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Hillary! and Humanity

February 15, 2000

The Hillary! campaign for the U.S. Senate is off and running in New York. “Hillary!” has become the First Lady’s logo, substituting an exclamation point for her last name, thus avoiding the Rodham-Clinton problem and playing down her long association with that cad in the White House.

The exclamation point also imports excitement. But the prospect of her campaign was more exciting than the campaign itself has turned out to be. Unlike Bill Clinton, but very much like Al Gore, Hillary! is a leaden speaker, sticking to a predictable script and never taking the risk of improvising. The only excitement she arouses is inadvertent, as when she commits a gaffe.

Her stiff style is a political handicap, not only because it’s charmless but because it shows her inability to interact spontaneously with real people. Despite her professed compassion for ordinary folk, Hillary! doesn’t really like them, and it shows. Her ill-tempered rudeness to underlings has been legendary since her Arkansas days.

[Breaker quote: How the 
First Lady treats a nobody]Shortly after Bill’s 1993 inauguration, low-level White House employees, many of whom had voted for him, were shocked at her abrasiveness, especially after the unfailingly gracious treatment they had become accustomed to from the patrician Republican, Barbara Bush. Rumors abound of her nastiness to Arkansas state troopers and Secret Service agents assigned to escort her. She gave no credit to the ghostwriter of her compassionate manifesto, It Takes a Village. She once stiffed a hairdresser, who finally had to dun the White House for payment.

The most notorious incident of this tender-hearted First Lady’s tenure was the firing of the White House Travel Office staff, in order to replace them with her Arkansas cronies. Not content with firing them, she arranged their prosecution on trumped-up charges; a jury quickly acquitted them. Such is the tender concern of Hillary! for the little people.

A few days ago Hillary! again showed her true colors. After enjoying a free breakfast at an upstate New York restaurant, she left without tipping the waitress, who, like many waitresses, was a single mother.

New York’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, her likely Republican opponent for the Senate seat, quickly pounced on the incident, pointedly leaving a $25 tip for a waitress at a Big Apple restaurant and urging “out-of-towners” to remember to tip New York’s waitresses. It was funny, but it was an obvious publicity stunt. Surely Mr. Giuliani doesn’t always leave $25 tips.

To me the story was more painful than amusing. When I was in college I was a busboy, and I depended on tips. I didn’t have a family to support, but most of the waitresses I worked with did. They became upset with customers who were too cheap to leave a tip of at least 10 per cent of the check. (The etiquette books prescribe 15 per cent.)

To this day, I pay close attention to waitresses. When I see a middle-aged waitress without a wedding band, I sense a sad story. She isn’t doing the job for the fun of it or for “personal fulfillment.” Nobody chooses waiting on tables as a career. She needs every dollar, and I tip at least 25 or 30 per cent. I also make a point of being pleasant and cheerful. Little things, but she’s a human being and any small gesture may relieve the drudgery of her life. I could easily have wound up in her shoes.

In defense of Hillary! it may be said that her staff should have taken care of the tip. And I have no doubt that she roasted some poor staffer when the incident resulted in bad publicity for her. But she should have clearly instructed her staff to show every courtesy to people she encountered. And she obviously didn’t look at the waitress as a real person while she was being served.

Hillary! can give a set speech on the problems of women in China, enumerating all the standard feminist complaints. But a lone waitress in real life is a different matter.

That waitress wasn’t a celebrity, or a union leader, or a spokesperson for an ethnic bloc, or a big Democratic donor; she was a nobody, outside the network of people who “count.” And she was treated accordingly.

Joseph Sobran

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