Is Hillary Clinton Eleanor Roosevelt?

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I attended Oxford with Bill Clinton (at one point sharing a girlfriend in common--she later became a radical lesbian), so I have a deep-rooted understanding of both the President and the President's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. And I regard both of them as partly a consummation of the 1960s, and partly a negation of their era.

Mrs. Clinton's call in It Takes a Village for sexual abstinence among teenagers, for instance, may be the furthest she's gone from what would have been predicted. It's probably her most ironic advice. But there have been many other similarly unexpected pronouncements that I wouldn't have expected to hear from a spokeswoman for her particular slice of her narcissistic generation.

Steadfastly building a double personality, Mrs. Clinton has alternately presented herself in two very distinct lights. First, as a deadly tough and strong woman, assertive, and out on her own. Second, in the mode of the simpering female, quick to take offense, easily resorting to self-pity, claiming to be vulnerable. In short, she presents herself as either the Amazon or the weak sob-sister.

Let me give you an example. When asked how it was she couldn't remember any of the facts about her infamous cattle futures trading, Mrs. Clinton replied, batting her eyelashes, that, Well, she was pregnant with Chelsea at the time and in such a hormonal state that it was very hard to keep track of such mannish matters.

That's the simpering bit, in case you were wondering.

But she was tough enough to hire private detectives to go after dangerous opponents, tough enough to be a very ruthless overseer of many political campaigns, tough enough to recall Dick Morris to the colors not once but twice when hubby was in trouble.

By the same token, Mrs. Clinton once argued (because she'll try anything once) that the source of the vile rumors directed against her husband was a rooted prejudice, among the intellectual and political classes, against southerners and people from Arkansas.

Those are only a few of the ways in which this woman who is constantly reinventing herself (currently carpet-bagging from D.C. to New York, and I have a feeling back to D.C. again) can deploy herself--always in such a manner as to suggest that nothing can be her own fault, but always someone else's.

And the reality is, the First Lady has had great success, particularly among some intellectuals, in recruiting sympathy to herself. This raises the question of whether she will ever accept the responsibilities that go with her obvious power and influence. This question applies with particular force in a White House that has gone to some length to replace the concept of accountability with the concept of deniability.

In a famous speech, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said that what his opponents wanted was power without responsibility, adding that this was the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages. It might be incautious to mention the prerogative of the harlot in the same breath as the First Lady or her husband, but the issue of power without responsibility is what most underlies the contrast between Mrs. Clinton and those who preceded her to similar heights of power.

One exemplar whom Mrs. Clinton has cited as a role model is Eleanor Roosevelt. The First Lady s famous attempt to communicate with Eleanor Roosevelt via "channeling" from the White House strikes me as grotesquely suggestive of the differences between these two women.

We know from her friend Gore Vidal that Mrs. Roosevelt herself was extremely contemptuous of absurd processes like channeling which attempt to ventriloquize or otherwise seek access to burblings from the beyond. We have Mrs. Roosevelt on the record about this, in fact. When the Queen of the Netherlands tried to interest Eleanor in spiritualism, she was met with a withering riposte: "Since we're going to be dead such a long time anyway, it's rather a waste of time chatting with all of them before we get there. …