The First Partner: Hillary Rodham Clintonby Joyce Milton
In 1998, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the most admired woman in America while also becoming the most visibly wronged wife in the world. Standing by her husband, President Bill Clinton, as she and the nation learned the truth behind the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the First Lady assumed two roles--dutiful spouse and passionate defense attorney--which she had played on… See more details below
In 1998, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the most admired woman in America while also becoming the most visibly wronged wife in the world. Standing by her husband, President Bill Clinton, as she and the nation learned the truth behind the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the First Lady assumed two roles--dutiful spouse and passionate defense attorney--which she had played on numerous occasions during the course of their tumultuous yet politically unified relationship.
Now esteemed biographer and journalist Joyce Milton examines this formidable, fascinating woman, giving probing insight into the First Lady's character, her values and her career. In The First Partner, Milton goes behind the scenes at the Clinton White House and explores the First Lady's involvement in Travelgate, Filegate, the Health Care Task Force fiasco and fund-raising for the 1996 presidential campaign, showing how these controversies grew out of the tensions in her political partnership with Bill Clinton. Milton also describes how Mrs. Clinton's defensive reactions to her husband's chronic infidelities have often misfired and have sometimes enabled his bad behavior. She examines the differing psychologies of the President and First Lady, yet shows that when faced with political accusations, they take a similar approach of telling only as much of the truth as is necessary--a reaction that has increasingly gotten them into trouble.
Meticulously reported and researched, The First Partner offers keen new understanding of this complex woman who has infuriated and confounded as many people as she has inspired.
The New York Times Book Review
What always gets overlooked in this sort of speculation is an accomplishment that may prove to be Clinton's greatest legacy: his entertainment value. Imagine how boring the past seven years might have been without the unending intrigue that the entertainer-in-chief and his supporting cast have brought us. It's been a drama of operatic dimension, starting with that first weasely 60 Minutes interview during the '92 campaign and building up to Monica Lewinsky's appearance with Barbara Walters, when the fat lady sang. Throughout it all, Clinton has proven himself to be a bold new type of celebrity that no star-hungry citizen can resist. Any student of the Madonna school of fame knows that if you lack talent, you tweak your persona every few years to hold the public's attention. What's so brilliant about Clinton as a performer is that he embodies several personas simultaneously. The president's multiple-identity disorder becomes apparent after rifling through three new books that feature him.
Take Uncovering Clinton, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff's account of how he survived a one-man journalistic sally through the minefield that is the chief executive's sex life. Here, Clinton comes across as a dangerous shadowpresence, plotting and manipulating from a throne of treachery to cover his stains. As the reporter spins an entertaining investigative yarn out of the way he snagged the first interview with Paula Jones, hunted down several women who felt the president's pain, and sniffed out Linda Tripp (first impression: "a somewhat annoyed-looking, heavyset woman with disheveled hair') only to be upstaged by gossip hound Matt Drudge, Clinton emerges as a deeply flawed leader with no compunction about abusing his authority. Suspecting Clinton is a sexual predator allows the author to justify delving into such tawdry subject matter, one of many ethical dilemmas he mulls over for all of two seconds before resuming the hunt. Isikoff's compulsion to defend his dogged pursuit of a hot story reaches its hilarious nadir when he rebuts Lucianne Goldberg's complaint in her testimony that he ate more than his share of her gourmet pistachios at their first meeting: "It was late in the day and I was hungry.' Mostly, though, he spares us his whining and concentrates on presenting only the facts behind Slick Willy's indiscretions.
That's why Joyce Milton's The First Partner: Hillary Rodham Clinton is ultimately more fun to readshe's not afraid to dish. Trying to understand the freak show that is the Clintons' marriage from its shaky beginnings to its frigid present, the writer who previously has written biographies of Charlie Chaplin and Martin Luther King Jr. draws on a number of substantiated and unsubstantiated sources, like the juicy Arkansas state trooper stories. "I need to get fucked more than twice a year!' one of the troopers recalls Hillary shouting in an argument, and that seems to have been one of her better days. Her hubby comes across about the only way he can in the context of his married lifea bumbling, horny oaf. A far cry from Isikoff's schemer, this bubba couldn't finagle his way out of a Happy Meal.
Hillary is the brains of the operation, though she jeopardizes Bill's rise to power as much as she helps it. The ice maiden presented in Milton's pages is partially culpable for nearly every controversy of the Clintons' joint political life. When she's not mercilessly picking apart anything and everything about the First Lady, from her liberal activist roots to her White House Christmas tree decorations, Milton even blames her subject for helping to cover up the sexual indiscretions she's known about from the start of her relationship. A marriage of convenience? In a moment of rare sympathy for these two law-school grads brought and stuck together by measureless ambition, Milton points out all the damage they've done to each other and those around them, noting that there is "very little that could be called 'convenient' about the Clintons' marriage.'
After wallowing in the eight hundred pages of Arkansan depravity between these tomes, Dick Morris' guide to modern political survival, The New Prince, surprisingly proves to be the most upbeat of the three. Clinton's former political consultant uses his most famous client as his shining exemplar of the perfect politicianone who understands what the people want and gives it to them. While it seems unavoidable that sleaze would creep into the musings of a confirmed whoremonger updating Machiavelli by citing the career moves of the most publicly disgraced standing president of all time, the book takes a higher road.
Morris makes the assertion that the twenty-first century politician can only succeed by embracing idealism, being honest when faced with scandal, and stressing issues over image. However dubious his assertions, his predominately glowing references to that which Clinton has done right (balancing the budget, reforming welfare, ushering in an age of micro-proposals for improving the everyday minutiae of our lives) are pleasant reminders that there's no need to feel guilty about enjoying the Clinton Show.
The president, after all, has more or less done his job as effectively as any other chief executive, with an added bonus. Running the country well enough to keep his audience comfortable, Clinton has ensured we can enjoy his living theater of passion, betrayal and stupidity without distraction and free of charge. Steve Wilson
The New York Times Book Review
The Weekly Standard
The Wall Street Journal
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Read an Excerpt
The First Victim
When a woman with servants spends the weekend cleaning out her closets, it usually is not a good sign. And when Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters that closet cleaning and hearing a good sermon at church had been the highlights of the past few days she was, by her standards, baring her soul. That Saturday, January 17, 1997, her husband had given a six-hour deposition to lawyers representing Paula Corbin Jones in her sexual harassment case.Although the Clintons did their best to put up a show of unconcern, anyone who knew William Jefferson Clinton realized that for him to testify under oath about his sexual history was a very bad idea indeed. How this no-win situation was allowed to come about ranks as the greatest mystery of the political partnership of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, which had proved in so many other ways to be a resounding success.
Certainly, it didn't take a Yale-trained lawyer to recognize that there were other options. Even a young Pentagon employee named Monica Lewinsky, who would never be accused of being politically astute, recognized that the Jones case cried out for a settlement, regardless of its merits. In the months before Clinton's deposition was taken, Lewinsky and her Pentagon colleague Linda Tripp thrashed out scenarios that would lead to an out-of-court resolution, thus solving both the President's problem and theirs. As Lewinsky saw it, the imperative was clear. "The American people elected him," she reminded Tripp, "so let him do his stupid job. You know?"
One "game plan" laid out by Lewinsky assigned a key role to Hillary Rodham Clinton: The First Lady would go on the Larry King show, havinglet it be known that she was prepared to take a question about the Jones case. When asked, Hillary "would respond emotionally. It's hard to see something we don't see from her often," Lewinsky mused. Hillary would then say, "The country is being robbed of its time that the President spends on other issues. They wish it would simply be settled. It's been hard on our family. I would like nothing more than for this to be a non-issue in our lives and in the lives of the American people."
His wife having cleared the way, Bill Clinton could appear the next morning with press spokesman Mike McCurry at his side and make a brief announcement, saying that for the sake of his family and the country he had decided to give Paula Jones the apology she was demanding and settle the lawsuit. It would be "sort of a gallant statement, Monica thought, and given Bill Clinton's high poll ratings, "a two week story," maybe "a three week story" at most.
This was not, however, the scenario the Clintons chose to follow. The Jones deposition might be a minefield, salted with booby traps, but they had negotiated treacherous territory before and survived. Several women who had indicated that they might be prepared to cooperate with Paula Jones's attorneys had already reneged. Notably, Kathleen Willey, an attractive widow appointed by the President to the United Service Organization's Board of Governors, and her friend Julie Steele had backed off from a story earlier reported in Newsweek that the President had fondled Willey and placed her hand on his genitals when she visited the Oval Office one day in November 1993 to ask him for a job.
There were still a few witnesses who might pose problems for Bill Clinton, among them Linda Tripp, who had told Newsweek reporter Mike Isikoff that she saw Willey emerge from the Oval Office that day, disheveled and apparently "joyful" over being the object of thePresident's advances. Like numerous other female career employees in the West Wing of the White House, Tripp resented the way jobs had been doled out to women who caught the President's eye, and she was furious that Willey, who hadn't been too proud to take the appointment offered her, would be presented to the world as a victim. From Tripp's point of view, her statement to Isikoff had not only been the truth, it happened to defend Bill Clinton against the charge that he was a sexual harasser.
This, of course, was not the way the President's advisors saw it, and as the Jones deposition approached, Tripp had become the object of unusual attention from the White House. Not only had she been summoned to a meeting with presidential aide Bruce Lindsey, but by November 1997, Norma Asnes, a wealthy Democratic contributor and friend of Hillary Rodham Clinton, had begun to take a friendly interest in her. Asnes had invited Tripp to join a party she was getting together for a cruise on a chartered boat the following summer, and she talked of helping her find a better job outside of the government. It seems strange that a wealthy, well-connected woman like Norma Asnes would befriend a midlevel civil servant like Linda Tripp, who distinctly was not the social butterfly type. Tripp thought so too, and when she raised the question with Asnes, her new friend told her, "I like to be mentally stimulated. I like to enjoy the people I'm with. I like them to be articulate, bright, and mentally stimulating. They don't have to be at my level. It doesn't matter if they're not millionaires."
Far from finding this reassuring, Tripp was insulted. "So I'm one of the plebeians," she told Lewinsky, and was more wary of Asnes's offers than ever. "I hate to sound like a skeptic. But--why? I mean, we don't know each other that well."
Whatever was going on here, Linda Tripp stubbornly refused to be charmed. But in the fall of 1997, she could hardly be considered a serious threat to the President's defense. After all, she hadn't actually witnessed anything, and the White House was unaware of her friendship with Monica Lewinsky. The first hint that Paula Jones's attorneys might have a few surprises in store for the President came a week before Christmas when Lewinsky, an ex-White House intern, told the President's friend Vernon Jordan that she, too, had been subpoenaed. Worse news yet, unlike some plain vanilla subpoenas served on other women connected with the case, Monica's summons specifically mentioned certain gifts she had received from Bill Clinton, including a brooch, a hat pin and a book. This was an obvious signal that the Jones lawyers had inside information about Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky, and if ever there was a time to panic, this was it. But the President still wasn't ready to tell his attorney Bob Bennett that the time had come to settle the case. By January 17, 1998, the day of the deposition, Lewinsky had signed an affidavit denying that she'd had sexual relations with the President, and the gifts in question had been returned to Clinton's private secretary, Betty Currie. Even if Lewinsky told the Jones lawyers a different story, it would seem that she was now a tainted witness, with nothing to back up any charges she might make.
After the deposition, Bill and Hillary had planned to show the world a united front by going out to dinner at a Washington restaurant. But the day proved to be a lot tougher than the President had expected. The questions the Jones attorneys asked left no doubt that they not only knew about the gifts the President had given Lewinsky, they knew that Lewinsky -- referred to for the purposes of the lawsuit as 'Jane Doe #6" -- had visited the White House more than three dozen times after her transfer to a job at the Pentagon, ostensibly to see Betty Currie, and they knew that United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson had offered her a job in New York.
The Clintons did not dine out on Saturday evening. And by the time they retired for the night, there was more bad news. The Drudge Report, the Internet gossip sheet loathed but avidly followed at the White House, was reporting that Newsweekhad the intern story but had decided to spike it just minutes before its deadline. Drudge did not disclose Lewinksy's name, but he mentioned the existence of tapes of "intimate phone conversations." This can only have sent a shudder through Clinton, who'd had phone sex with Lewinsky on several occasions.
But what about Hillary Rodham Clinton? Had she known about Monica Lewinsky?The President's dalliance was not exactly unknown inside the walls of the White House. Members of the Secret Service had recognized Lewinsky as the President's mistress and took bets on the timing of her visits to the Oval Office, and Hillary's own deputy chief of staff; Evelyn Lieberman, had been worried enough about Lewinsky's knack for getting close to Bill Clinton to have her transferred from the White House to the Pentagon. Lewinsky, devastated that Clinton had "changed the rules" of their relationship, believed his promise that he would find her another White House job after the 1996 elections, but Linda Tripp heard from a friend who worked for the National Security Council that Lewinsky was persona non grata at the White House and would never be allowed to come back.
Still, it is possible that Hillary was unaware of all this at the time. Monica Lewinsky was by no means the only woman whose relationship with the President had been the subject of gossip, and her youth and obvious crush on Bill Clinton made her easier to dismiss than most. Just as a woman married to a compulsive gambler isn't necessarily interested in knowing the names of the horses he's lost money on, Hillary knew her husband's weaknesses too well to take an avid interest in the details. Indeed, her loyal staff made an effort to shield her from rumors.As Hillary would tell it, the first she heard of the Monica Lewinsky situation was on Wednesday morning, January 21, the day the story broke in The Washington Post, when her husband woke her from a sound sleep and told her, "You're not going to believe this, but -- I want to tell you what's in the newspapers." Washington insiders had been following Matt Drudge's bulletins on the breaking story for four days, but to Hillary "this came as a very big surprise."
Copyright ) 1999 by Joyce Milton
Meet the Author
Joyce Milton is the author of Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin and several other books. She is also the coauthor of The Rosenberg File. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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