenticity to make her a viable candidate for the New York Senate seat. Lazio and Russert honed in on her vulnerable areas.

The cumulative effect of the night was to strip away the fiction and hype of Clinton's bid for the Senate. Lazio reclaimed the mantles of New Yorker authenticity, concern for New York and experience in New York.

What was left for Clinton? Ambition. This came out in her summation, where she reiterated what has become the accepted rationale for her bid, "I just hope that New Yorkers will decide it's more important what I'm for than where I'm from."

But where a candidate is from is a very relevant question in a democratic republic like ours. In America, we pick from our homegrown best and send them to Washington.

Clinton's campaign turns that notion on its head. As she sees it, we should assign the "best" of Washington to a state of that person's choosing. She's running as the consummate political aristocrat, swooping into New York, on the assumption that New York deserves someone like her.

When asked what she would do for the economy of Western New York, she promised to use "all of my contacts" to get the job done. Clinton wants to represent New York, not because she's a New Yorker, but because she thinks she deserves a Tiffany's perch from which she can spread her wings.

Clinton is a member of the national elite, not the New York elite. Membership in the national elite comes with celebrity, not necessarily accomplishment, which may be why so much of her campaign money comes from Hollywood.

The most dramatic moment came when Russert showed a clip from Clinton's 1998 "Today" show interview in which she dismissed the Lewinsky story and said of the accusations against her husband: "If all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true." That "proven" always seemed a hedge to some people.

Russert asked Clinton if she would apologize for "misleading" the American people about the Monica Lewinsky affair and for accusing all of her critics of being members of a "vast right-wing conspiracy." It was a moment that probably had most viewers on the edge of their seats - or squirming out of them.

Clinton was clearly stunned. She denied misleading anyone, saying she, too, had been deceived.

Lazio responded, "Frankly, what's so troubling here with respect to what my opponent just said is somehow that it only matters what you say when you get caught."

Over the course of the night, Lazio rebuffed efforts by Clinton to link Lazio to Newt Gingrich, saying early on, "Mrs. Clinton, you, of all people, shouldn't try to make guilt by association. Newt Gingrich isn't running in this race, I'm running in this race. Let's talk about my record." And later on, "If you had a record, I suppose, you wouldn't need to use Newt Gingrich. I'm running and I have a strong New York record."

In a sense it's tragic. Clinton could have had a distinguished record of accomplishment, and in a sense she has one; she got her husband elected president. But now she thinks it's her turn in the light.

Her elitism and desire for independence came in a symbolic moment during the debate. Russert asked each candidate to name who they would choose as their lifeline if they were on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." Clinton answered, "You, Tim." Lazio responded, "My wife."

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