At the National Building Museum on Saturday, Hillary Clinton promised her supporters: “You’ll always find me on the frontlines of democracy fighting for the future.”
Put another way: “I’ll be back.”
Throughout the Clinton campaign, I’ve had this pang of anger that Barbara Olson couldn’t weigh in on Hillary’s run for the White House. Barbara could see the “Hillary for President” signs. There were too many signs in Hillary’s life pointing in the direction of the Oval Office for herself. Moreover, Barbara knew the Clintons didn’t have it in their blood to disappear from the national political stage.
Barbara Olson, of course, was murdered in the plane en route to California that hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
In her book, Hell to Pay, which chronicled Hillary’s pre-Senate political experience and ideology, Barbara wrote:
At one of her lunches with John Robert Starr at Little Rock’s Café Saint Moritz in 1989, there was a lapse in the conversation about Bill’s ambitions for national office. Starr took the opportunity to ask Hillary what she wanted to do. “She leaned toward me,” he recounted, “eyes ablaze, and said in as an intense voice as I have ever heard, ‘I want to run something!’”
As a young law professor, Bill Clinton had confided in friends that he recognized that Hillary was putting her own political future into escrow by coming to Arkansas. Now the long years of waiting are over. The Monica Lewinsky scandal has, ironically, made Hillary one of the most popular women in the world. She has become a celebrated and sympathetic popular figure in another ironic turn of fate: The most powerful woman in the world cast as a victim. As her popularity rose, as the crowds became larger and more enthusiastic, Hillary could think about fulfilling her ambition of power.
Long before Hillary announced she was considering a run for the U.S. Senate from New York, knowledgeable Democrats connected to the White House and on the Hill were talking about Hillary’s real ambition to run something big. Very big. One possibility I thought of was the World Bank. Her college roommate and close friend Jan Piercy was already there.
Though a multinational panel governs the bank, the president generally comes from its largest shareholder, the United States.
As president of the World Bank, Hillary would have tens of billions of dollars at her fingertips to effect social experimentation on a global scale. And she could be appointed without having to go through either the nastiness of a Senate confirmation process or the untidiness of a popular election. . . .
But the real question is: Would that be enough?
Hillary in office–any office–will finally be free from the troubled trajectory of her husband’s career. She will be free to take back her old name. She will be free to create her own legacy. Divorce or at least some degree of separation will allow her to establish herself as a world stateswoman, as the death of FDR at Warm Springs freed Eleanor Roosevelt to become an international figure in her own right. Then she will “run something.”
If not politics, President Clinton could make a recess appointment to the Supreme Court. Her mother’s dream would be fulfilled. It has been done before. Justice Brennan was a recess appointment. That would suit Justice Rodham Clinton just fine.
If she has her way, it could be the United States itself that will have the opportunity for rebirth in the hands of Hillary. Indeed there are rumors in Washington, surely untrue, that she is not at all disturbed by the troubles Al Gore is experiencing, because if a Republican is elected in 2000 she can be the Democratic presidential heir apparent in 2004. That is if Al Gore is unsuccessful in 2000.
On to Plan B.
Olson concluded her book:
The Clinton years might seem like a long national nightmare of scandal, sleaze, and ruthless acquisition of power. Hillary herself is the link from the excesses of the Watergate staff, to the Whitewater fiasco, to the abuses of executive power, to the defense of her husband’s perjury and obstruction of justice. But now it is Hillary’s turn. The Clinton era is far from over and Hillary’s ambitions far from satisfied.
Hillary Clinton, as she reminded us on Saturday, has spent her life in politics. Don’t expect that to change. Whether or not she works hard for Obama, whether or not she becomes Senate Majority Leader. Whether or not she tries again in four years. The campaign suspension really is only a temporary suspension as Clintonian plans are refigured.
The Clintons are always singing, Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.