March 23, 2008

Hoping To Bring Peace To Hillary's (Not Just Northern Ireland) Experience



“I helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland.”

— Hillary Clinton

Boiling it down, Hillary Clinton (by personality, capacity and the nature of her relationship with Bill Clinton) seemed to have enjoyed an inordinately high level of access and input as a First Lady.  Still, however, her level of participation in governmental affairs seems to have been officially and most consistently bound by her peripheral role.  Given this equation, I would imagine that both of these images — each accompanying a NYT story in the past couple days about Clinton’s involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process — has got to be frustrating to somebody.

Take the top shot, for example.  Absent the momentary presence of Bill Clinton, who successfully brokered a peace agreement between England and Northern Ireland that Easter in 1998, this image of Hillary with Congressman Peter King and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams makes it seem like she was right in the thick of things, and possibly even a partner to the negotiations, although she was not (and, for the record, never claimed that she was).

When pressed for specifics to explain what she does claim as a substantive role in the peace process, Hillary often cites bringing a group of Catholic and Protestant women together at a Belfast town hall in November 1995 presumably leading to a  critical “breakthrough” in outlook between the groups.  Although there is disagreement as to how much time Clinton invested that day or how much impact she actually had, the Times uses this context — and the second image above, showing Clinton in May 1999 with female members of the Northern Ireland Assembly — to lead its article about Hillary’s schedule history.

If the contrast between the two images is heightened by Hillary’s similar dress, the second shot — with the officials looking flattered and Mrs. Clinton looking gracious and poised in the center — has problems too.  Given the the visual vocabulary of the photo, pulling for typical associations to the “First Lady” role, there is a tendency to pay this shot, and Mrs. Clinton’s role, short shrift.

Perhaps Clinton damages her cause by overselling her experience, likening her role more to a Vice President than a consistent advisor, emissary or ambassador.  To the extent, however, that her pride (in combination with the issue of gender discrimination) inhibits practical discussion of her actual experience, it makes it difficult to define it for what it is, which is neither profound, at the one end, nor unsubstantial at the other.

Hillary “played a positive role…to bring peace to Northern Ireland” John Hume (from Wesley Clark’s PAC site,

Nobel winner: Hillary Clinton’s ‘silly’ Irish peace claims (Telegraph)

Conflicting Takes, Here and Abroad, on Clinton’s Role in Northern Ireland Accord (NYT)

Release of Clinton Schedules Offers Chance to Test Campaign Assertions (NYT)

(image 1: White House Photo.  caption: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Representative Peter T. King, center, and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein in 1998 after Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Adams and President Bill Clinton met on decommissioning arms.  image 2: Peter Morrison/AP.  May 1999.  caption: Hillary Rodham Clinton as first lady, center, in May 1999 with members of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast.

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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