Albion Monitor /Commentary

Hillary Comes to Town

by Sara Peyton

The most outspoken First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt came to lunch last week for what amounted to a love feast with several thousand northern California Democrats, mostly women. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose strongly-held opinions have made her a lightening rod for those who want to keep women at home baking cookies, appeared to relish the enthusiastic support of her female friends, family, supporters, and nearly 100 T-shirt clad members of the Northern California chapter of the Hillary Rodham Fan Club, the largest chapter in California.

Speaking in San Francisco on April 12 at Barbara Boxer's 15th annual "Women Making History" luncheon, a fundraiser for the California senator, the First Lady sounded many of her husband's campaign themes, giving listeners a preview of the approaching presidential contest. "This election is about whether we have clean air and clear airwaves, fair wages and fulfilling work, good health care and good schools," she said. "Do we believe the American dream is within reach of everyone."

"Let's start acting like adults and protect our children"

In November, voters must choose between what Boxer characterized as the "dark forces," penetrating the GOP and the compassion of the present administration, Clinton warned. But, given the millions of voters that stayed away from polls in 1994 -- when Republicans attained control of both the House and the Senate -- inspiring Democrats to vote is crucial to victory, she observed.

In San Francisco, the exuberant, well-dressed crowd of activist women toasted each other with Chardonnay, sodas, and mineral water in the lobby as they waited for the First Lady. Singer Linda Ronstadt wandered through alone, and looking a little lonely; "Passages" author Gail Sheehy clicked on a tiny tape recorder as she spoke with another woman. The Pat Brown daughters -- including Kathleen, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, and Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Pat Wiggins were among those attending the $135 a plate luncheon to raise some $300,000 for Boxer, up for re-election in 1998. The event attracted only 700 last year, but the First Lady drew some 2,600 people and packed the enormous ballroom at the Moscone Center.

For Boxer, midway through her first term, Clinton's appearance provided an opportunity to boost campaign coffers, host some of the most powerful political women in the nation, and boast a little about her influential connections. Speaking before Clinton, Boxer noted that she and the First Lady are in love with the same guy. That "guy" is the baby boy born to Tony Rodham, Clinton's brother, and Boxer's daughter, Nichole. The 1994 marriage made the two Democratic clans in-laws as well as political allies.

No taller than the First Lady's shoulder, the diminutive but fiery senator, who has been attacked in the press by both Senator Bob Dole and Governor Pete Wilson for her liberal ideas, told Clinton that political support runs deep and it runs wide in California for her husband's administration. To the NRA, still fuming over the assault weapons ban, Boxer added, "Let's start acting like adults and protect our children."

The five-foot tall Boxer, one the nation's most liberal senators, is known for her strong stands on protecting the environment, women's and children's rights, and attacking waste in government, particularly the military. Clinton added her own kudos and said Boxer is "unafraid to stand to her full height and look into the tie clasp of any senator. It's refreshing to see the consternation she causes. And when she wins, we all win with her."

Framing the impending election in terms of six moral challenges facing voters

An impressive, serious speaker during her lengthy talk, Clinton rarely looked at her notes. Striking a somber tone, she said the recent trip to war-torn Bosnia showed her what happens "when fear replaces hope." Earlier that day Clinton had delivered the eulogy at a memorial service in Santa Cruz for Adam Darling, a Commerce Department aide killed in the April 3 plane crash in Croatia that also killed Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

With her trademark missionary zeal, Clinton said the upcoming election is about shared values and whether "we want to create a society that's inclusive, not exclusive." She framed the impending election in terms of six moral challenges facing voters: to cherish and strengthen families; to improve public education and prepare students for the 21st century; to deal with economic insecurity and protect present health care programs; to reclaim neighborhoods from crime, violence, gangs, and drugs; to protect the environment; to resist isolationism; and, finally, to win campaign finance reform.

"A lot of good positive work is being done every day," she said. "Let's take the blessings we live with every day and inject them into our political process."

And then she was done. It was a brilliant spring day in San Francisco. Standing amid fans and friends, Clinton -- who had openly wept during the recent emotional memorials for Ron Brown -- said she glimpsed the sun for the first time in weeks. "It's joyous and heartwarming to be back in California."

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Albion Monitor April 15, 1996 (

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