Jewish World Review July 26, 2007 / 11 Menachem-Av, 5767
Baseball, apple pie, a 2nd chance
By Jonathan V. Last
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | The only thing standing between Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic nomination is The Question. Its wording varies slightly, but the gist of it is this: Would you definitely not vote for Sen. Clinton for president in 2008?
The Question has been asked in polls for a long time, and the results are remarkably consistent. In January 2006, 51 percent of registered voters told Gallup that they "definitely will not vote" for Clinton. In June of 2006, a CNN poll of general respondents had the number at 47 percent. By March of 2007, the number dropped as low as 39 percent in a Harris poll, but by April, a Washington Post/ABC News poll had it back up at 45 percent. These responses to The Question have spooked many Democrats and provided the entire raison d'etre for the Barack Obama campaign.
I submit that this is all bunk; that the polls do not represent people's true feelings, and that should she be the Democratic nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton will be given a fair look by most of the electorate. I may not have fancy, scientific polling data to support this claim - apologies to Messrs. Harris and Gallup - but I do have Paris Hilton.
There is no more contemptible figure in American culture than young Miss Hilton. Callow and vulgar, she is half Marie Antoinette and half Lydia Bennet. She long ago surpassed fame and achieved ubiquity with a combination of wealth, ambition and tepid pornography.
Yet when Hilton was sent off to jail last month, she began a public transformation. She called Barbara Walters, claiming to have found God.
"I'm not the same person I was," she said. "I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute. It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that person for the young girls who looked up to me. I know now that I can make a difference, that I have the power to do that. I have been thinking that I want to do different things when I am out of here. I have become much more spiritual. God has given me this new chance."
As she left the big house, Hilton was peddling the same line, saying also that she's ready to start charity work and wants to build a "transitional home" for female ex-cons. This news has been met with surprisingly little mockery. And if the American people are willing to give Paris Hilton a second chance - bless their hearts - then do you really think they'll harden themselves to Hillary Rodham Clinton?
F. Scott Fitzgerald, right about so many other things, had it exactly wrong on the question of second acts in America. This is the land of second chances. Many of the first Americans were looking for a mulligan in life, of course. But even today, in nearly every facet of our culture, prominent people find it easy to recover the public's good graces.
Take Roman Polanski for a rather astounding example. Roman Polanski is no Paris Hilton. No merely obnoxious layabout he! No, he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl in 1977. There was some unpleasantness when he fled the country to avoid a trial, but he kept working and making movies, and by the time 2002 rolled around, people were cheering his best director win at the Academy Awards for his film "The Pianist."
Martha Stewart is no Roman Polanski. Her crimes were much less offensive, and after being released from jail in 2005, she jumped right back into a rewarding television career.
Michael Milken, the Junk Bond King of the 1980s, went to jail for insider trading, too. He emerged as a respected philanthropist with a foundation focused on education and cancer research.
Donald Trump never went to jail, but in the `80s he, too, was seen as one of the rapacious jackals getting fat off of junk bonds. People cheered his bankruptcy in 1991. Today he's a gruff-but-lovable personality, doing bits of kindly self-parody on television.
Remember when Bill Gates was America's Dr. Evil, trying to strong-arm plucky companies such as Netscape out of business while forcing the dreaded Windows 95 on the world? One semi-retirement and billions of dollars in charitable giving later, he's a saint.
Americans are at least as forgiving of their political figures. Al Sharpton slandered innocent police officers during the Tawana Brawley affair - yet he's still very much with us. West Virginia's Sen. Robert Byrd is solemnly invoked as "the conscience of the Senate" these days; in the 1940s, he was an Exalted Cyclops in the KKK. Strom Thurmond was an out-and-out racist, too; that is, until he became a lovable old coot. Ted Kennedy zipped past the small problem of Chappaquiddick almost as soon as it happened. He is, after all, a Kennedy.
And then there's Richard Nixon, who got a second chance twice. Hounded as Eisenhower's vice president, he lost the presidency to JFK in 1960 and then lost an ugly campaign for governor of California in 1962 - "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore," etc., etc.
But Americans gave him another chance and elected him president in 1968. Then they reelected him five months after the arrests at the Watergate. (Incidentally, two other Watergate figures, Chuck Colson and G. Gordon Liddy, enjoyed public redemption - Colson as the founder of the Christian ministry Prison Fellowship; Liddy as a radio talk-show host - after serving their prison terms.)
Surely there are exceptions. No one ever gave Fatty Arbuckle or O.J. Simpson second chances.
But what's the worst Hillary Rodham Clinton has done? She dissembled and viciously attacked those who proved her husband had committed perjury; she tried to impose socialized medicine without having been either elected or appointed to an office; and she leveraged a very strange marriage into a carpetbagging political career based solely on celebrity. Small beer!
If she becomes the Democratic nominee, voters will almost certainly give Hillary Rodham Clinton a second look, regardless of what they tell pollsters today. We're a nation of softies, yearning to see people redeem themselves. And it's this generosity of spirit that makes us great. Or, at the least, great big suckers. It depends on where you sit.
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Jonathan V. Last is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.
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