Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Hillary learned to be hit—and hit back—in Park Ridge

By Tony Puryear (National Portrait Gallery)
   Today is Hillary Clinton's 74th birthday, and to celebrate I thought I'd share with you a column that points to the path not taken. This was to have been my column on Nov. 9, 2016. Clinton won the popular vote, but lost in the electoral college, and the nation entered the dark wood that it is still struggling to escape. Some of us, at least, are struggling to escape.

     Hillary Clinton will be the first president of the United States born in Chicago.
     It says something about the conflicted, tentative view that people in her hometown have toward her that this will be news to many. The city has not exactly been welling with pride over the prospect of its daughter ascending to the White House. Maybe the Cubs' march to World Series victory has monopolized our sense of hopeful self-esteem.
      But Hillary Diane Rodham was born Oct. 26, 1947, at Edgewater Hospital, a blond brick building at the corner of Ashland and Hollywood. The building still stands, shuttered since the late 1990s.
     That makes her something of a double rarity: only four previous presidents have been born in hospitals: Jimmy Carter, the first, followed by George W. Bush, her husband Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, who also shares another exclusive club with Clinton — presidents born in cities.
      Through most of American history, our commanders-in-chief tended to come from farms and small towns. Only four hailed from cities: William Howard Taft, born in Cincinnati, Teddy Roosevelt, born in New York, Obama, born in Honolulu — deal with it — and now Clinton.
     Her father Hugh, a crusty-bordering-on-abusive man, manufactured drapes. Her mother Dorothy was the daughter of the broken home of a Chicago firefighter. For the first three years of Hillary's life, the new family — she was their first child — lived at a small apartment building at 5722 N. Winthrop (the building no longer stands). Then her father put down $35,000 in cash for 235 Wisner, a handsome faux Georgian brick home in Park Ridge, the town where she spent her youth until graduating from Maine Township High School South and going off to college at Wellesley.
     It's a quiet neighborhood a few blocks north of Touhy. At midday the streets are deserted, except for a few dog walkers such as Clay Baum, 44, a software account manager, who lives 10 houses north of Clinton's girlhood home. He was walking his poodle, Knight.
     "I support her," he said, a few days before the election. "It's great for the community of course."
     He said he didn't know who lived in the house, and that the rumor around the neighborhood is that no one does. Yet the neatly tended grounds are obviously being cared for by somebody.
There is no plaque, only an honorary street sign on a nearby light pole reading "Rodham Corner," located a hard-to-see 15 feet off the ground, the result of it being frequently stolen by souvenir hunters despite using special vandal-proof fasteners when it was first put up a decade ago.
     Efforts by Park Ridge to honor Clinton have been sidetracked by politics; in 1992, a proposal to hang her portrait at the local library proved so controversial the idea was scuttled.
     It is a coolness sometimes reflected when quizzing the locals about their most famous daughter, a popular media pastime for decades — in 1996, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times collared an area resident, a "patrician-looking woman in her 70s" who wouldn't give her name, but managed to damn Clinton both for keeping her last name and for changing it, in the same breath.
     "When she got married she wouldn't take his name. That was really a bit much for us," she sniffed. "And then, of course, when it came time for an election and her husband needed her to do it, she took his name. It's not something I really approved of."
     Clinton biographies are filled with stories of her toughening her persona in Park Ridge. The loss to the high school football captain when she ran for class president. Her shift away from Goldwater Republicanism.
     But the Park Ridge story that seems most apt to tell about the woman who endured a year of the worst that Donald Trump could dish out, with class and dignity, harkens back to when she was four years old.
     In the frequently told family story, it was in Park Ridge that newly arrived Hillary, 4, was beaten up by the neighborhood bully girl, Suzy. Running home in tears, the future first lady, senator, secretary of state and now president-elect was told by her mother, "There's no room in this house for cowards. You're going to have to stand up to her. The next time she hits you, I want you to hit her back."
     Which is exactly what happened.
     "I can play with the boys now!" Hillary said in triumph.


  1. She certainly deserved better, and has dealt with her fate about as well as could be imagined.

    "a proposal to hang her portrait at the local library proved so controversial the idea was scuttled."

    It was instructive, though infuriating that, though the widespread racism in this benighted country was not sufficient to keep Obama from being elected to 2 terms, the ongoing sexism managed to derail such a competent woman in favor of the inexperienced, incompetent, criminal womanizer who, in a better system, would have remained the inconsequential grifter that the Biggest Loser was known to be.

    1. Exactly my sentiments.

      Not exactly the Virgin Mary or the Queen of Heaven in any guise, but as hardworking, ambitious and competent as any man could be expected to be. And I suppose that was her downfall.


    2. I would have vastly preferred Joe, but when he made his decision, both my wife and I worked our butts off for Hillary. We were canvass captains, working out of an unheated garage during the final days of the campaign, and sending folks out to bang on doors one last time.

      On the morning after, after a troubled and fitful sleep, I awoke to find my wife crying. She cried for days. I felt the way one does upon waking up and remembering that a loved one has died. "I know," she sniffled. "I feel the same way. Democracy died last night." For once, I had no reply.

      As the first female POTUS, Hillary would have had to deal with an enormous amount of crap. Not only would she have been able to handle it, but she would have flung it right back at her detractors, and at the haters. Would she have been re-elected? We'll never know. One thing we DO know: Hundreds of thousands of dead Americans would not have died on her watch.

  2. Agree with above comments on all counts. How our world might be different had she won is beyond my ability to conjure up. Too beaten down.

  3. She had a chance to turn the tide during the debates. Rather than address the looming Trump, who constantly moved to be visible in the background as she spoke, she ignored him.
    She was bullied.
    She also could have listened more to her advisors and made some visits to more red states.
    Now we are all paying.

    1. Hillary had a comfortable lead that evaporated during and after the debates. Should have confronted Sniffy onstage, but blew her chance to clinch the race the way Biden did four years later. A few more campaign stops in the East and the Midwest would have helped. And that "basket of deplorables" remark was "Hillarious" and wonderfully accurate, but it ultimately hurt her cause.


This blog posts comments at the discretion of the proprietor.