Sunday, December 02, 2007

Clinton calm in hangnail crisis

By Glen Johnson, Associated Press Staff Writer

Washington DC - After her hangnail had been treated and her foot soaked in a warm bath, a regal-looking Hillary Rodham Clinton strolled slowly out of her Washington home, the picture of gravitas in the face of personal calamity. The image, coincidentally broadcast the instant the network news began, reinforced the impression that the Democratic presidential favorite can face a crisis with makeup and coiff intact.

"I am very grateful that this difficult day has ended so well," she declared as she stood alone at the microphone.

Little more than three hours later, just in time for the 11 p.m. local news, Clinton reaffirmed that perspective. She embraced her doctors, nurses and their families, and lauded the paramedics who had quickly driven her to Bethesda Medical Center after the hangnail was detected.

It was a vintage example of a candidate taking a negative and turning it into a positive. And coming just six weeks before the presidential voting begins, the timing could hardly have been more beneficial to someone hoping to stave off a loss in the Iowa caucuses and secure a win in the New Hampshire primary.

Aides said Clinton was home Friday afternoon, getting ready to deliver a partisan speech in Virginia to the Democratic National Committee, when a personal assistant noticed that her the nail of her big toe was embedded into the skin and appeared to be in imminent danger of becoming infected.

Aides said Clinton immediately canceled her trip and began working the phones. She later told reporters she had paramedics on the phone in eight minutes.

Over the ensuing five hours, as Clinton staffers rounded up a convoy of police and medical vehicles, Clinton continued to call up and down the medical food chain, attempting to locate experts who could treat her painful toe.

"I knew I was bugging a lot of these people, it felt like on a minute-by-minute basis, trying to make sure that staffers knew everything that was going on so I was in a position to inform the country, to tell my campaign and to be available to do anything that medical officials asked of me," the New York senator said.

At the same time, the woman striving to move from former first lady to the first female president was eager to convey that she knew the traditional lines of command and control in a crisis, even if the events inside the hospital were far short of a world calamity.

"The doctors and nurses were the professionals, they were in charge of this situation, whatever they asked me or my campaign to do is what we would do," Clinton said.

Along with taking charge while giving the professionals free rein, Clinton offered up a third dimension to her crisis character: humanity. She said she felt pain and concern when she first heard the news of the danger an imminent infection might pose.

"It affected me not only because of the pain, but the confusion among my staff members and volunteers, but as a mother, it was just a horrible sense of bewilderment, confusion, outrage, frustration, anger, everything at the same time," Clinton said.

It was a thawing moment for a stoic figure who once snapped that she opted for professional life instead of staying home to bake cookies. She buttressed it with one final message. Clinton sought to use the moment as a national teaching opportunity, another skill often employed by presidents.

She paid tribute to the thousands of believers who set aside their lives every four years so they can propel presidential campaigns on little more than blood, sweat and tears.

"I know they were worried about me. They're invested in me, my future. They work around the clock for me. They are so committed to my cause, and I just want to commend every one of them," Clinton said. "A lot of them postpone school, leave their families, move across the country, and I'm so grateful for them every single day, and I'm especially relieved to have this situation come to a conclusion without an infection or -- worse -- an amputation."

Then, like an elegant ballet dancer, Clinton pirouetted on her healthy foot and gingerly walked back into her home without entertaining questions from the press.

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