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Lunch With Mrs. Clinton

Her accent rambles around on a continuum between Yale Law School and super-Dixie, depending on to whom she is speaking or what she's talkin' 'bout.

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The thing you notice most about Hillary Clinton is her accent, which rambles around on a continuum from Yale Law School to super-Dixie--depending on what she's talking about. Or to whom. On 60 Minutes a few weeks ago, Hillary exhibited a distinct twang: "Ah'm not jus' any ol' little Tammy Wah-nette standin' bah mah man," she's famous for saying.

But she sounded different when I arrived at the downtown YWCA office to eat lunch with her. A friend of a campaign worker had called and said, "Do you want to come over and have lunch with Hillary Clinton?"

I figured she meant just me. But when I arrived, a few dozen women filled the office--do-gooders, women on welfare, political activists, businesswomen--and Hillary was talking about some of her best friends, like the actress Mary Steenburgen. "Even though we're here to discuss political causes, what really makes life worth living is relationships," said Hillary, with distinct prairie-state flatness. "This election is really important," said the blond, former Republican Park Ridge native--with no trace of anything south of Homewood.

She said she went on a study trip to France once and liked the way the French handled their prenatal care. She brought up the fact that 75 percent of American women have no college degree, which economically and socially disadvantages them. "But we may not know about it because we're socializing with the 25 percent who do." She philosophized on the meaning of the concept of "middle class." "People who make $10,000 say, 'I'm middle class,' and people who make $100,000 say they're middle class."

Then Hillary, who described herself as a woman of privilege, peppered some socioeconomic campaign rhetoric with words such as "bringin'" (as in home the bacon), "bustin'" (as in butt, in order to bring home the bacon), "workin'," "takin'," and "gonna." The Arkansas twang crept in as Hillary got more excited and forgot where she was and who she was talkin' to.

After that, she started talkin' 'bout the Republicans havin' a stake in keepin' a class of people "whose lives are spent on welfare," and who serve the purpose of getting "beaten up by Republicans." They wouldn't have anyone to "kick around," Hillary said, if not for the welfare set.

A black woman who said she was a single mother and had been on welfare for 16 years got Hillary's attention and began to complain about a job training program that had offered her great hope for the future--but had had its funding cut off by Washington bureaucrats, much to her disappointment.

This would have been a perfect opportunity for Hillary to say, in a perfect midwest tone, "I know what you mean--and we should throw the bums out and replace them with my husband and people of his choosing." Right?

But no. For some inexplicable reason, this woman irritated Hillary. She flew off the handle, exclaiming in a moderate southern drawl, "That's not true. Now wait just a minute. Wait a minute. You've had your time. You listen to me. Ah'll tell ya..."

Hillary's point was incomprehensible, lost in her politically incorrect indignation. She seemed to lose control--in a controlled sort of way. I couldn't tell what teed her off so much or what she was trying to tell this woman. (Later, the woman came over to Hillary and shook her hand, trying to explain her point about the fund cut a little better. But her point was clear the first time.)

When Hillary's emotions died down, there were murmurs that she was facing the right and front too much, and the people on her left couldn't see her well enough.

"We feel like we know you," someone said.

"We wish you were running," said another.

When Hillary was asked about her husband's position on investing in rural America, the woman inquiring handed Hillary an envelope with a campaign contribution and told her how much she liked her accent.

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