Commentary: Back in Clintonland
Back in 1993, a Washington Post reporter asked me which Clinton was smarter, Bill or Hillary. As a magazine journalist long residing in Arkansas, I’d never covered state government and would have described the president and first lady as friendly acquaintances, nothing more.
I said that we had a saying in the Central Arkansas Beagle Club that you can’t train no dog that’s smarter than you. Since both Clintons clearly topped me in the IQ department, I had no way to judge their relative brainpower.
Needless to say, this was the wrong answer, deeply violative of journalistic protocol. Making glib pronouncements about near strangers is what we do.
So when I read that Hillary told her friend Diane Blair that the press has “big egos and no brains,” I’m neither shocked nor offended. Is there anybody in politics who doesn’t think that?
Anybody in the world?
Nor was I astonished that Hillary admitted to her friend during the 1996 Whitewater media feeding frenzy that “I know I should do more to suck up to the press ... I know it confuses people when I change my hairdos, I know I should pretend not to have any opinions, but I’m just not going to. I’m used to winning and I intend to win on my own terms.”
And so she did.
If you’ve forgotten, 1996 was the year all the best minds in the Washington press, heeding Kenneth Starr’s leak-o-matic prosecutors, were predicting her imminent criminal indictment. To publicize an excerpt from James B. Stewart’s Whitewater book “Blood Sport,” Time published a cover photo of the first lady that looked like a vampire movie poster.
Maybe you remember Stewart, the eminent financial journalist who appeared on “Nightline,” NPR and anywhere else they’d have him, gravely accusing Hillary of bank fraud — all based, as it turned out, upon his own failure to read the second page of a two-page loan document.
Last I heard the eminent Judge Starr, once ticketed for the U.S. Supreme Court, was president of some Texas Bible college.
So yeah, Hillary won on her own terms.
Now something called the Washington Free Beacon, which unearthed these nuggets from the collected papers of the late Diane Blair, the accomplished University of Arkansas professor who was Hillary’s dearest friend and confidante, pronounces her “ruthless” and a “cutthroat political strategist.”
This because she’d confided to Blair that President Clinton’s inability to “fire people, exert discipline, punish leakers,” and his lack of a strategy to deal with Whitewater, Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Arkansas state troopers and other partisan mercenaries made her crazy.
“Inability to organize, make tough choices,” Blair wrote, “drives her nuts.”
Indeed, history records that it was Hillary, who once served on the staff of Watergate independent counsel Leon Jaworski, that warned her husband it would be a terrible mistake to agree to an open-ended inquisition to finesse a temporary political problem.
No independent counsel, no Monica Lewinsky, no Linda Tripp, no Lucianne Goldberg, no blue dress. None of it. So if that’s ruthless, cutthroat political strategy, the Clinton White House could have used a lot more of it.
So do I buy Hillary’s rationalization for Bill’s infamous sexual misbehavior? First, let me repeat something I wrote back then: Other people’s marriages are a foreign country where you don’t know the language.
Second, this whole business of pundits hiding their own naughty secrets while moralizing about the sins of others is both hypocritical and sadistic.
That said, I don’t put much stock in that psychologist who told her that Bill’s infidelity had its roots in his childhood, and that “most men with fidelity problems (were) raised by two women and felt conflicted between them.”
I’d suggest it had its roots in his pants.
Truth to tell, Bill Clinton’s behavior wasn’t so different from men in other occupations — athletes, musicians, actors, even the occasional professor — that attract groupies. (Journalists, of course, are universally known for their virtue.)
Did she privately call Monica a “narcissistic loony toon”? Most wives would have said much worse.
Bill Clinton once described the White House to a mutual friend as “the jewel of the federal penitentiary system.” At the time, I remember thinking: well, you asked for it, pal. But then a politician’s life is incomprehensible to me.
YOU ASKED FOR IT
Blair summarized Hillary’s thinking in September 1998: “Ever since he took office they’ve been going thru personal tragedy, and immediately all the ugly forces started making up hateful things about them, pounding on them.
“(Hillary) didn’t realize the toll it was taking on him,” Blair continued. “She thinks she was not smart enough, not sensitive enough, not free enough of her own concerns and struggles to realize the price he was paying.”
Well, she loves the man, is all I can say.
And he’s damned lucky to have her.