From First Lady to United States
Senator: The Role and Power of
Image in the Transmogrifying of
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Judith S. Trent and Cady Short-Thompson
On June 9, 2001, New York’s junior senator and her husband Bill stood in the winner’s circle at Belmont Park, New York, for the traditional ceremony acknowledging and congratulating the owner and trainer of Point Given, the horse who had just won the Belmont Stakes. The irony in the winner’s circle that day, however, was not solely in the fact that the chestnut colt who had come in fifth only weeks earlier at the Kentucky Derby had breezed to a 12¼-length win (the third fastest time in the 133-year history of the final race of the Triple Crown), but that it was Hillary Rodham Clinton and not Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, who extended the official congratulations. For each, the senator and the colt, the transformation had been arduous but successful.
With little question, Hillary Rodham Clinton was one of the most controversial first ladies in the presidential history of the United States. During the eight years of her husband’s administration she was variously referred to as a saint, sinner, co-president, pathbreaker, power-seeker, victim, doctrinaire liberal, she-devil, symbol of baby-boomer womanhood, icon, international activist and defender of women and children, congenital liar, the president’s closest political advisor, and a disgrace to the role of first lady. Not only did attitudes about her and references to her run the gamut, so, too, did theories that sought to explain why such polarization about Rodham Clinton existed. The most traditional and frequent expla-