Hillary Clinton: Making it Official
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GWEN IFILL: Now, some perspective on the First Lady and the New York Senate race from NewsHour regulars presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss. Joining them tonight is New York Times political reporter Adam Nagourney, traveling with the First Lady in Buffalo, New York tonight. Michael Beschloss, historically speaking, this is a brand-new thing, isn’t it?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: It ask a brand-new thing, although there have been occasionally cases in which First Ladies have thought of doing this. 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt, a year after Franklin Roosevelt died, was prevailed upon by Democratic readers in New York State to run for the Senate or maybe run for governor. She said she didn’t want to do it. She didn’t think it was the right thing to do. Also she felt that she was more free to speak her mind if she was not in elected office. So she never ran for the rest of her life, which lasted about 16 more years. In 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy, after the death of John Kennedy, was asked by Lyndon Johnson, would you like some kind of office? Once again, New Yorkers thought that Jackie Kennedy might run. She had grown up in New York State. It was the furthest thing from her mind. She hated politics. The last thing she wanted to do after she had a husband who was in it was extend her life in politics.
GWEN IFILL: Doris, let’s pick up on our Eleanor Roosevelt idea. Eleanor Roosevelt had a reputation for pushing her husband to be more liberal. We just heard Hillary Clinton talking about being a new Democrat. So it sounds like the similarity only goes so far.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, there’s no question that in Eleanor’s case that she was an agitator, pushing him from the outside in — the idealist, while he was the realist. The interesting thing is that after Franklin Roosevelt died, when Eleanor decided not to run, as Michael said, it was partly because she was so accustomed to being part of the team, she said. She thought he was the practical person; she was the idealist, and she couldn’t really be a politician. As it turned out, she really was one. But by that time she had become an international voice and didn’t want to go back to elective life. But I think at the start, Hillary was like Eleanor, the one pushing in at her husband from the outside in, seemingly the more liberal of the two, seemingly the more idealist, the less practical, the less realistic. But she too has had almost eight years of experience at a very tough level, tough things happening. She’s seen his success in becoming this new Democrat. And whether it’s a poll-driven thing or whether she’s now internally become more realistic, more practical, less idealistic, less old liberal, that’s only for her to answer, I would guess.
GWEN IFILL: Doris, does it hurt or help her to be First Lady in a case like this?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think there’s no question that it helps her enormously in many ways. First of all, she’s a celebrity as First Lady. There’s a magic to that White House, the people who want to come out and see her, the crowds she’s going to have. They can imagine that’s staying in the same house, in the White House, where Andrew Jackson planted a tree, where Thomas Jefferson was, where Abraham Lincoln was…
GWEN IFILL: But also where other bad things happened in the last eight years.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: True. Very well said. I think that’s part of the two-edged celebrity. Part of it is curiosity, people coming out to see her. The timing, however, of taking that brass ring, what she’s doing so she’ll have that celebrity, have the money, have the fund-raising, have the crowds, has the other side of it, of course, which is that carpetbagger image. If she had waited two more years, gone into Illinois, where she grew up, let the presidency – you know — go away a little bit, let Monica Lewinsky be distanced, it might have been an easier, less cumbersome race, but she must desire it a lot, because this timing shows she wants to grab it when the brass ring is there.
GWEN IFILL: Adam Nagourney, surely, it doesn’t look like Mayor Giuliani is willing to take this lying down.
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Oh, no, I don’t think so, Gwen. He has a real history of being a very tough campaigner. And just yesterday, it was very interesting, normally on the same day that candidates announce for office, their opponent sort of lies low. Giuliani hit five television shows, laying out themes for his campaign, bashing Hillary Clinton. So, no, he’s not going to be an easy opponent at all.
GWEN IFILL: You interviewed Mrs. Clinton last week, one of the precious few pearls of interviews she’s given out so far. Did you get any sense in talking to her that she’s willing to really get into this wrestling match?
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Yes, I guess so. I’ve been wondering about that all along because she’s sort of been avoiding confrontation — actually, in much the same way that Bill Bradley was early on in the presidential race. And I know that she was being pushed to do it. I think she’s ready for this. I’m not sure she realizes just how tough it’s going to be. But I think she is ready for this. She does… yesterday in her announcement speech, she brought up Giuliani a couple times, as I’m sure you saw. She did it a couple times in my interview with her last week. She did not… I was trying to think… no, she did not today at all. She gave a speech on economic development. But I think she is, yes, Gwen.
GWEN IFILL: Michael, there’s the carpetbagger issue, I guess, that…she said today, I was raised on the shores of Great Lakes, which, in Illinois, of course, we all know. It doesn’t sound that’s the going to be the best way to bridge that gap.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: No, I think that’s right. I was raised on the shores of the Great Lakes in Illinois, too. So I know that. There’s a history of carpetbaggers in New York. The first Senator from New York was Rufus King, a federalist who lived in Massachusetts all but four years of his live. James Buckley in 1970 was from Connecticut, although he’d been a businessman in New York City. Robert Kennedy came to New York to run in ‘64, but he had been a child in New York and had lived there for a number of years. So really this is the first case in which you’ve had someone move immediately into New York State and run without any previous connection.
GWEN IFILL: Doris, does Mrs. Clinton have the same fire in her belly? We’ve all seen her husband at work. Does she have the same fire in her belly for politics as Bill Clinton does?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I think so. I’m not sure we’ve seen it fully, but think about this decision that she’s made to take on this Senate race. If she had lived through these last seven years, think of how much difficult times she had, many days starting from the beginning with the failure of health care, which was probably the first time in her life that she was given a lack of respect. And then comes Vince Foster’s death, her father’s death, the ‘94 election attributed that loss to her, and the second term of the humiliation of the Monica Lewinsky thing. If still with all of that happening she wants to go into public life, into electoral life, putting her own self on the line instead of making millions with a memoir, waiting a couple years to see what’s out there, another race somewhere else, the United Nations, it shows I think that fire, that ambition is deeper than any of us realized at the time.
GWEN IFILL: Has the time changed, Michael, for high-profile women candidates? I mean, Elizabeth Dole got into this and obviously wasn’t there very long, but is there a different attitude now?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: It hasn’t changed enough. You know, you’d think that 80 years after women were given the right to vote in the United States you’d have more female members of the Senate and more female governors. And there are not enough. And that’s one reason why you have so few women running for President — because the numbers in the Senate and among governors are not large enough to send the large number of candidates that you’d see obviously there are men. But you know, you see a case like Geraldine Ferraro. She ran for vice president in 1984. She was a member of the House, had been a rather local figure. She really suffered the bends when Walter Module pulled her up and had her run for Vice President. She was much less effective candidate because she hadn’t had that national experience. And I think that’s one thing to watch with Hillary Clinton because, you know, there is no substitute for actually having experience running for the Senate or in national politics. She’s been at the side of someone who has done that, but it’s not the same thing as doing it yourself.
GWEN IFILL: Adam Nagourney, you covered Geraldine Ferraro when she tried to run for the Senate, high-profile woman with New York roots. And she didn’t do terribly well. How do these two campaigns compare?
ADAM NAGOURNEY: I was never that impressed with Geraldine Ferraro’s capabilities as a candidate. She never really had a rationale for why she was running. She sort of came with a sense of entitlement. It was like I ran for vice president, I probably should have won then, therefore I should be elected Senate. And she faced a very, very tough competitor in Chuck Schumer. I don’t think she ever saw this coming. So I think they’re a lot different. I think Hillary Clinton is a lot smarter as a politician. The point Michael makes is very important, though. It’s one thing, I think, to be able to sit back there and advise someone who is very good at politics and also to watch someone who is very good at politics, Bill Clinton being the master. It’s another thing to do it. And I think the real question is whether or not she’s going to with able to make the adjustment. Again, I guess the most interesting thing about yesterday is that it was so much playing out of the 1992 presidential campaign where Bill Clinton got elected dramatically in the videotape but the Hollywood producers and all of that.
GWEN IFILL: But New Yorkers are pretty tough bunch as a voting populous. And are they really going to feel swayed to vote for… I’m not asking you to predict necessarily, but here’s someone never elected to anything, let alone New York. Does she stand a ghost of a chance?
ADAM NAGOURNEY: A ghost of a chance. At least a ghost of a chance. I would avoid predicting this race. It’s a tough race to predict. I think that on the face of it, the fact that she’s a Democrat running in a state that is essentially a Democratic state, the fact that she’s a woman would make you think she has a strong advantage here. But she has tons and tons of baggage, and what you mentioned, Gwen, is just part of it. People react very, very viscerally to it. And you see it in polls but you see it just anecdotally. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s really tough to call.
GWEN IFILL: Doris, how do you explain the fact that women voters not in love with Hillary Clinton — middle class women voters?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I don’t know. It’s still a mystery to me, because I think she’s very much at ease when she talks to women. There’s a charm with her personally. I think part of it is a feeling that perhaps she got where she is through her husband, which really isn’t true when you think about her past. And part of it is a chemical, visceral thing, just as Adam said. There are people that just can’t stand her and other people love her. So the good side of that is I do think she’ll be able to generate an enthusiasm among young women, among women who feel she’ll be a standard bearer in a way that perhaps Geraldine Ferraro or Elizabeth Dole somehow didn’t, even though they didn’t generate the hatreds that she did, she’ll be a polarizing figure. I think the hardest thing for her will be to deal with the Adam Nagourneys of the world, the press — not him personally. But she hasn’t had a lot of experience really cutting it up with individual reporters who want to ask her a spontaneous question where she has to come out instinctively with the right answer. She was able to control her access to the press as First Lady. This will be a new ball game for her. I think she’ll be great with individual people. I think she’ll be a great speaker. But she’s going to have to learn. That’s where instinct takes over. That’s what we’re going to have to look for.
GWEN IFILL: Michael?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: And you know, there’s that nagging question in the minds of New York voters, why is she doing this? Is this because she wants to serve? Does she want to run for president in four years? Is she does doing this to overcome that sense of humiliation she may have felt during the Monica Lewinsky thing? One interesting thing is that the Clinton marriage is distant enough that one thing has not been raised. And that is, if these were two people very close together, you might have heard people saying, this is an effort by Bill Clinton to extend his political life, perhaps get himself back into the White House in four years. That’s something that people are not talking about too much.
GWEN IFILL: Michael Beschloss, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Adam Nagourney, please stay warm out there in Buffalo. Thanks.
ADAM NAGOURNEY: I’m going inside.