Hillary: The Docudrama

So the controversy over NBC doing a drama about Hillary Clinton: How will they play it? How will they draw her? It’s hard to believe they’d do bald propaganda but hard to believe they won’t. NBC is a cultural entity of the left, or you might say the soft left. She is a political figure of the left, or you might say the soft left.

I sense synergy

Actually I sense botch. It will be a drama about Hillary’s wonderfulness and when it’s done they’ll privately screen it and an executive will say, “We’re going to be accused of liberal bias, we’d better balance it a little.” So they’ll reshoot some scenes and insert things that might make Hillary look bad, but they’ll choose the wrong things, stupid things, and it will make the whole effort look cheesy. Even with Diane Lane. Who’s a ridiculous choice, but so what?

Let’s amuse ourselves by imagining what the movie will look like.

I’ll go first.

The dramatic template they’ll use is the life of Eleanor Roosevelt: Ugly duckling suffers much, finds her voice, leads. By the end she has become a thing of beauty, a real presence in the national life, a voice for the forgotten.

Quick opening:

Born in solid-burgher Illinois, baby boomer, father a small-business owner, a harried bully. She is propelled and protected by her mother, who carries with her competence, gruff affection and a quiet sense of grievance: Her own potential has been unexplored. “You have to be strong,” Mrs. Rodham tells her daughter. She gives 7-year-old Hillary a children’s book about a little girl who faces down some local toughs and protects an abused dog. It all takes place in a little town called Whitehaven.

She is an awkward teenager, can’t seem to get right what the other girls get so easily—the right headband, how to flirt. Scene: suburban basement party, 1963. The other girls dance to the Shirelles. Hillary, in a sad little flowered cotton dress, sits on a folding chair to the side. Next to her is a shy boy with a shirt-pocket pen protector. They silently watch, then talk about homework.

She attempts to win her Republican father’s approval, becomes a Goldwater girl. It doesn’t work. He still criticizes her almost-perfect report cards. “Don’t they give A-pluses at your school?”

She leaves home, goes to Wellesley, begins to study politics more seriously. Reading great texts, taking notes. Scene: Hillary in flared jeans, book in hand, running breathlessly down a dormitory corridor. She comes upon another student. “Listen to this, listen,” she says. “The working poor, especially those who are members of minority groups, are discriminated during the mortgage loan process at banks—especially women, who can’t even get a loan unless a man co-signs for it.” The other student, a blank beauty, toothbrush in mouth, towel on freshly shampooed hair, stares at her, blankly. “Um, wow,” she says. Hillary insists, “We’ve got to do something about it!” and marches on. Another student pokes her head from a room, makes eye contact with towel girl, and they start to laugh. Rodham comes on a little strong.

Moment of triumph: senior class address on graduation day. Hillary challenges the establishment, the entrenched powers. “We need more ecstatic modes of being.” It doesn’t make complete sense, but it’s the ’60s and nothing has to. In the audience, a mortified U.S. senator who’d come to speak at commencement. Hillary sees him squirm. We see on her face this thought: This thing I’m part of has power. The young have more power than we know.

Yale Law school, long nights in the library. She meets Bill—charistmatic, friendly, ambitious. This one knows how to dance the mashed potato and the Loco-Motion too. “In Arkansas we grow watermelons the size of Saturnian moons!” Dates, movies, love. His mother, Virgina Kelley—antic, Southern white working class—doesn’t like her a bit. “She isn’t good enough, not your type—she doesn’t even wear mascara.” Bill holds firm: She is the partner I need for my journey.

Marriage. Elections. First lady of Arkansas. Awkward. What is the line between feminist seriousness and movement priggishness? Where is the line between getting power and staying human? She wants to be serious and she wants, as always, to fit in. Intermittent mascara use. Comic scene: Virginia gives her makeup lessons. Hillary walks out looking like a whore. But she’s learned something from their recently begun conversations: it’s a mistake to think you have nothing to learn from the Virginia Kelleys of the world. They know things they don’t teach in the Ivy League.

Thrown out of office, back in office, baby Chelsea, inexorable rise. Rumors about Bill and women, works through it. Growing friendships with Democratic activists, movers and shakers, moneymen, pollsters. A new interest in children’s issues. Lucrative board memberships. She will fight the power from the inside. The shoulders of her power suit get bigger.

They’re speaking of Bill for president in 1992. Why not? It will position him for the future. But no one can take down the mythic Republican machine—Lee Atwater, those killers.

Bumps along the way in the primary: a woman, a tape. Hillary: I’m trying to be serious about policy here, I don’t bake cookies! The blows keep coming. She toughs it out. Her husband’s enemies are worse than he is. She loves him, and she didn’t come this far to let some personal nonsense take them out.

The Clintons take the White House. Burst of hope. Hillary has new first-lady role, one that recognizes the importance of women. She is not some Christmas tree ornament in the East Room but a serious policy official in charge or remaking U.S. health care. She will get the poor, the minorities, and the women covered. America says: Whuh? Hearings. Anxious Hill Republicans awed by her, unsure how to play it. It is Pat Moynihan of her own party, in the Senate, who defeats her bill. The Clinton White House forgot not to disrespect the ol’ crocodile.

Defeat, retreat, mascara. Triangulation: Is this good? Does it mean we’ve become what we hated? Or does it mean we’ve become practical? The point is power. Preserve it at all costs. Lincoln bedroom good place to park donors. You have to compromise to win.

Triumph. Economy good. Rope-a-dope Newt and the Contract With America nuts. Good legislation. Finally, everything good. The future all sunrise.

But woven throughout a sense of . . . women. Scene: A beautiful blond gives a last lingering look back at the Oval Office as she hurries away in the morning light. Hillary, on her way to a breakfast celebrating funding for women and children in poverty, sees. On her face we see surprise, confusion—she thought this was all over—and fear.

Then: Monica. Tears, “How could you ruin what we’ve built?” Scandal, horror, rage, slap.

The silence at Martha’s Vineyard.

Repair. Reading. Eleanor Roosevelt biographies. Scene: Hillary is alone, looking out the window of the residence. In the background, Bill’s televised deposition. She stares at the tourists at the fence. They want in. She wants out. They’re freer than she is, locked up in this cage, locked in by her choices. Scene: She’s with girlfriends late at night in the residence. They’re telling stories, commiserating, drinking wine. “When Joe and I had our hard time we decided to stay in it, work it through. We had a life, a commitment, kids, a reasonable amount of love and a big sloppy dog. Looking back we did all right.” Another, a tough talking New Yorker: “Look, fall in love with a guy who can dance the Shirelles, ya gotta expect he’ll dance with a few shirelles!” Hillary laughs, hugs her. The conversation continues.

A Senate seat opens up. Moynihan, the ol’ crocodile, is leaving.

She runs in New York, where they love her. The poor, the marginalized, women: They too have been hurt by life.

U.S. Senator. On her own. Major book contract, bestselling memoir. Rich. A house so big it has a name: Whitehaven. Only she appreciates the resonance.

Heady. It’s the first time she’s really in charge, in control of decision making. She’s not at anyone’s mercy now. She works well with Republicans, a show horse who’s a work horse.

She runs for president and is done in by her staff, who make poor decisions. They let her down as much as Bill did. But there was that one moment in New Hampshire—”I’ve found my voice”—and there was at least that victory, before the end.

Obama is president. Future? Phone call. Secretary of State? Yes.

Travel, speeches, statements. She discerns a brutal truth: Everything’s changed. State doesn’t develop policy now, it’s all coming out of the White House. She is the face of US diplomacy but not its substance. But no one notices. She forges on, makes the most of it. Scene: A walk-on by a glamorous, willowy, exotic aid. At night, on the plane: “What do you really want, Huma?” “All I want is to be just like you.”

Hillary’s face turns reflective as she looks out the window at the moon and the clouds . . .

It ends with: now.

World fame, big speeches, huge audiences, an insider if ever there was one. A sense of expectation surrounds her, something lurking—destiny? She is alone, finally liberated, finally herself. No, she is alone but surrounded by those who adore her for the right reasons, not because she’s powerful but for her grit and fidelity to issues and independent accomplishments. Alone she is suddenly not alone. And here’s Bill, just in from Africa.

Scene: a meeting with old campaign aides, veterans of previous political wars. One brings a surprise: a poll. “You’ll not just win if you run, you’re going to be elected by a group that’s made a journey very much like your own. You’re going to be elected by Republican women.”

She’s older now, doesn’t jump at the information, just smiles. Another aid adds: “The Republican governor’s wife in the biggest state in the Midwest made people’s heads explode about an hour ago by saying if you run she’ll head up Women for Hillary.”

She’d already heard, but was courteous and looked surprise. She’d met the governor’s wife years ago, back at Wellesley. They had a talk once about housing discrimination—she had a toothbrush in her mouth and a towel on her head…

Scene: a sunny, crisp fall day. Off to a meeting, a speech. The great door opens at Whitehaven. She walks into the sunlight. TV crews. “Madame Secretary, are you running?” Finally she does not fear them. She smiles, parries one liners, glides into a shiny, smoky-windowed SUV. The car glides forward, down Mass Ave, toward Pennsylvania.