Making Sense of Clinton Inc.
"Beware a wet-lipped man with a thin-lipped wife." -- Christopher Hitchens
Is the past always prologue? In regards to the Clintons the answer is hazy. With Hillary, in particular, "it depends" is the safest prediction. Admittedly though, she has grown as a politician since first getting elected in 2000 to the Senate.
Those traits for which she has been maligned by third parties -- her haughtiness, irritability, and historical vindictiveness -- remain well hidden today. Indeed, her manner during the presidential campaign has been far more diplomatic than most of her critics would have ever presupposed.
Unfortunately for the enthusiastic denizens of Hillaryland, just at the moment in which she was on the verge of becoming yet another family "comeback kid," she told a flagrant lie about the nature of her visit to Bosnia. This reminded those of us who have "moved on" about the true nature of her personality and character. The ensuing hullabaloo over her "misstatement" negatively impacted her poll numbers.
Her explanation for the canard only served to make matters worse. Her claim that her doctored version of events was "the first time in 12 or so years I misspoke" was oddly consistent with the arrogant manner in which the Clintons issued fabrications during their two terms in the White House.
In all likelihood, Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party's nominee, but regardless of the odds against her, it would be unwise to discount Hillary at this point. Manipulating superdelegates and causing chaos is just the type of thing at which the Clintons excel. She may yet manage to step up to the podium and address her co-religionists during their convention in Denver.
Therefore, with our pseudo-royal family remaining as topical as ever, it would be wise to consult history because past performance is the best indicator of future behavior. A good place to begin our endeavor is Sally Bedell Smith's For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years.
There are a multitude of conservative narratives traversing the same ground, but Ms. Smith's perspective is indisputably nonpartisan, which adds to its worth. With a back cover featuring endorsements from mainstream media sources like the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, and the Washington Post, one immediately intuits that the author is no conservative ideologue.
The impartiality of these pages did not prevent some leftists from deriding it, however. Media Matters posted a column taking issue with Ms. Smith's conclusion that the failure of the Clinton administration's 1993 health care initiative had something to do with the first lady's qualities.
In relation to this event, Ms. Smith noted, "But she never acknowledged the damage done by her antagonistic tactics; her war room, her sharp-edged speeches, and her need to single out ‘enemies.'"
What better summarizes traits embodying poor and disastrous leadership? Apparently, the hands running that conservative watchdog site cannot fathom that personality style correlates with effective management.
For Love of Politics convincingly dispels a major assumption of conservatives as well, specifically, that the Clintons possess a "sham marriage." Clearly, they do not. The couple's ties are adamantine despite their being nontraditional and vaguely counterintuitive.
Yes, theirs is an "alternative value system" manifestation of love, a "hybrid" approach. To put it in a frame conservatives will appreciate: their amour is one wherein romance is alienated from the means of conduction. Their affections were forged not by private consummation but by mutual obsession with the public square.
Their union is unusual, but this narrative offers persuasive evidence for its legitimacy. The intimacy at which some may scoff is real and fueled by a shared love of politics. Strident discussions and emotional monologues are the infrastructure upon which Clinton.gov was built.
Granted, this is an abnormal state of affairs, but a refusal to examine deviancy results in one never knowing the true nature of humanity. The saying "two twisted trees grow together" describes them perfectly. Grow they have, to their enemies in the manner of a fungus while to their friends in the fashion of ivy upon a Harvard wall.
From the outset it was Hillary's mind that Bill was after. Her physical appearance may have been an afterthought. He informed his mother -- after she denigrated his new girlfriend's looks -- that "he had to have a girl he could talk to."
Our former president needed "intellectual sustenance" which the junior senator from New York still (apparently) provides him with today. While Bill's eye and body have strayed, Hillary probably is the sole partner to whom he was ever psychologically devoted. The Clintons' relationship has survived infidelity ad infinitum and will do so in the future. Conjugal relations are not essential to their pact.
Partisan relations undoubtedly are, though. Bill's sexual liaisons -- or as he might prefer to call them, "attempts to canvass and stimulate a crucial Democratic voting block" -- were never a serious threat to their permanent campaign. Were he to make the same "come hither" overtures to the Republican Party, well, that would be another story and just might constitute irreconcilable difference.
He is "demonstrably affectionate" with his wife and even during the period in which he sullied a blue dress, the couple "were increasingly close to one another. Both were ambitious and had their own interests, and being able to pursue their interests was an important part of their lives. It made them happy. The space that was best for them was to spend some time together, and then to go off and pursue their own stuff separately, with constant phone calls back and forth to have an extended conversation."
During the Gennifer Flowers crisis of 1992, Hillary derided the notion that she could be "some little woman standing by her man," but that is exactly what she has done ... repeatedly. Mrs. Clinton may hate country music but she lives Tammy Wynette: "but if you love him you'll forgive him even though he's hard to understand."
Hillary has made clear that the two of them are "each other's best friend." As one of her associates explained, "Even unplugged, politics and policy were pretty much what they talked about." A friend dubbed them an "undifferentiated emotional unit," while an editor at Newsweek suggested, "They have an incredible connection and chemistry to them that carries them through a situation like this [the intern scandal and impeachment]."
Regardless of donnybrooks that rage around them -- Whitewater, the health care fiasco, the death of Vincent Foster, the loss of Congress to the Republicans in 1994, Gennifer Flowers, the Big Lewinsky, the president's obstruction of justice, and his lies to both the American public and the judge in the Paula Jones harassment trial -- their close partnership was, and is, the reason why Clinton.gov remains viable.
They claimed to be a two-for-one deal and subsequent events verified their proclamation. During the transition period between Bush I and Clinton (I?), their codependency proved disastrous, however. They delegated to each other as opposed to making use of staff because both partners have a yen for micromanaging. History suggests that they see each other as an extension of self.
Bill's reaction to Hillary's initial campaign for the senate supplied evidence for such a conclusion. As Ms. Smith elaborated: "The president so immersed himself in Hillary's campaign that it became an extension of himself. In some ways, their relationship had come to resemble a codependency more than a copresidency."
Undoubtedly, the effect will not be precisely the same should Hillary upset Obama. She appears to be a more decisive person than her husband. Assuredly, though, she will continue to covet his counsel.
Physical distance is immaterial to them as they are just as capable of guiding one another from great expanses as in person. Moreover, violating boundaries is something of which Bill is a paragon, so when power voids materialize he will fill them -- one way or another.
Recall Al Gore's words from yesteryear regarding the position Hillary unofficially, but emphatically, held: "When people ask me what it's like being number two at the White House, I tell them, ‘She seems to enjoy it." And enjoy it Bill shall! Should Hillary conquer her foes in the coming months, it'll be the "blue-plate special" all over again.
George Santayana's edict, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it," resonates greatly this year. "Clinton Incorporated" is a union of man and woman which runs on ambition and will swell the Leviathan to McGovernesque proportions. The past is prologue. Take heed.