Hillary Rodham Clinton's bestselling book Living History.
By John Cross
Note: Because of the length and detail of the
book, I have decided to break down the review into three installments.
I will not provide complete detail of the book but focus primarily on what is new in terms of Hillary's own thoughts
and insights. I urge readers to buy the book and read it for themselves, and to respond to this review with their own
comments. Obviously, any one reader may miss some points simply due to their particular interests and focus,
and I welcome the comments of others with their own viewpoints.
Part I: The Rocky Road to the White House
Living in New York during the 2000 campaign season,
I had the honor to work on both Al Gore and Hillary Clinton's campaign.
I volunteered in New Hampshire during the primary contest against Bradley, I was at the New York Democratic convention
when Hillary was nominated for the Senate. But my most memorable experience during the 2000 presidential campaign was
when I volunteered to work the campaign fundraiser at the New York Hilton (I believe), where both the Clintons and the Gores
made their appearance. This was a lavish dinner that raised about $23 million, and I was honored to do my small part helping to
direct traffic inside the hotel. As volunteers we were also able to move around, or at least I took that upon myself, moving in to
shake hands with all Bill, Hillary, Al and Tipper after the dinner, and afterwards, with a few fellow volunteers, brazenly gate
crashing the after-dinner reception reserved for the VIPs and top campaign contributors. (I was eventually kicked out by
the secret service, but they were very nice about it.)
Gore had already left by the time we got there,
but I was surprised to see that Bill Clinton was still holding court--chatting
the dozen or so people who had stayed after time. He was talking with the last people in the reception line, about politics to some
extent, but also about history (he said he was doing a study of Truman) and philosophy. I remember wondering how anyone could
hold forth on so many topics so fluidly and got an inkling of that brilliance that attracted intelligent people to him (and perhaps bored
those with a limited capacity for the combination of detail and critical thought he could bring to any issue, such as Margaret Carlson).
At some point, as I edged into the small circle of people still around him, he was asked what his plans were, and he said he wasn't sure yet.
Cheekily, I piped in my only contribution to the conversation, and a rather inane one at that; "First Husband in 2008". I was optimistically
assuming an eight-year presidency for Al Gore and then the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the White House. He seemed
perplexed for a minute, thinking about it, and then his face broke into a huge smile: "That would be fine," he said.
At the time, like most Americans, my vision of
Hillary Rodham Clinton had been largely formed by an apparently misogynistic
and republican right-wing that used Hillary largely as a foil for attacking the president, even in their attacks on the president's infidelities
which were slanted in a way to paint Hillary both as a victim and as an opportunist. "Why would she stay with such a man unless she
had ulterior motives," they seemed to sneer on a daily basis, hoping against hope that she would abandon him and solidify their attacks
on his character. She never did, so they hated her even more. As an intelligent person reading between the lines, I could sense much
of that and discard most of their rabid hatred, but there was almost nothing to put in its place. The press and the right wing conspired
in their insistence on seeing Hillary only as an appendage of her husband, which probably rebounded against them when she ran for
Senate. (Like many New Yorkers, I supported Hillary largely because of her husband and because the right-wing and the press hated
her so much--the "enemy of my enemy", as the saying goes). My own perspective was thus poorly formed, and in fact I had very
little idea of what kind of a politician she would make, much less whether I would actually support her as President.
"Living History", the autobiography of Hillary
Rodham Clinton, has thus been an eye opener for me. Finally, we are able
to see Hillary
for herself, and it is a revealing picture of someone who has her own political course in life. Reading her autobiography we can see
that her marriage to Bill Clinton is in fact what they said it was: a full partnership, but not in the mundane business sense of "scratch
my back and I'll scratch yours" ("Be a good wife and you'll get to go to cocktail parties and one-up all your socialite friends" would be
the standard political interpretation, which I don't doubt is true for many political spouses) which is so often bleated demeaningly by the
press and her right-wing attackers. Instead, it was a partnership of--and I hope you will forgive the rather maudlin cliché, but I think in
this case it is entirely appropriate--two kindred souls from very different backgrounds, but linked all the more strongly by a common
mission in life. Hillary is united to Bill not for political motives, but because, coming from very different paths in life, they were (and are)
traveling the same road through the political wilderness of turn-of-the-century America.
One can, perhaps, sympathize with the disappointment
of the many right-wing "pundits" who have claimed that this book is "boring"
after reading a few pages of it: after all, they wanted to see Hillary as a victim complaining endlessly about how terrible Bill Clinton was.
Instead, Hillary writes about herself and her own life, and, while she discusses her relationship with Bill Clinton, she leaves it up to him
to write his own book.
Perhaps the greatest revelation in the book is
the mundaneness of Hillary's background. Having visited Bill Clinton's
Hope, Arkansas, one is impressed by the poverty and trials of his upbringing. Raised by a widowed mother (his father died as he
was driving from Chicago to Arkansas to take them back with him), Bill Clinton had to become the rock of his family. Poor in a
small town with no father (and later an alcoholic step-father who had little love for him and abused his mother), Bill had to shift
for himself, and for his half-brother Roger, and one can understand why his insecurity emerges and why he seeks approval from
all around him: why he needs to be loved, even if that love was as fleeting and ephemeral as the approbation of a crowd. One can
understand his faults but one is simultaneously awed by the fact that he survived this and emerged from absolute obscurity to be
the only truly effective leader of the late 20th century. Genius never comes unimpaired, and is often rooted in some kind of childhood
trauma, but when one takes the balance of the man one must say he triumphed by always setting out earnestly to do his best,
and no more can be asked of anyone.
Hillary, on the other hand, grew up in a white-bread
middle class family in an all-white suburb of Chicago. While her mother
was a closet democrat, her family was led by a strict conservative republican father, and her early school and neighborhood
experiences reinforced that republican dominance in her early life. While Bill Clinton had to break into the political sphere to
make a difference, and did so with the gusto, exuberance and dedication that took him to the White House, Hillary had to break
out of her mundane lifestyle to do the same, although her nature drove her to work far more effectively behind the scenes.
One might say that they needed each other to complement their own lives, which is perhaps why their marriage survived
the many traumas it has faced, while those of their enemies have collapsed on their own emptiness.
But Hillary's background, which she discusses
in some length in the opening chapters of her autobiography, helps reveal
about her personality and perhaps the tendency that some people claim she has (and which she admits from time to time)
to rub some people the wrong way.
Hillary was a child of all the stereotyped aspects
of the baby boom. Born in Illinois and raised in a suburb of Chicago, her
were typical of the war-time generation that had pulled themselves up from the working class backgrounds of their parents to a
solid middle-class status as independent businesspeople. The fact that her father was solidly republican fits perfectly with this
petit-bourgeois class framework: valuing independence and loathing any form of welfare as "socialism". "Democrat" was a bad
word in her family and her neighborhood. Her parents also reflected exactly the gender expectations of the era: father as breadwinner
and mother as stay-at-home housewife and mother. But they only had one daughter, and it is clear that they doted on Hillary and
encouraged her to set her sights far further than their own circumstances, even though, perhaps, without really realizing it.
Hillary's relationship with her parents is, thus,
complex. It is clear that she respected them both enormously, and she inherited
of the political traits of both her mother and her father, even though she ended up disagreeing with many of the specific political
positions of the latter. At several points in the book she notes a subtle combination of political rigidity and openness to discussion
in her father. Even though he seemed to have very rigid viewpoints, she notes that he respected those who disagreed with him,
including his own children: after all, he ended up campaigning for Hillary's husband, switching his positions on race and even
homosexuality! However, he never switched parties and kept a picture of Hillary with Gerald Ford by his bedside until he died.
One suspects that this combination helped to develop
Hillary by providing not just a foil against which to develop her own ideas,
but also the basis of respect for her own opinions and those of others. While the model provided by her mother was very traditional,
the encouragement from her parents and teachers to develop her own ideas led her to believe in her own ability to do anything without
overtly thinking of herself as a feminist. Thus, she was shocked when she came up against examples of male chauvinism, such as when
she ran for student body president in high school and was told that girls couldn't win (she lost), and when she sent a letter to NASA
asking to be an astronaut and was told that girls were not accepted (although her bad eyesight would have disqualified her anyway).
In School, Hillary didn't venture far politically,
supporting Nixon against Kennedy in 1960 (she mentions going to inner-city
while in Junior High as a volunteer to prove the charges of election fraud against the democratic machine, only to be bawled out
by her father for going to such a dangerous neighborhood). One of her favorite teachers was a staunch conservative, very similar
in outlook to her father. In 64 she was a Goldwater girl and even when she went to Wellesley as an undergraduate she still spent
her first years as a Young Republican and attended the 1968 republican convention as an intern (although by that time she had
already started to see herself as a democrat and had worked for Joseph McCarthy's campaign).
But other people and events also had an influence
on her political views. Her mother had always been what Hillary calls a
Democrat, and perhaps her concern for those who were worse off had its own effect on the budding intellect. She was also
influenced by a young pastor at her Methodist church who formed a "University of Life" program that included trips to poor
neighborhoods for discussions with young church members outside her own segregated community. (Her conservative teacher
was instrumental in getting the pastor reassigned for being too radical, which probably also had a subliminal effect on her political
views, although she simply notes the fact in passing.) Finally, her father somehow allowed her to go to Wellesley, under the
impression that it was still a conservative college for young women, and the experiences there allowed Hillary both to develop her
own political identity with regard to the Vietnam war, as well as to exercise her initial political sense of independence since the
absence of boys meant that women could develop their own sense of accomplishment. It was during these years that Hillary found
herself changing parties, although she notes that her own political changes were less important than the fact that the republican party
itself became much more socially conservative during this period. She resigned from her position as president of the Young Republicans
when she realized that she could no longer support that party (this just after she participated in the Republican convention as a
Rockerfeller supporter trying to prevent Nixon from getting the 1968 nomination).
Hillary is not, therefore, the typical radical
of the 60s. She never openly rebelled against her parents, and maintained
a huge respect
and love for her father even when her own political viewpoint moved away from his. She notes at several points that she made a
conscious decision to improve the world from within the system, rather than as an outsider or revolutionary. In many ways, she kept
many of the conservative aspects of her upbringing, arguing for the rights of women and children as an extension of her father's
emphasis on individualism rather than as part of a revolutionary attack on patriarchy.
At the same time, her strong sense of self meant
that she had at times a tin ear, as she recognizes at many points. Her
speak her mind (and live her own life) no matter what the consequences is something she recognizes as getting her into trouble as
she was later forced to accept a "second-fiddle" role to Bill Clinton's political career, something that she adjusted to gradually as
she saw her opinions, her career choices and even her hair styles blown out of proportion as people used them to attack her husband.
Her description of her long romance with Bill
Clinton is itself very touching, and I will only point out the outline
here. They met at
Yale Law School where she went after graduating from Wellesley and spending a summer sliming (gutting) fish in Alaska. He had
spent part of his college life at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Like herself, his own doubts about the Vietnam war had led him to an
opposition position, but apparently not a radical one. Like her, he wanted to change the system from within, and he was already
planning on a political career to help develop his own state of Arkansas. Hillary had no political plans herself except to work through
the legal system, and she had already begun to focus on child law while at Yale. Their relationship developed rapidly into a strong
romantic friendship and stabilized there for many years as they both developed their own careers, often contriving to work together
(such as on the failed McGovern campaign) but usually with their own assignments.
While it is clear that she was deeply in love
with him, she also seems to have had doubts about whether she wanted to
tie herself to him.
He proposed many times before she agreed. She notes that one of the factors that sealed her decision to move to Arkansas was the fact
that she passed the Arkansas bar exam but failed the New York bar exam, and she took that as a sign. Even then the friend that drove
her to Arkansas (Sara Ehrman) kept asking her "why do you want to throw your life away?" They didn't actually get married until after
Clinton lost his first campaign for Congress in 1975 (by a local Methodist pastor who happened to be called Reverend Nixon), and even
then she kept her own name since she was already a published legal scholar and had her own career path as a law professor. (An influential
article that she wrote on the rights of abused children was later used to argued that she was a radical "anti-family" feminist.)
At first this wasn't a problem, even after Bill
was elected Attorney General, but, along with her unkempt hairstyle it
many housewives in socially conservative Arkansas the wrong way and, after Clinton was elected to the Governor's mansion, Hillary
acknowledges that it was probably one of the three factors that contributed to his defeat after his first term term. The other two factors
were probably decisive, however: an unpopular automobile registration tax that Clinton pushed through to upgrade the state's desperately
backward highway system, and a riot of Cuban refugees dumped on Arkansas by Carter and which Clinton resolved, but which he was
bizarrely accused of encouraging in their first experience of character assassination. Finally, their success as "new democrats" helped
cement the end of the political career of a number of old-style segregationist democrats such as David Hale and Judge Jim Jeffords,
whose enmity for the Clintons played such a vital part of the later pattern of malicious and spurious attacks on their characters as the
republicans milked them for even ounce of hatred.
Hillary acknowledges that as Bill Clinton geared
up for his successful recapture of the governor's mansion, she did start
to modify her
public appearance, adding Clinton's last name to her own and taking more care of her appearance. She kept her own career during this
period, however, working for the Rose Law Firm and being in effect the breadwinner of the family (Clinton's salary as Governor was
a measly $26,000). She was the one to make the major investment decisions, turning $1,000 into $100,000 in futures trading (something
she was attacked for later, but was simply a matter of luck in skittishly bailing out of the market just before it collapsed). She also invested
as a silent partner in the infamous Whitewater real estate project under the overly trusting assumption that it was being managed effectively
by Jim McDougal (it later turned out that McDougal mismanaged the investment, mixing it illegally with his own assets as he went into a
financial tailspin, and the Clintons ended up losing $46,000 as a result). One of her law partners, Webster Hubble, who she described as
a close friend, also ended up being a problem as it turned out that he overbilled clients and bilked the law firm over a number of years.
In each of these two cases, however, she was in fact an innocent victim, as the endless cycle of later investigations each showed,
including that by Ken Starr which ended up exonerating Hillary. Strangely, however, the press developed a pattern of putting the
wildest accusations against the Clintons on page one while consistently burying or ignoring the exonerating evidence and conclusions.
(Obviously, a lot of that detail has been covered by others, most notably The Hunting of the President by Joe Conason & Gene Lyons,
and also David Brock's book Blinded by the Right.)
But all that was still in the future. In the meantime,
Hillary focuses on what she was able to achieve. Her husband put her in
of a number of projects for Arkansas, such as a rural health program, improving the Legal Services Corporation which at that time
provided legal representation to the poor (I believe it was axed by Reagan), and educational reforms, the last of which created the
most resistance, included from the teacher's union as Hillary proposed higher salaries but also teacher testing programs. The pattern
of being attacked by both traditional democratic base groups as well as republicans was cemented in this period, although she was
proud of her accomplishments. At the same time, she was working as a lawyer on cases that were completely separated from her
husband's duties to prevent even the appearance of a conflict of interest (not that this prevented malicious rumor mongering later on).
This meant she had to take on quite illiberal clients, such as one case in which she defended a canning company that included the
tail-end of a rat in a can of beans (the plaintiff argued that he had been damaged because he was now unable to kiss his fiancé,
even though he never ate from the can). She notes that she was actually successful, but suffered years of ribbing from Bill for
her defense of the "rats ass" case.
One thing that is missing from this history, and
which is probably the main reason why the sexually obsessed right-wing
finds it so boring,
is any discussion of her husband's supposed love affairs. Hillary describes, instead, her own strong relationship with her husband and with
her child after Chelsea is born. She also mentions everyone who helped along the way, including even the kitchen staff of the Governor's
mansion. But there is no discussion of extramarital affairs until the 1992 campaign, when Bill Clinton emerged as the frontrunner and
Richard Mellon Scaife and The Spectator, a right-wing magazine, started dragging money through trailer parks and turned up Gennifer
Flowers. In the ensuing "crisis" Hillary discussed how she reacted in a way that suggested she didn't take it seriously. However, at their
subsequent interview with 60 Minutes she notes that Clinton admitted to "causing pain in our marriage", which suggests he did in fact
do something, but Hillary had certainly not mentioned anything. Even at that point in the text she doesn't explain what that "pain" might
have been. Personally, I feel that it is up to Hillary if she wants to reveal those kind of personal details or not, but leaving the point
hanging is very dangerous. Good thing the right-wing pundits haven't bothered to read the book, I guess.
One of the interesting points Hillary makes about
the 1992 campaign was the way in which the press appeared to be taken by
by the success of Clinton's campaign. In effect, they knew almost nothing about him and thus were pressed to find out anything at all.
This is possibly why the mainstream press resorted to printing poorly-investigated stories that had been planted by Clinton's enemies
and that completely blurred the line between so-called responsible journalism and tabloid journalism. Bottom-feeders such as Jim Johnson
and David Hale found this a perfect climate in which to sell outrageous stories about the Clintons, getting paid for their obsessive hatred.
This is, perhaps, a relatively mild version of the events, and Hillary does indeed seem to pull her punches for the most part. Bob Somerby
of www.dailyhowler.com and the anonymous author of www.mediawhoresonline.com, of course, have spent years making a very
persuasive case that there may be more malicious purposes behind the misrepresentation of the Clintons.
Next part: The White House Years: the first term
back to bartcop.com