While much has been made of the fact that no First Lady in history has run for political office before, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this is because such a double act is almost impossible to pull off. Representing New York in the Senate is quite a first step for anyone contemplating political office. But when you are the most famous woman in the world only because you're married to a President with whom you have entirely identified politically, it's even trickier.
Right at the beginning of Hillary's bid for "independence", her husband told us that she would suddenly be displaying deviations from his own view that might surprise everyone. But what has been really surprising is the degree of jockeying that Hillary has already been indulging in, just to appeal to as many of the ethnic groups that make up the New York State electorate as she can.
The latest turnabout has been all about attracting the Puerto Rican vote, which is fairly substantial as there are 1.3 million Puerto Ricans in the state. It all began quietly some weeks ago, when Bill Clinton offered a clemency deal to some of the16 Puerto Rican nationalists who were jailed at the beginning of the Eighties for seditious conspiracy and possession of weapons and explosives.
It is unusual, to say the least, for Bill Clinton to offer clemency to anyone. During his seven years in office he has delivered only three clemency decrees out of 3,000 petitions.
However, these particular people have over the years attracted a broadly based clemency campaign headed up by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter. Their conviction came at the end of a terror campaign that ran throughout the Seventies and into the Eighties, with 100 bombings, killing six people and wounding dozens. However, although they were all members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation group, which campaigns for Puerto Rico to become independent of US rule, none of the 16 jailed people was convicted of taking part in any bombing. All the same, they received particularly punitive sentences, of between 35 and 90 years, largely because they refused to recognise the authority of the court and therefore had no defence.
There are strings attached to the clemency deal that has been offered to them, in that they must renounce violence before they are released. When Hillary backed Bill's initial clemency offer, the issue attracted accusations that the offer had been made in the first place only in order to secure votes for Hillary. While she swore that she had no prior knowledge of her husband's decision, it was these continuing accusations that prompted Hillary to do a volte-face, and declare that she no longer supported the clemency offer. Now Jose Serrano, one of three Puerto Rican members of the House of Representatives, has said that he is withdrawing support for her candidature and has urged Puerto Rican voters to follow his example.
Putting aside for a moment the fact that it is strange for any lawyer to be able to change her mind so completely over a straightforward human rights issue, it may seem to the casual observer that poor Hillary finds herself in a bit of a double-bind - damned if she backs her husband on issues from which she may benefit, and equally damned if she doesn't.
But she does not deserve such sympathy; not only because it is, of course, perfectly clear that Hillary believes she has the right to capitalise on her husband's political success, but also because her pandering to ethnic votes in New York has already been shameful. Having for years stressed her Christianity, which goes down well in Arkansas and in Washington, she last month made a late bid for Judaism, with an unattributed tip-off to the New York Jewish newspaper Forward which revealed not only that her step-grandfather was Jewish, but that her mother's half-sister was, too.
Once again, the link with New York city's electorate being 20 per cent Jewish and New York State's being 10 per cent Jewish was made much of in the press. This, again, could be seen as fairly harmless vote-catching, if it were not part of a series of blatant attempts to woo the Jewish vote.
For whereas, prior to the revelation of her Senate ambitions, Hillary had been an admirably vociferous supporter of the Palestinian cause, she now stands in opposition to the US government's Middle East policy. She now says that she believes that Jerusalem, which in its history has been an Arab capital and a Byzantine one, should be "the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel".
While this statement may have delivered quite a few Jewish votes already, another clemency campaign is urging Hillary to put her money where her mouth is. One New York Jewish leader, Dov Hikind, a Democrat member of the state legislature, has urged her to try to persuade her husband that Jonathan Pollard, who has served the already unusually long sentence of 14 years for leaking US military secrets to Israel, should now be released. Bill has already turned down the appeal, so clearly this issue is being brought to public attention once more simply to flush Hillary out as to her true position on matters Jewish.
While, again, we may feel that this kind of demand simply puts Hillary into a no-win position, the truth is that she has done this herself. If she had wanted to stand for public office while her husband was still President, she should have done long ago what most women with a marriage like hers would have done, and dumped him. Instead she has attempted to win power for herself before he is out of office, in order to maintain as much high-profile association as she can.
She also needs to make a huge amount of money if she is to win against Mayor Rudi Giuliani - who himself supports clemency for Pollard - and doubling up with Bill's entourage has so far made a complex campaign much cheaper to run than it might otherwise have been. Those economies of scale again, you see. Her political opponents have complained bitterly about the unfair fiscal advantages that campaigning for office while the wife of a President bestow, but the answer of both Clintons is that the benefits are the same for Republican first ladies who may run independently. So, they say, there is no intrinsic unfairness in this quirk, even though Hillary has so far been history's only beneficiary of it.
But the final economy of scale is the most shallow of all, in a campaign so far notable only for its lack of depth. For while Hillary has made crass mistakes - such as declaring her lifelong support for the New York Yankees, rescinding her previous lifelong support of the Chicago Cubs - the lingering suspicion about her inability to wait for Bill to drop off the presidential perch before running for office is that she simply wants to be top dog specifically in New York. The Clintons have already bought a $1.3m house in Westchester County, where Hillary can continue to hang out with the glitterati but still present herself as a feminist working mum. Some people will say anything to have everything, which is why Hillary, even if she wins, will always be a loser.Reuse content