Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hillary Clinton’s long hard slog to the White House shall soon rival Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to Antarctica. But the lady has plenty of pluck and persistence. Isn’t that the way to get to the top — or the bottom — of the world?

Things will never be easy for Clinton’s quest. She barely won the Iowa caucuses, giving the media a chance to chop, chop at her honesty, likability, ambivalent support and love of money. Outlandish speaking fees on Wall Street make it hard for her to rail against the 1 percent, when she’s one of them.

As we speak, an avid storyline of an “enthusiasm gap” between Democratic front-runners is fast being told in print and spun on air. It’s probably a fair point.

But over and over, the gap takes on a life of its own, just as the claim that Senator Marco Rubio’s third place finish in the Republican primary is something special. Of all people, vacuous Rubio is getting generous spin, even from David Brooks, a New York Times columnist who ought to know better. Meanwhile, Clinton gets her usual meager ration of gruel.

The Washington Post ran a news story saying young voters find Senator Bernie Sanders, 74, her archrival with the Brooklyn cadences, “cooler” than Clinton. That may be the unkindest cut since Barack Obama said during a 2008 debate, “You’re likeable enough, Hillary.”

“She shouts,” Bob Woodward says on MSNBC after Iowa, scolding Clinton for her “unrelaxed” speaking style and delivery. The subtext: She’s unladylike.

Woodward has an easy straight-up Midwestern way, but he’s not running for president. Like Clinton, Woodward grew up in Illinois and went to Yale, just before Hillary Rodham went to Yale Law School. Yet there’s no love lost between the ace Washington Post associate editor and the Clintons.

Let me ‘fess up: I liked Clinton’s spirited speech in Iowa at the end of a long night. Yes, I did, finding it better than her usual best. She honestly dealt with losing Iowa before, in 2008, when Barack Obama swept farmers away across that small state. That’s where the young black senator started making history.

Somehow, Clinton’s historic first win as a woman in Iowa is not having that wind-at-her-back effect as she trudges to the South Pole by way of New Hampshire. Life on the hustings is so unfair.

The former secretary of state was thrilled, striking a defining line: “I’m a progressive who gets things done for people.” The red suit was pitch perfect. She looked years younger. And yes, she raised her throaty voice and may have even beamed and laughed. That’s what winners often do after the first close contest of the presidential season.

Fox News (an oxymoron) accused her of screaming. Who cares?

More seriously, it’s no secret the media has never been fond of Clinton. If the traveling media mindlessly sets up the 2016 campaign as a superficial race, as it did between Albert Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, then we can kiss the republic goodbye for good.

Look at the failed 21st century, largely because the media on the planes decided Bush was friendly and affable, and Gore was serious and stiff, not a good guy to share a beer with. A tragic chorus.

That begs the question: how likable is Ted Cruz or Donald Trump?

Since the first chapter of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the first lady was criticized in the press for running health care reform behind closed doors; for a Travel office kerfuffle; and for a Whitewater land deal, setting up a sordid investigation that turned up the president’s affair with young Monica Lewinsky.

At the midway, Woodward reported Hillary Clinton had an imagined conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt. When her husband’s philandering went public, it softened hearts all around.

The New York Times endorsed Clinton for the Democratic nomination, praising her policy depth on reproductive rights, the international front and more: “Mrs. Clinton has done her homework on pretty much any subject you’d care to name.”

On the same day, the Times ran an essay, “The Women Who Should Love Hillary,” by cultural muse Gail Sheehy. After encountering anger toward Clinton among her liberal shipmates, she wrote, “I would love to be a true believer. I’m feeling ambivalent.”

Then there’s the noble Sir Ernest. Shackleton never quite got to his grand goal. Will Clinton follow in his footsteps?

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton smiles as she is introduced by her daughter Chelsea at a campaign event in Carroll, Iowa January 30, 2016.  REUTERS/Jim Bourg