Eleanor Roosevelt can't help her.
Hillary: I Am Not a Crook
AS THE LITANY of books and congressional investigations looking into the affairs of the First Family proliferates, it grows increasingly clear that Hillary's the interesting one: the supplier of shape and tactical impetus to her husband's untethered ambition and thereby, in one sense, the principal architect of a presidency that more and more resembles Nixon's in its naked, paranoiac grasping after power and political edge. Thus it was from the beginning. Said one good old boy lawyer who worked beside her on Bill's 1976 Arkansas attorney general race: "She called him all the time, every day several times a day, it seemed like. And I'll tell you, she was a cold-blooded heifer, telling him exactly what he had to do with this group and that, who to dump and who to charm to win that election, no matter who'd backed them before."
"Make no mistake," a former Bill aide told biographer Roger Morris of the days following his boss's first and only electoral setback, when he was tossed out of the governor's mansion in 1980, "she ran things in those two years of his recovery at a level beyond Clinton or [chief adviser] Betsey Wright." In those days Hillary likewise tended to the unseemly business of turning the family's political capital into cold cash. She refused to back out of the Whitewater venture even after it went bad and her husband had accepted the McDougals' offer to cut the Clintons loose. "No!" she declared imperiously to Susan McDougal, "Jim told me this was going to pay for college for Chelsea. I still expect it to do that." Small wonder she copped such an attitude of entitlement: All along, Whitewater had cut her and Bill in for 50 percent of any profits and held them responsible for far less than 50 percent of the liabilities. Morris's excellent Partners in Power is the first account to explain the investment as the bit of political tribute it effectively was. Her now-notorious commodity dealings, which made her the beneficiary of insider market manipulation by powerful friends, were merely more successful. One business journal estimated the chances of her trades performing so spectacularly by pure luck at 1 in 250 million.
It's only natural that she is now the lightning rod for many of the troubles besetting the administration. As in any good cop/bad cop set-up, one has to be wary of apportioning too much blame to Hillary merely because she did the requisite dirty work. On the other hand, she's quite a scoundrel in her own right. It appears, as William Safire scurrilously observed months ago, that she indeed lies whenever she sees the hint of future gain in it. To date she's told whoppers about numerous dimensions of the Whitewater affair, from her legal work for Jim McDougal's Madison Guaranty to her role in obstructing police access to Vince Foster's office after his suicide.
She may well end up indicted over Whitewater, but more recent imbroglios are just as pungent. There's no doubt, for instance, that she was the driving force behind the trumping up of charges against career civil servants in the White House Travel Office and their eventual firing in 1993, or that she subsequently lied to cover her role in the matter. The question is, why? The presumption in the few media accounts that even bother to ponder the matter seems to be that she was looking out for the interests of family pals Harry and Linda Thomason, who were pushing a charter business in which they had a stake. That may be Bill's style, but it isn't Hillary's; hers is a less sentimental calculus of political advantage.
The real root of her desire to have her own partisans in charge of the travel office seems to have hinged on the additional leverage she thought it would give the Clintons over the traveling press corps. The fact that she could regard this troupe of hacks as anything but securely in-pocket speaks to the depths of her paranoia, but then Hillary has always disliked the very premise of a free, aggressive press, real or imagined. Back in 1977, when Bill was AG, she told a Little Rock Rotary Club gathering that one of the main problems of governance was "trying to control a press that is far out of line because of Watergate." A White House memorandum from around the time of the travel office purge, by aide David Watkins, quotes her as saying, "I think we should get our own people in there.... We've been tardy in some areas."
Watkins took that last remark as a reference to an embarrassing press note that had appeared some months earlier when a reporter got wind of whispers among the White House Secret Service detail that Hillary had tossed a lamp at Bill during a family squabble. The chain of events seems especially significant now in the wake of claims by Gary Aldrich, a former FBI agent stationed at the White House, that the whole matter of Filegate may have started with an investigation into "disloyal" White House staffers demanded by Hillary in the wake of the lamp-throwing leak. Aldrich is expected to testify to that effect before a congressional committee this week; according to Newsweek, his story is confirmed in part by a White House aide axed by Hillary for having the temerity to speak to Barbara Bush on the phone about how to retrieve a file on her computer. A few more broadsides like this and the Clintons' Reagan-like Teflon may start to peel.
And there is still Kenneth Starr on the horizon besides. It isn't looking too good for Hillary at this point. One can almost see her stumbling insensate past the portraits of former presidents, bourbon in hand, mumbling to Lincoln and tearfully insisting that Susan Thomases drop to her knees and pray with her.
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