Clinton In Crisis: Hillary confronts past, present, and future

THE FIRST LADY; Her new role as loyal wife has made her more popular than ever, reports Mary Dejevsky

Share
Related Topics
AS BILL CLINTON languished in an unhappy limbo, knowing that Kenneth Starr had delivered his report to Congress but not knowing definitively what it contained, his wife Hillary played out a drama that was surreal even by the standards of the past week. Surreal, but infinitely telling: about her past, present and probable future.

The woman who had said memorably in 1992 that she was not a little woman, standing by her man like Tammy Wynette, was doing just that - but with such bravado and presence, that there were times when she and not her husband seemed the one ensuring the continuity and dignity of the US presidency.

Her chief public engagement of that day, Thursday, was an afternoon address at the White House to launch a campaign against cancer of the colon. She spoke at the beginning and end of the proceedings, alluded with thanks to the many people who had shown her support, and warmly hugged Health Secretary Donna Shalala. Unbeknown to the audience, Ms Shalala - one of three women members of the Cabinet to have publicly endorsed his denials of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky in January - had broken ranks with her colleagues only that morning to denounce Mr Clinton's conduct to his face.

A couple of hours later, Mrs Clinton appeared alongside her husband, without explanation and without speaking, when he went into the White House Rose Garden at 7pm to announce the end of the NorthWest Airlines strike. An hour later, wearing the same (by now somewhat creased) powder- blue trouser-suit that she had worn through the afternoon, she was again at her husband's side, introducing him in eulogistic terms as keynote speaker at a Democratic Party business dinner.

Here, Mrs Clinton's public loyalty was at once rewarded - or perhaps exploited? - by her husband. With the sheepish look he has adopted of late, he paid her numerous compliments before wrapping her in a tender embrace and indulging in one of their very few public kisses. Like all the Clinton's public appearances that day, separately and together, this too was televised, and few Americans could have watched "the kiss" without being reminded of another, equally public, kiss - the one caught on camera between the President and Monica Lewinsky, as she waited for him in a crowd behind a security cordon.

Was Bill trying to make it up to Hillary? Was he trying to erase the Monica kiss? Was he trying to signal that he aspires to be as loyal a husband as she is a wife, at least in public?

Never has the Clintons' relationship been as closely scrutinised as it has been in the past nine months. The last time it was under the microscope was around the time of Mrs Clinton's celebrated appearance with her husband on CBS television six years ago - the occasion of the Tammy Wynette remark - when she saved his presidential candidacy from allegations about the affair with Gennifer Flowers. Mr Clinton admitted to having causing `pain in my marriage', but Mrs Clinton's presence said more firmly than any words that they were committed to each other for the long term.

Mrs Clinton's solidarity gave America's feminists their standard response to subsequent charges that they were "soft" on Mr Clinton's rumoured philandering. If it's all right by Hillary, a woman of feminist persuasion herself, their argument ran, who are we to interfere?'

The word was that Mrs Clinton knew pretty much all there was to know about her husband before she married him and that they had reached an "arrangement". One description of it was "don't ask, don't tell" - similar to the policy towards homosexuals Mr Clinton forced on a reluctant military soon after he came to office.

To some commentators, including Mr Clinton's biographer, David Marannis of the Washington Post, the Clintons' marriage was always as much of a professional partnership as anything else. Mrs Clinton, this theory goes, backed her husband as a potential president from the start and consciously subordinated her own professional ambitions, whether as lawyer or politician, to the greater goal of jointly running the most powerful country in the world.

Intimates of the Clintons say, however, that whatever the (considerable) ups and downs of their marriage, they remain devoted to each other. And it is possible to divine a genuine attachment between them even from a distance. Some went so far as to say that the coolness observed during their public appearances during their holiday last month was fabricated by White House spin doctors to give the impression of a president paying his dues.

There is also - ultimately futile - journalistic debate about whether Mrs Clinton really knew nothing of her husband's relationship with Ms Lewinsky until last month or whether she knowingly lied on his behalf in January, when she described the allegations as part of a "vast right- wing conspiracy" against him. Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that she possesses a strength that thrives on adversity.

Anguished or not, her actions have made clear that she has decided to stand by her husband and, if possible, to save his presidency. And, however unsatisfactory this may be for feminists and for Mrs Clinton herself, Americans find her much more appealing in the role of loyal wife than as professional woman and political partner. She has never been more popular.

Whether she could or would use this public approbation in future is a matter of much speculation. There is talk that she might seek a Senate seat or, more likely, a United Nations or charity post, when her husband ceases to be President. Her qualifications and reputation as a top lawyer and the experience gained from her time as First Lady equip her well for such a post.

Some say that the Clintons will then go their separate ways. But there is next to no evidence for this; indeed, the signs now point in almost the opposite direction, so dependent does Mr Clinton now seem, politically and personally, on his wife. What Mrs Clinton is probably least likely to do - despite pressure from some quarters of the Democratic Party - is to run on a presidential ticket. The scars she bears from the past six years run too deep for that.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?