Hillary seeks a guardian angel

The First Lady's tribulations have driven her to find solace on the other side, says David Usborne

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Thank you Bob Woodward. Getting up yesterday was so much easier with the Washington Post to read filled with all those great excerpts from your trouble-making new book (aren't they all?) about Hillary Clinton and her mental tribulations. The First Lady communing with Eleanor Roosevelt in a sun room on the White House roof? It's too much. I shan't even bother looking at the rest of the newspaper.

In case the Post was not on your breakfast table, Woodward (he who, with fellow journalist Carl Bernstein, exposed the Watergate crimes of President Nixon), is the author of a soon-to-be-published work, The Choice, which allegedly looks at some of the inner machinations of both the Clinton White House and of the Bob Dole camp as the 1996 presidential vote approaches. But it is tit-bits about Hillary and her spiritual advisor, Jean Houston, that will sell the book. Ms Houston is co-director of the "Foundation for Mind Research" and believes that inner strength can be drawn from conversing with dead heroes. (Her own "personal archetypal predecessor", by the way, is the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena). She first met the First Lady in 1994 when President Clinton summoned a group of motivational experts to Camp David and apparently has been a regular visitor to the private quarters of the White House ever since.

The good news for the White House yesterday was that Ms Houston has moved on from some of the methods she favoured back in the Sixties, like using LSD to help patients into a trance. "She tried to be careful with Hillary and the President, intentionally avoiding those techniques," Woodward writes. Even so, this book is unlikely to enhance public confidence in the First Lady. Some readers - though probably they dislike her already - will consider her downright potty.

Under Ms Houston's guidance, Mrs Clinton seemingly discovered the pleasures of "docking with one's angel", who, in her case, were Mahatma Ghandi and Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of FDR. In one session, the First Lady eventually sought solace from Ghandi, explaining that he, like her, had been "profoundly misunderstood". In another, held in the roof-top solarium, Ms Houston apparently asked the First Lady to "open herself up to Mrs Roosevelt as a way of looking at her own capacities and place in history," writes Woodward.

We are reminded of Nancy Reagan and revelations that her consultations with an astrologer were determining her husband's schedule. Woodward implies that Ms Clinton's activities may have more serious implications. "Astrology only changed timing and it was kind of pseudo-science that could be fun or worth a laugh," he opines. "Yet the Reagans had been ridiculed. Hillary's sessions with Houston reflected a serious inner turmoil that she has not resolved".

We can have a laugh over this too. Millions of Americans are surely giggling. But there are, indeed, more serious considerations. These stories come at a time when the First Lady is already struggling to keep herself from being sucked into the still-swirling Whitewater affair. There are whispers in Washington that she may even face indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice. Being painted now as some kind of psycho-babble nut cannot help.

But what of Mrs Clinton herself? We know she is a woman of considerable intelligence who took her place in Washington wanting to be more than a society hostess (and baker of cookies). Apparently, however, she has not found another way to handle successfully the pressures and loneliness of the position. There are glimpses in the book that suggest a person who is not just frustrated but who may be suffering depression.

"Life throws a lot of crap at you," she is quoted as saying in one session with Houston. "When the inevitable crap comes, which it will in anybody's life, and not just once but several times, it helps that there is a cushion of capacity there, and there is a structure that gets you up in the morning." If Hillary finds her cushion conversing with the dead, well, why not? Others might call it praying.

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