First Lady puts on a presidential persona: Every US leader's wife is a force to reckon with, but the whole country will look for Hillary's hand in her husband's political decisions, writes Rupert Cornwell in Washington
Friday 22 January 1993
But as the gaudy thrill of America's coronation week fades, the real Hillary will emerge - and with this persona, what will surely become a riveting case study in the workings of ultimate power. There have been influential first ladies before: Nancy Reagan, the capricious scourge of White House staff; Rosalynn Carter, the 'Steel Magnolia'; and, most controversial of all, Eleanor Roosevelt, whose crusading social zeal made her partnership with Franklin one of the great family duos in US political history.
Even by those standards, Mrs Clinton is in a different league. Sheer domestic proximity means that every presidential spouse is a figure to be reckoned with. But there is a special dimension to her relationship with the man which official documents, for the time being at least, have as William J Clinton. It is as much professional as personal. In a business as well as a nuptial sense, they are a team.
They are alike; of similar education, of equal academic accomplishment and - despite the talk that Hillary is the radical to Bill the pragmatist - of shared, broadly liberal views. While he governed Arkansas, she was a prime mover in reform of the state's education and child care policies. Where one begins and the other ends, even their best friends are pressed to say. Tom Brokaw of NBC interviewed them during the final bus trip to Washington last Sunday: questions addressed to Bill would be answered by Hillary and vice versa. What everyone acknowledges, however, is that she is his closest, most trusted adviser. In the selection of Cabinet appointees, Mrs Clinton was one of the 'Gang of Five', (along with her husband, Vice- President Al Gore, the transition director, Warren Christopher, and Mr Clinton's closest friend, Bruce Lindsey, now to be White House personnel director), who made the final decisions.
In Washington it will not be very different. Former first ladies' offices were in the private quarters of the White House proper. The word is that Mrs Clinton will be installed in the West Wing itself, the real engine room which houses the Oval Office, the offices of most senior staff, and the press room. Indeed, and only half in jest, Mr Clinton recently mused aloud about tearing down a wall or two so that his wife could be right next door. In fact, she will probably have to settle for the floor above. But that will make her no less easy to demonise. In this city's ever febrile political brew, mere perception of a power behind the throne is a potent ingredient. Cartoonists have had a field day, from depiction of a dragon Mrs Clinton, barging her husband aside to take the Oath of Office, to a wife triumphant, carrying her husband across the threshhold of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Memories of her campaign crack about cookie-baking and her sassy defence of her husband during the Gennifer Flowers episode ('If you don't like him, don't vote for him') linger. No one is more aware of the danger than she. There has been hardly an interview since 3 November; during inauguration week, apart from the NBC programme, she has been seen and not heard.
Behind the scenes, though, she will be heard a great deal. How she combines the inescapable ceremonial role of First Lady, with her duties as a mother and her inevitable hand in policy-making, only time will tell. But the latter element looms large. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mrs Clinton will head a task force to elaborate the new administration's health care proposals, arguably its toughest domestic task in the four years ahead.
The response of Mr Clinton's press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, spoke volumes by omission. She was 'not aware' of the scheme. But she did not rule it out. A classic case, in short, of the Hillary of always, there at her husband's elbow, but in an often undefined, informal guise. And the function can be hugely beneficial. Bill Clinton is notoriously prone to rambling discussion. 'Hillary is a perfect complement. Not only does she know how to call a meeting and run it,' says an Arkansas friend, 'she knows how to end one too.'
The relationship will be crucial to her husband's success. It will also feed into the subtle balances and power structures that emerge in any administration. Already there is whispering (denied, of course) that behind his good-trooper facade, Al Gore is chafing at the circumscribed role of the vice-presidency. 'Yes, this may be a de facto co-presidency,' someone said. 'But Al Gore will have to accept he is not one of the co-es.'
- 3 Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
Miley Cyrus calls out hypocrisy of women’s nipples being taboo
The man who sold Minecraft to Microsoft for £2.5 billion says it's made him miserable
Nazi 'gold train': Fire engulfs suspected location of vehicle in Poland
Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
Isis releases graphic video showing four Shia 'spies' being burned alive in Anbar, Iraq
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms
£30 - 38k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a digitally focussed Account Man...
£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This exciting and disruptive co...
£23000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this digital ...
£16500 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...