New York Times Editorial
October 22, 2000


Hillary Clinton for the Senate


When Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in their state 16 months ago, New Yorkers deserved to be deeply skeptical. She had not lived, worked or voted in New York State. She had never been elected to any public office, yet she radiated an aura of ambition and entitlement that suggested she viewed a run for the United States Senate as a kind of celebrity stroll. She seemed more at home at East Side soirées and within the first lady's question-free cocoon than in unscripted conversations with voters or the political press. She encountered civic doubt and open hostility from predictable sources, as well as a surprising resistance from feminists offended by her passive response to the marital humiliations inflicted by her husband.

But in the intervening months, Mrs. Clinton has shown herself to be an intelligent and dignified candidate who has acquired a surprising depth of knowledge about the social-services needs of New York City and the economic pain of the upstate region. Her political growth has been aided by her combat with two worthy Republican opponents, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his successor as the G.O.P. candidate, Representative Rick Lazio. With full respect for their abilities, we endorse Mrs. Clinton as the one candidate who will best fill the vast gap that will be left in the Senate and within the Democratic Party by the retirement of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

As a neophyte, Mrs. Clinton began her campaign with a number of clumsy statements about sports teams and girlhood vacation visits to the state and with a much-ridiculed listening tour among handpicked audiences. But as her confidence mounted, she outdid her opponents in visiting the state's 62 counties. Through the collection of firsthand stories, she learned about economic deprivation, energy costs, taxes, health crises and troubled schools. She came out of those grueling months knowing more about the state than most candidates who qualify by birth as what Mr. Lazio calls "real New Yorkers."

Handshaking her way through town squares and state fairs, she also shed her earlier political shell as a cosseted, sloganeering ideologue. The first lady from Arkansas evolved into an Empire State candidate whose grasp of local issues complements a deep, if untested, understanding of national and international matters from her days in the White House. She also communicates an unfeigned empathy for the struggles of poor families, schoolchildren and professionals in the health care, education and social-service fields.

The hesitancy among some voters, however, has been understandable, and we share some of those concerns. Her health care task force failed to deliver the promised reform. The investigative literature of Whitewater and related scandals is replete with evidence that Mrs. Clinton has a lamentable tendency to treat political opponents as enemies. She has clearly been less than truthful in her comments to investigators and too eager to follow President Clinton's method of peddling access for campaign donations. Her fondness for stonewalling in response to legitimate questions about financial or legislative matters contributed to the bad ethical reputation of the Clinton administration. If she should choose to carry these patterns and tendencies into the Senate, her career there could be as bumpy and frustrating — and ultimately, as investigated — as her White House years.

We believe, however, that Mrs. Clinton is capable of growing beyond the ethical legacies of her Arkansas and White House years. She has shown a desire to carve out a political identity and create a legislative legacy separate from her husband's. Certainly, no one can doubt that she combines his policy commitments with a far greater level of self- control and a steadier work ethic.

In a move that should serve as an example to other campaigns around the country, Mrs. Clinton bucked the advice of old-line Democrats and agreed to a ban on soft money for this campaign. It was a bold and important step since the ban hurt her own campaign more than that of Mr. Lazio. Although she has come late to the cause of campaign reform, we believe that she would be a firm vote in support of the McCain-Feingold soft-money ban and that she would work tirelessly toward the long-term goal of full public financing of election campaigns.

Although we are endorsing Mrs. Clinton, we want to commend Mr. Lazio for his effort. He has refused to complain about getting a late start. Despite his moments of macho exuberance and his excessive persistence in trying to exploit the carpetbagger issue, he has so far resisted making this a low-road campaign. He has described himself as a Republican moderate who would fight to increase the power of his party's small, but important, centrist bloc in the Senate. On housing, banking laws and the environment, he has taken positions far friendlier to working people and the Northeastern region than those espoused by his party's Senate majority leader, Trent Lott.

Even so, most Republican members of the Senate will be pulled to the right and pressed to support programs that are generally tailored to the needs of the South and West, rather than to those of Northeastern urban areas. Mr. Lazio argues that if the G.O.P. holds control of the Senate in the Nov. 7 election, it would serve the state to have him in the majority caucus. We understand the logic of that position and might find it persuasive in some races. But we have concluded that Mrs. Clinton is an unusually promising talent and it would be better for New York to fight for its causes with two powerful, progressive voices: hers and that of the state's senior Democrat, Senator Charles Schumer.

On foreign policy, Mr. Lazio and Mrs. Clinton have presented themselves as firm friends of Israel, and in our view, Mr. Lazio has not enhanced his foreign-policy credentials by trying to take advantage of Mrs. Clinton's comments on Palestinian statehood and the awkwardness of her encounter with Suha Arafat. Mrs. Clinton has, in fact, acquired a useful education in international affairs through her travels and activities as first lady. The speech that she made to the Council on Foreign Relations last week set forth a broader, more sophisticated vision of America's place in the world than anything Mr. Lazio has offered so far. He has simply stated misgivings about the Clinton administration's record of foreign engagements, while Mrs. Clinton has sketched a program that looks at environmental, health and human rights issues, as well as security concerns.

Contemplating Mrs. Clinton's campaign convinces us that she fits into two important New York traditions. Like Robert F. Kennedy, she taps into the state's ability to embrace new residents and fresh ideas. She is also capable of following the pattern, established by the likes of Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Moynihan and Jacob Javits, that finds New York senators playing a role on the national and world stages even as they defend local interests.

The building of such potent Senate careers requires a grasp of foreign and domestic policy, coupled with negotiating ability and, usually, a burning commitment to one's home state and to a few key concerns. We think Mrs. Clinton better represents the full package of skills than does Mr. Lazio. Her economic plan for upstate offers hope for an area that has not reaped its share of today's financial harvest. Her understanding of how to balance energy issues with crucial environmental protection seems sharper. Mrs. Clinton can guard against Supreme Court nominees who would compromise the constitutional right to abortion, while Mr. Lazio would be hobbled by party ideology and discipline.

Finally, on the key issues of health care and education, Mrs. Clinton has the knowledge and the instincts to make a lasting impact on the Senate, on national policy and on the everyday lives of New Yorkers. We are placing our bet on her to rise above the mistakes and difficulties of her first eight years in Washington and to establish herself on Capitol Hill as a major voice for enlightened social policy and vibrant internationalism.

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