She had a cold father and a philandering husband, but Hillary Clinton is on the verge of getting the most powerful job on Earth, writes Richard Fitzpatrick.
James D Boys
Biteback Publishing, €15.99
TO understand the woman that Hillary Clinton has become we should start with a look at her father.
She was born in 1947, the eldest of three children — and the only girl — to Hugh Rodham, a successful draper in one of Chicago’s wealthy suburbs.
He was a deeply conservative man and a Republican voter.
The depravations of the Depression shaped him.
His children went without pocket money, even after chores had been completed.
During cold Illinois winters, when temperatures went below zero, he used to turn off the house’s heating every evening.
At local baseball games, where Americans in the 1950s traditionally socialised and shared a beer, he preferred to sit alone and aloof.
Having such a cold, distant father inevitably left its mark on her.
“This is a woman who is rather cautious in her dealings, someone who is far more conservative than many people understand,” says James D Boys, author of Hillary Rising: The Politics, Persona and Policies of a New American Dynasty.
“There’s no doubt that as a young woman she aspired to get her father’s attention and praise, which was not forthcoming.
"She was a strong student at school. Yet when she — or her brothers — brought home report cards that gave A grades, her father instead of praising his children would mock the classes for being too easy, denigrating his own children’s achievements, which must have been very demoralising.”
After graduating with a degree in political science from an all-female college in Massachusetts in the late 1960s, she studied law at Yale.
During her second year, she met the brash, bearded Bill Clinton, who was already telling anyone within earshot that he was intent on going back to Arkansas to become its governor.
She was drawn to him, and made the first move by introducing herself, although she rebuffed him when he proposed marriage while on holidays in the UK in the summer of 1973.
He was successful, however, when he asked again two years later to marry her.
Their long marriage, which has lasted more than 40 years, has been a source of wonder to onlookers, given his infidelities on the public record, which include revelations that Arkansas State Troopers used to source women for him, and the high-profile dalliance with the 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky — who Hillary Clinton used to privately refer to as a “narcissistic loony toon” — while he was president.
“Who knows what goes on in the course of two people’s private lives? Any attempt to second- guess that is going to be very difficult,” says Boys.
“There is no doubt that Bill Clinton had a wandering eye from the very first moments of their relationship. He was obviously drawn to Hillary Clinton for her personality and her intellect but he was someone who previously dated very glamorous young ladies.
“When Hillary Clinton was first taken home to Arkansas to meet her future mother-in-law, she couldn’t understand her son’s interest in the young Hillary Rodham because she was wearing Coke-bottle glasses and didn’t really take care of her appearance. She wasn’t what aspiring young politicians in the American South necessarily wanted as a potential first lady/running mate.
“They were used to having glamorous, young blonde women standing by their side in a demur fashion.
"And here comes Hillary Rodham — very assertive, but not putting any great attention to her appearance. It’s a very strange relationship in many ways.”
Even before they got married, the soon-to-be Hillary Clinton had suspicions about her husband’s philandering.
In 1974, she summoned her father and Tony, one of her brothers, to Arkansas, ostensibly to help on his election campaign for the US Congress, but also to keep an eye on him so he wasn’t running around having affairs.
“The situation that later develops with Monica Lewinsky is far from being the first and only example of an indiscretion by Bill Clinton,” says Boys.
“Indeed, if one is to believe a suggestion made in an outstanding book Game Change by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann one of the reasons that the Democratic Party hierarchy were very anxious about Hillary Clinton getting the nomination in 2008 was because it was believed that Bill Clinton was having an affair at that point with a Canadian journalist that would come out late in the day and undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.”
One of the most interesting passages in Boys’ book deals with the Clinton presidency.
His indiscretions might always have been troubling for Hillary’s political aspirations, but she, too, has dogged him with her behaviour in the political arena, notably her early refusal to drop her maiden name, her testy relationship with the press and her failed attempt to overhaul America’s health system during his first term of office.
“Several of the allegations levelled at the Clinton administration had as much to do with what Hillary Clinton had done previously.
"For example, there were allegations of wrongdoing and a willingness to line the nest egg leading back to Hillary Clinton’s dealings with the futures market when she was First Lady in Arkansas, taking what was perceived to potentially be insider knowledge from the poultry industry.”
Boys also points out that the need for her imprimatur on policy matters slowed up decision- making at the White House, where she was the first First Lady to have an office suite in the West Wing, known as “Hillaryland”:
“Key aides would go to the president and say, ‘Mr President, can we have your authority to move forward with this initiative or to issue this release?’ He would say, ‘Absolutely. Now go check with Hillary.’
“You had the bizarre situation where the world’s most powerful man was beholden to the political wishes of his wife.”
It could be that the roles will be reversed. After losing in her 2008 bid, Hillary Clinton is in a strong position for this year’s presidential election race. She has 99% name recognition and a huge war chest to draw on.
If she wins the Democratic Party nomination, demographics are on her side, especially with the increased Hispanic voting bloc, the majority being Democrat voters.
The Republicans, for instance, have only won the popular vote once since 1988. She has her failings, though, including her age, the likeability factor and the hubris that marked her 2008 campaign.
“Hillary Clinton should be the clear favourite,” says Boys.
“Her own personality defects — the lack of warmth that she is able to generate.
"She constantly projects a chilly demeanour that Americans have struggled to warm to, which of course is in stark contrast to that of her husband.
“If Hillary can make this race about the historic ability to put a woman in the White House, as opposed to, as she would call it, ‘another man’ — if she can make those issues the issues of the campaign — then she’s well placed to win.
"But if she fails to do that, if she falls back to making it about ‘competency’, for example, she may struggle. Any Republican candidate would raise issues about her own past.
“There is a problem always with the Clintons about what on earth is coming out next.”
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