Hillary Clinton Takes a Page from Eleanor Roosevelt Book

Article excerpt

THE historical analogy is growing ever closer.

Like former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon write a regular newspaper column, aimed at presenting an unfiltered view of herself to the public.

Like Roosevelt, who wrote 12 books and co-wrote six others, Mrs. Clinton has also written a book to be published this fall, titled "It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us."

Also like Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton held an official position in her husband's administration; both came under fire for their roles and left their overt public policymaking positions. On a more fundamental level, both have functioned as eyes and ears for their husbands and as emissaries to important Democratic constituencies.

But as much as the historical reputation of Eleanor Roosevelt is largely positive, Hillary Clinton can't seem to win that part of the analogy. In her 2-1/2 years as one of the most powerful unelected people in the democratic world, her favorability rating has crept steadily downward - from a Gallup Poll high of 67 percent in January 1993 to 49 percent as of March 1995.

Does any of this really matter? Allan Lichtman, an American University historian with a system for predicting presidential races, says first ladies are "irrelevant" to their husbands' reelection chances, even when they have played important policy roles.

Rather, the fascination with first ladies derives from their unique access to the most powerful person in the world, in addition to their status as role models for women.

Is Hillary Clinton really running her husband from behind the throne? Or has she been "put in her place" and told to stick with the "safe issues" such as women and children? In Washington, Hillary-gazing is a never-ending parlor game. And the Hillary-as-Eleanor theme is a constant component.

Clinton herself has encouraged the analogy by referring often to Roosevelt and her legacy.

"Everywhere I go, I find Eleanor has been there," Clinton said recently in announcing her plan to write a weekly column.

"There are pictures of Eleanor visiting the Children's Welfare Society as I walk through the hallways. There are columns attacking Eleanor for things I'm attacked for. Nothing is original when it comes to this position because of the extraordinary woman that she was."

Since before Clinton became first lady, she has had a running dialogue with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the Roosevelts, "No Ordinary Time." They have talked about Roosevelt's writings, her press conferences, and her activism, Ms. …