The New York Daily News kvells that Hillary Clinton is the New Yorker of the year, dubbing her “a woman of resolve and class.” At the very least she has become, albeit belatedly, the comeback kid of 2008. We have followed her from inevitability (pre-Iowa) to vilification (South Carolina primary) to grudging admiration (Ohio and Texas victories) to respect (the DNC speech and summer campaigning) to a triumph of sorts (Secretary of State nominee). Hers has been a more dramatic roller-coaster ride (all in a single year) than any other political figure in recent memory.
She is, an a sense, the anti-Caroline Kennedy. Sure, Clinton benefited from her last name, but any similarities with the dullest (if most demure) of the Kennedys ends there. Clinton engages; Kennedy recedes. Clinton has never feared the political arena; Kennedy hardly knows what to do there. Clinton has courted controversy; Kennedy has bathed in sympathy her entire life. Clinton will go fifteen rounds with any reporter; Kennedy can’t manage the liberal toadies at the New York Times.
In part, this is a difference in class — social and economic that is. Clinton was never given anything. She was, as she reminded us frequently, a Midwestern middle-class gal who overcame a hyper-critical father. Neither he nor an unfaithful husband could block her ambitions. She progressed by force of her own personality and efforts – and even after fumbled opportunities, repeatedly constructed the next act in her life. She ran for office, never dreaming she’d be elevated without proving her mettle. By contrast, Caroline’s entire persona has been bequeathed to her. She is an heiress of extraordinary wealth and the recipient of popular goodwill wholly unrelated to any accomplishment of her own.
These two New Yorkers are a study in contrasts. Despite her atrociously managed campaign and a host of missteps, Clinton has emerged in some sense more popular (certainly among non-liberals) and more powerful than ever. And Caroline? The princess-waiting-for-the-coronation routine isn’t going so well. Perhaps she should try fighting for her place on the national scene rather than waiting for an appointment to be gift-wrapped and delivered to the Martha’s Vineyard compound. And if she is looking for a role model, she needn’t look beyond Chappaqua.