The turbulent lives and times of Bill and Hillary, all over again

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The Independent US

Another presidential election already looms, and with it talk of a new Clinton White House bid. This time the presumed candidate is different. But if a new book is anything to go by, America faces further immersion in its most enduring political psychodrama: the turbulent lives and times of Bill and Hillary.

Another presidential election already looms, and with it talk of a new Clinton White House bid. This time the presumed candidate is different. But if a new book is anything to go by, America faces further immersion in its most enduring political psychodrama: the turbulent lives and times of Bill and Hillary.

Leaks from The Truth about Hillary, by Edward Klein, have already created a stir even though it does not hit bookstores until next week. And the subtitle explains why: "What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President." The contents thus far divulged are a cocktail of Clinton-bashing. They include lurid allegations about the circumstances of the conception of her daughter Chelsea.

According to Mr Klein's account, around the time that Ms Clinton became pregnant in 1979, her husband allegedly told a source on a Bermuda holiday: "I'm going back to my cottage to rape my wife."

Ms Clinton is reported to be considering legal action over the book and claims that she was "heavily influenced by a culture of lesbianism" when attending college at Wellesley, Massachusetts, and an assertion that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Democratic elder statesman who held the Senate seat, privately detested her because of her ambition.

Most of the charges have already been denied, while Clinton aides stick to the icy line: "We don't comment on works of fiction." Behind the scenes, some mutter of lawsuits - though legal action would only increase the book's notoriety, and sales.

But its very publication underlines an incontrovertible political fact. Two and a half years before the first 2008 primary is held, Ms Clinton is the almost universally anointed favourite for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

In both opinion polls and in the parallel, equally crucial, contest to raise funds, she is far ahead of possible rivals such as John Kerry and John Edwards (who made up the party's unsuccessful presidential ticket last year) as well as other mooted contenders such as Mark Warner, the Democratic governor of Virginia.

Ms Clinton has long moved to soften her liberal image, staking out centrist positions on issues such as abortion. She has taken special care to burnish her national security credentials, always a problem for Democrats, even supporting the invasion of Iraq. Republican strategists openly acknowledge she would be a tough opponent three years hence.

Officially, the Clinton camp insists that the only election on her mind is the one in 2006 to retain her New York senate seat. But almost everyone assumes her real target is the White House two years later.

"The Swift Boat Veterans convinced millions of voters that John Kerry lacked the character to be president," says the blurb accompanying the release. "Klein's book will influence everyone who is sizing up the character of Hillary Clinton." In short, America has been warned. Like her husband, she is a polarising figure not because of her policies but because of her personality. No modern president, not even George Bush, has inspired the personal loathing that Bill Clinton generated among his foes.

His wife once spoke of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," culminating in the failed impeachment attempt arising from the Monica Lewinsky affair, that was bent on destroying him. No holds were barred then - and every scandalous wrinkle of his presidency is likely to be revisited if his wife does run.

Many observers say the greatest hurdle Ms Clinton must overcome to win the White House is not scepticism over her policies, but overall "Clinton fatigue".

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