Hillary Rodham Clinton is usually seen by the public in stage-managed settings where her handlers control the image. Cool and poised, she photographs well. But in the harsh glare of the TV lights, she looked all of her 50 years last week as she left the U.S. Capitol following her husband’s State of the Union address. Even the professionally applied makeup could not hide the web of lines around her mouth and eyes, nor the almost transparent quality of the skin over her high cheekbones. “The scandals are taking a toll,” said a Republican congressman. “But it’s hard to feel sorry for her— she has the guile of Rasputin.”
Hillary Clinton has weathered more storms than a Nova Scotia dory.
Her friends have told interviewers she was aware Bill Clinton was having extramarital affairs even when he was attorney general and later governor of Arkansas in the 1980s. “Hillary Clinton knows her husband is a hound dog,” wrote well-informed New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd last week. “She knew it before she married him.” There were fiery arguments along the way, but she stayed with him, even appearing with him on the CBS program 60 Minutes on Super Bowl Sunday in 1992 to discuss their marriage after former lounge singer Gennifer Flowers went public. There was so much grit and guts in her performance that it was largely credited with saving Clinton as a presidential candidate.
Over the ensuing five years, Hillary has led the counterattack through a chain of scandals, from Troopergate, in which Clinton’s Arkansas bodyguards talked about his womanizing, through Whitewater, involving a suspect property deal, to what is now known to some as Fornigate. In every case, Hillary has displayed remarkable public eloquence under pressure, even when Clinton’s alleged misdeeds have involved her betrayal. She attacks her husband’s critics with ruthless determination and intensity. White House insiders say that in private she has a terrible temper, which
even the President tries to stay clear of. Now, she is on the warpath again.
Showing little emotion, she appeared on morning television shows last week to accuse independent counsel Kenneth Starr—a man she clearly hates with a passion—of conducting a political vendetta against the President. She went on to blame a “vast right-wing conspiracy” for the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Privately, White House
Hillary leads the counterattack
sources stressed that the last thing Hillary wanted was for people to see her as longsuffering and in need of pity. But inevitably that happened. “The alternative,” said Anita Blair, executive vice-president of the Independent Women’s Forum, a Washingtonbased policy group, “is to see her as a kind of Lady Macbeth, as power-mad.”
There is no doubt she is obsessed with policy issues and politics. Educated at prestigious Wellesley College and Yale Law School, Hillary has a reputation as a brilliant lawyer with the analytical intelligence to match or even surpass her husband’s. Since her early 20s, she has worked on government programs to improve health care, child care and family benefits. And while she has never stood for elective office herself, there is speculation that she intends to run for the Senate when her days as First Lady are over.
Not that she has always proved politically astute. Early in his first term, Clinton
appointed his wife to oversee a major health-care initiative. But her high-handed approach played into opponents’ hands, and her sweeping reform proposals were scuttled. She adopted a low profile, wielding her still heavy influence from behind the scenes. Only recently has she begun to emerge again as a frontline policy-maker—this time deeply involved with child-care issues. Inevitably last week, as Clinton’s dealings with Lewinsky came under scrutiny, so did the nature of the relationship between Bill and Hillary. Both Clintons dote on 17-year-old daughter Chelsea, now a freshman at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and at times she may have been the glue that kept them together. But close friends insist there is much more to it than that. They say that Hillary really loves Bill—and that Bill loves Hillary, as a White House staffer put it, “as best as he is able.”
At the same time, there have been ugly and unproven rumors about Hillary. Only last week, Dick Morris, the Clintons’ former chief political adviser who resigned after being caught with a prostitute in August, 1996, was asked why the President might have had a relationship with Lewinsky. Morris told radio station KABC in Los Angeles: “Let’s assume, OK, that his sexual relationship with Hillary is not all that it’s supposed to be. Let’s assume that some of the allegations that Hillary sometimes not necessarily being into regular sex with men might be true.”
Morris’s unsubstantiated remarks may have more to do with his run-ins with Hillary during his time in the White House than with fact. But they also served to demonstrate the reaction strong women like her can provoke. According to one biography, Hillary once told Arkansas family friend Carolyn Staley that she had never been attracted to quiet, soft-spoken men. And then she pondered: “I wonder how history is going to note my marriage.” Last week, many Americans were asking the same thing.
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