Karen Heller: She's possibly the coolest secretary of state ever

In "Political Animals," Sigourney Weaver stars as one of several fictionalized versions of Clinton.
In "Political Animals," Sigourney Weaver stars as one of several fictionalized versions of Clinton. (DAVID GIESBRECHT / USA Network)
Posted: July 19, 2012

Hillary Clinton is a rock star. She is having her moment. But then, she has been having her moment for some time.

Most politicians, battered by criticism, appear smaller with time. That has not happened with Hillary, who defied all the skeptics to become a superb secretary of state.

By my count, Sigourney Weaver is the third terrific actress to play Hillary Clinton or a fictionalized version of her, this time in USA Network's Political Animals. Hillary has become a juicy part in movies and television, understandable given that her resumé is as impressive as it is improbable.

The big differences between Hillary and the fictional secretary of state/former first lady Elaine Barrish Hammond is that Weaver plays a one-time Illinois governor who divorces her charmin' Southern husband (an over-the-top Ciarán Hinds) though she still has motel sex with him as his and her Secret Service agents stand guard outside. Also, Hammond is partial to too-long skirts and blouses that don't quite drape to her best advantage while saying things like, "I must be the highest-ranking codependent in the country."

On Sunday, in a weird cable space-time continuum, Weaver was yelling at Hinds on one channel while Hope Davis, who played Clinton in The Special Relationship, was tossing a drink at Jeff Daniels on HBO's schmaltz fest The Newsroom. (I expected Emma Thompson, who played another shade of Hillary in Primary Colors, to pop up on yet a third network.)

Daniels, the best thing on The Newsroom, plays a modified version of the entertaining but apparently unemployable Keith Olbermann, while, in an inspired bit of casting, Jane Fonda portrays the network's corporate owner, a saner version of her ex-husband Ted Turner in Chanel.

Who knew that politics and cable news were fodder for sexy Sunday dramas? OK, at least politics.

Both shows are not quite as good as you would like, but they prove entertaining once you accept their limitations - sanctimonious speechifying and dithering women on Newsroom, soap antics and Hinds on Animals.

But what's the summer for if not guilty pleasures, especially ones that play broad while straddling truth and entertainment? If you want something raw and grim, there's the Phils.

The real Hillary has been off in the Middle East, dodging tomatoes and taunts of "Monica" - really? - in Egypt while being greeted to acclaim in Israel. She dismissed Mitt Romney campaign ads that feature her earlier criticisms of Obama, a GOP nod to her high approval ratings. She told CNN the spots were "a waste of money. Everybody knows I ran against President Obama in 2008. That's hardly news."

Her no-nonsense approach was honored in the Tumblr meme "Texts from Hillary," badass missives accompanied by a photo of the secretary in dark glasses, BlackBerry in hand on her G6. Clinton proved a great sport, supplying her own text "ROFL @ur tumblr! g2g - scrunchie time. ttyl?." She invited the site's authors to the State Department, writing "thanks for the many LOLZ - Hillz." She's possibly the coolest secretary of state ever.

"Hillary is us, and we are Hillary," Meryl Streep said of Clinton at a women's conference this year. "She has turned out to be the voice of her generation." Bill Clinton suggested that Streep would be perfect in the role if yet another movie were made about his wife. Soon, if you throw in Amy Poehler's impersonation on Saturday Night Live, there will be few actresses left who haven't played her.

Hillary announced that she intended to step down in January. Where her life takes her next bears watching.

She offers a preview of who Michelle Obama might become when she, too, is no longer shackled by the housewife, mom-in-chief, organic-gardener tendencies of being first lady, where the mantra is, first do no harm to your husband's presidency. Looking dazzling while campaigning for healthy food and fitness is all well and good, but many of us are still waiting for Michelle Obama to be a change agent, the history-making woman we believe she can be.

That's Hillary, championing the rights of women everywhere, especially in the many countries where they remain oppressed, merely chattel. Clinton has been a public figure for four decades while doing a great job raising Chelsea. Her daughter never once caused boldface embarrassment or heartache in the tabloids.

Hillary's story is one of growth in significance and power, the story so many women desire. Because we've witnessed her transformation - as well as the humiliation by her husband, yet her unwillingness to be a victim - we've been in her corner for some time.

Consequently, we're oddly protective of a woman who doesn't look as though she needs protection. We worry if she's getting enough sleep, if Bill treats her better now that she's more his equal.

We don't like it when she's criticized for stupid stuff, like her hair.

After she has been Hillary of a thousand hairstyles, I love that she stopped worrying.

Because she's out saving the world.


Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @kheller.

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