June 5, 2008

In A Picture, What Went Wrong

Walker Bill Hillary

(click for larger size)

Way back in January, while studying Hillary’s “I’m In” web announcement (and thinking mostly about Hillary’s need to establish her identity free and clear of Bill’s), I found myself obsessed with how the camera, panning back-and-forth, first included, then excluded a framed portrait of the couple sitting on the back table.

Come June, and the first sightings of Bill, what I saw as pivotal was the Clinton’s Soprano ad — Bubba’s Back (If Without The Same Badda Bing) — which I read as Hillary contracting with the American electorate to keep Bill under control, and on a short leash.  More than anything on her thirty-five year resume, what Hillary seemed to be offering as a fundamental test of her management abilities — in light of what the Lewinsky scandal did to the previous Clinton presidency — was the ability to take charge of her house, and maintain control.

Well, you had only to half-follow the battle in South Carolina to know what became of that.

In some ways, however, this wonderful shot by Diane Walker, published on TIME’s White House photoblog in April during the Pennsylvania fight, is even more revealing of the post-Soprano ambiguity.  My thought is, if Hillary had somehow been able to keep Bill on that leash, we might have simply looked at this picture and thought: How sweet.

On the contrary, though, what the image does is unleash the same ten-year-old questions that swirled around the couple after the Lewinsky explosion.  What you wonder is, what is the complex bond that holds these two people together, Bill with his grip around Hillary; Bill enveloping her; Bill, the one holding the autograph pen (poised just inches from his wedding ring).  And then, there is no way to climb into Chelsea’s head, but that look in her parent’s direction feels miles from matter-of-fact.  Maybe she’s only thinking about what Mom and Dad ordered for dinner at this obvious power event.  But, the complexity and fascination in the gaze makes it feel as if she’s got some of the same questions.

I don’t know about the “torture” part, but I agree with Sally Quinn that Hillary doesn’t really know who she is.  I think this last week bore that out in particular, with Hillary deferring to hard-line advisers who put a spoil-sport mark on her for life.  Perhaps the ultimate reality about Hillary  is that she is so good at adopting a persona — change agent; experience agent; policy agent; rights defender; brawler; ambassador; champion of the little guy; and 60-year old who never knew her own voice — because she so lacks a central core.

And as a result, when it came down to distinguishing herself alongside America’s ultimate power player — when America, above all, needed to know where the boundaries were — there was no way to know where, when and even if one left off and the other began.

TIME’s White House photoblog

(image: Diana Walker for TIME. April, 2008  Pennsylvania)

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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