The promise of "change" as an emerging catchphrase for the presidential campaign poses an interesting dilemma for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
For this voter, Mrs. Clinton's career as an adjunct to her husband doesn't inspire confidence that she would offer much different from the last round of Clintonism - no matter how hard she tries to get on the change bandwagon. Recall the phrase "two for the price of one" from 1992? It still applies.
The affairs of Bill - Gennifer, Paula and, of course, Monica - are old news and need no rehashing. But the country is about to find out whether Hillary's loyalty to Bill, through tryst after tryst, will prove to be her downfall, especially among female voters. I look at her and do not exclaim, "Finally, a female candidate!" Rather, I tend to view her through a narrowed eye, wondering, "What kind of a marriage is that, anyway?"
This is not me being catty. It has to do with character, and choices - between having a healthy marriage and striking a political arrangement couched as a marriage. How Mrs. Clinton chose will never be fully known. That would take a peek into her soul, a look far more revealing than a few near-tears on the campaign trail.
Hillary the candidate is banking on less such questioning from women and more loyalty to her gender. New Hampshire gave her a boost in that regard. Exit polls had her doing well with female voters. For many women, she is clearly the candidate of the moment. But younger women might not view her as the only viable female presidential candidate they will see in their lifetimes. Voters like me are willing to take a pass on Mrs. Clinton and wait for the next female presidential candidate.
Had she come of age later, she might have been less apt to need a marriage to a political man as the most viable route to political service at the highest levels. Every account of the Clintons' lives together, whether authored by themselves or others, reaches the same conclusion: Without Hillary, Bill wouldn't have made it to the big time. And she grew up in an era when marrying a guy like Bill Clinton would allow her to live out her political aspirations. Which raises the question, is Hillary Bill's greatest seduction?
He met a brilliantly ambitious woman and formed a team that helped him reach the White House. Nothing is wrong with that. I simply wish he had respected her and their marriage more along the way.
The nation's voters are mulling over whether it is possible to elect a woman or a black man as the country's president. That tortured state of national self-examination means Mrs. Clinton was right in the calculation she made long ago while a law student at Yale, when she pursued Bill Clinton - a young man with the heady goals of winning Arkansas' governorship and then the presidency.
People strike all sorts of deals to gain the life they want, often through marriage. Gay men marry to appear straight. Women who don't want to work marry the keeper of their credit cards. And women with political talent and aspirations of their own bargain that they can fly in the political tailwind of their husbands.
With or without the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton deserves to be remembered for what she is: a woman just as intellectually capable of holding the reins the nation handed to her husband years ago. My opinion of Hillary is obviously just that: an interpretation from the vantage point of a woman whose generation followed in her substantial footsteps.
I question her loyalty to a man who did not respect her or their union enough to stop publicly embarrassing her and risking not only the marriage but her future political career as well. This does not mean that I do not respect her academic intelligence or her tremendous philanthropic and public policy accomplishments. I also acknowledge her place in the history of women in politics. She is a groundbreaker.
Geraldine A. Ferraro wielded a machete to begin cutting this pathway. Mrs. Clinton still had to beat back errant branches. Women of my generation can stride along with a walking stick.
I'm grateful. But that doesn't win my vote.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Her e-mail is email@example.com.
Clarence Page's column will return Friday.