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Clinton’ Grit & Ruthlessness

The New York Times 

Seeing Grit and Ruthlessness in Clinton’s Love of the Fight

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton at a campaign rally on Sunday at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. That state and North Carolina will hold primaries on Tuesday.


Published: May 5, 2008

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is waving her fists across Indiana, signing autographs on boxing gloves.

“We need a president who’s a fighter again,” Mrs. Clinton said at a rally on Thursday, adding that the next president must understand what it is like to “get knocked down and get back up: that’s the story of America, right?”

In recent days, Mrs. Clinton has chided the experts for “counting me out” and Senator Barack Obama for his inability to “close the deal” and declared that no one was going to make her quit. “She makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy,” North Carolina’s governor, Michael F. Easley, said in endorsing her, and a union leader in Portage, Ind., praised her “testicular fortitude.”

This kind of language and pugilistic imagery, however, also evokes the baggage that makes Mrs. Clinton such a provocative political figure. For as much as a willingness to “do what it takes” and “die hard” are marketable commodities in politics, they can also yield to less flattering qualities, plenty of which have been ascribed to her over the years. Just as supporters praise her “toughness” and “tenacity,” critics also describe her as “divisive,” “a dirty fighter” or “willing to do anything to win.”

The critics include supporters of Mr. Obama who subscribe to the notion, pushed by their candidate, that Mrs. Clinton, his opponent in the race for the Democratic nomination, represents the fractious politics of the past.

The camp gained a new spokesman on Thursday when Joe Andrew, a superdelegate who was a chairman of the Democratic National Committee under President Bill Clinton, switched his support to Mr. Obama from Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Andrew accused Mrs. Clinton and her allies of being “the best practitioners of the old politics,” who “will use the exact words that Republicans used to attack me when I was defending President Clinton.”

Asked in an interview on Thursday about the Andrew defection and the dirty fighter implication, Mrs. Clinton simply shook her head and said: “I don’t know where that comes from. I think it’s just part of the mythology that’s been manufactured and promoted.”

The mythology that Mrs. Clinton speaks of was shaped during her often-embattled public career, much of it spent trying to find her footing as an unconventional political wife.

“She has learned how to be ruthless,” said Robert B. Reich, an Obama supporter who served as Mr. Clinton’s secretary of labor and knew Mrs. Clinton in their college days. “I doubt that it came to her naturally, but she has learned.”

There is, of course, a fine line between ruthlessness and the necessary grit Mrs. Clinton’s supporters say she possesses. Her feisty talk seems to play well with people in her audiences, many of them women who are quick to hail her fighting bona fides.

“Would you want to take her on?” asked Barbara Anderson of Jeffersonville. “I’ll tell you, she has survived her fight. Obama has yet to have his.”

While Mrs. Clinton is casting herself as a warrior for ordinary Americans who need jobs, health care and cheaper gasoline, she is also establishing a contrast with her opponent, suggesting he is an untested lightweight. She mocks Mr. Obama’s rhetoric as naïve and challenges him to debate her on the back of a flat-bed truck.

When asked if the fighting motif could go too far, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that it could, but then quickly contrasted her aggressive style with Mr. Obama’s. His campaign “has been about creating an atmosphere,” she said. “I’ve never understood that. Because it’s not easy. I’ve been in a lot of these fights.”  Link to full New York Times story>>


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