Richard Reeves

The Clintons Triumphant!

WASHINGTON -- "I'll tell you one thing," said Trent Lott, the leader of Senate Republicans, on election night, "when Hillary Clinton gets to the Senate ... she will be one of a hundred, and we won't let her forget it."

Right. Tell us one other dumb thing, senator. If you can get out of the Capitol, which is surrounded by people trying to get a glimpse or a photo of the junior senator from the Great State of New York. Perhaps you can confer with the Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. See, he's over there with the eight new Democratic senators-elect, telling reporters that each will answer one question. That's because the first time he tried to introduce them all, every question was for ...

Well, you know who. Hillary Clinton cannot use the main hallways of the Capitol and the Senate office buildings because of the crowds of reporters and tourists and staffers and employees. She is being led from place to place on back stairways and through offices and maintenance corridors.

There are two paths to power in the modern Senate. Lott took one, which is to work your way up the seniority ladder, learn all the rules, play by them, and keep your nose clean. Do all that, and you may get a big title -- big enough to get you on television, even. They can put Senator-elect Clinton on the Bathroom Supplies Subcommittee, but she will still be on the nightly news whenever she chooses, talking about whatever is on her mind.

Makes you think Trent Lott has "the political instincts of a stone." Actually, I used that expression to describe Mrs. Clinton back in 1993, when she personally and totally screwed up the drive to make national health care the law of the land. But she did run a solid, disciplined campaign in a tough state, mine, in an extraordinarily difficult situation. She deserved to win -- not because she was first lady, a title and concept I hate, but because she was smarter, tougher and more focused than the best the Republicans could find.

So, unless you are quite young, the Clintons ye shall always have with you.

Meanwhile, the other Clinton is on a farewell tour around the world. After that, he'll probably be coming around door-to-door, talking legacy. For years, he had hoped (and expected) that his reputation would be protected by the fact that his vice president would be his successor, which has always been taken as a measure of a president's stature in his own time. Now, it seems that he never had to leave home to find a legacy-enhancer.

The president has said a couple of goofy things in a series of exit interviews. But it also looks as if he will do pretty well as journalism cranks up for a blizzard of first rough drafts of history on his Clinton years. The first I've seen is "Bill's Excellent Adventure" by Nicholas Thompson in the excellent Washington Monthly, which concludes:

"The results have been magnificent. ... We've gone from having the biggest budget deficits in history to having the biggest surpluses ... the lowest recorded African-American and Hispanic poverty rates ... lowest percentage of Americans on welfare since 1965 ... the largest continuous crime drop in history ... open and positive relationships with all of our potential major allies and adversaries. Clinton doesn't deserve all the credit, but surely he deserves some."

Now the wife also rises. She is back on her own on the track she ran on as Hillary Rodham when her 1968 commencement address at Wellesley College was picked up by newspapers and magazines across the country. What she said then was: "For too long, those who lead us have viewed politics as the art of the possible. The challenge that faces them -- and us -- now is to practice politics as the art of making possible what appears to be impossible."

So here she is, Senator Lott. The beat goes on.

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