For a Subdued Hillary Clinton, It's Eleanor Roosevelt Time

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What a heady time that was. Exactly a year ago, the headlines declared that Hillary had taken the Hill as if Congress were San Juan or Iwo Jima. She came, saw and wowed the place, answering every question about the health-care plan she had shepherded to the Capitol door. The members were in various stages of awe. The media was in full gush. Under the spotlight, under pressure, she was a pro.

But today Hillary Rodham Clinton's schedule is a list of First Lady Photo Ops. There was the day-care center in Conshohocken, Pa., the christening of a submarine in Groton, Conn., the Children's Hospital in Boston.

On Monday, when health-care reform was officially declared dead, she wasn't even asked for a eulogy. On Tuesday, she was busy escorting Mrs. Yeltsin.

These have to be hard times for the president's wife, the woman-in-her-own-right, the confident lawyer. Through the campaign and the early days of the administration when Hillary Clinton was the target of as much vitriol as I have ever seen, she took comfort in thinking about Eleanor Roosevelt's strength under fire. Indeed moments before she went into the congressional hearing room last year, an aide whispered to Hillary, "This is Eleanor Roosevelt time."

Hillary chose Eleanor as her role model, a foremother or forefirstlady, while she was clearing a new path for women in the White House. But who will she look to now, at a moment of defeat, a time when the most secure of us would feel shaken and unsure about where to go next?

How about Eleanor Roosevelt?

I am told that the Clintons have a copy of Doris Kearns Goodwin's new book on their night table. I hope so. "No Ordinary Time" weaves together biography and policy, the private and the public, the Roosevelts' relationships and the course of World War II in a way as complex and layered as life itself.

But it challenges the view that most of us have of Eleanor the Icon who moved from the ugly duckling of her childhood to the strong woman in the White House. In real life, she faced continual crises and had to reinvent her role no less than three times while she was first lady.

When Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932, his wife was terrified that she would be locked into a ceremonial role, condemned to the one thing she couldn't bear: feeling useless. …

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