At CNN”s Compassion Forum (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/04/07/cnn-to-air-exclusively-the-compassion-forum/) in April, both Democratic candidates for President were asked about their faith. At one point, Hillary Clinton was asked about her favorite Bible story. She said, “Ever since I was a little girl, [I have been] a great admirer of Esther … There weren’t too many models of women who had the opportunity to make a decision, to take a chance, a risk that was very courageous.”
There are those who believe that this week Hillary Clinton will gracefully bow out of the Democratic race for President after the last primary, presuming Barack Obama will have locked up the majority of delegates. But I am not so sure. I have read the biblical story of Queen Esther many times and I don’t see Queen Esther as someone who would gracefully concede defeat.
Now, it is fair to say that there are not a lot of Bible stories where women get to be brave, but nevertheless, Esther is very revealing as a role model for Senator Clinton, especially since she claims to have admired Esther since she was a little girl. This high regard for Esther reveals a good deal about this candidate.
Esther becomes the Queen of King Ahasuerus after he puts away his first wife for disobedience; Esther is Jewish, a fact of which the King is apparently unaware. One of the King’s henchmen plans to exterminate the Jews, and Mordecai, who had raised Esther, prevails upon her to try to save her people. Mordecai wonders if this is not even the hand of God, that Esther should be Queen at this particular historical moment. In a verse that may be on Senator Clinton’s mind today, Mordecai says, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4: 14)
Esther is brave, but she is also very shrewd. Through trickery and currying favor with the King, Esther saves the Jewish people. The story shows her to be quite bloodthirsty as well. Esther makes sure that not only is the King’s henchman hanged, but his ten sons as well!
Esther is apparently also popular with another woman in politics. In the new HBO movie Recount, Laura Dern gives a stunning performance as Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State who certified that the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, had defeated the Democrat, Al Gore, in the popular vote of Florida. The Florida Supreme Court overturned her ruling on appeal, though this decision was then reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the movie, the Katherine Harris character talks about her biblical role model. Again, Queen Esther.
Yes, perhaps it’s the bravery of Esther, but deception and ruthlessness are also much a part of Esther’s biblical resume.
So, this week, we may see why Queen Esther is Senator Hillary Clinton’s role model and how she interpets this text. In Hillary’s own Esther summary, she has “to make a decision, to take a chance, [to take] a risk that…[is] very courageous.” It would be very courageous to decide to respect the rules and concede the race when Senator Obama secures the majority of delegates.
But don’t forget Esther’s cunning and ruthlessness as well. That’s the question that hangs over this week like the hanging chads in Florida. What does Queen Esther mean to Hillary Clinton? Is it the same view of courage as Katherine Harris, or something different?