Side Issues Involving Hillary Clinton Take on a Life of Their Own

Article excerpt

I forget just now who pointed out some years ago that literature was in danger of being smothered by "criticism of criticism of criticism," but at the moment Hillary Rodham Clinton is suffering from its political equivalent.

Whatever things she is alleged to have done, months or even years ago, have been eclipsed by derivative allegations concerning her candor or lack thereof in explaining them. In the current Washington fashion, the derivative charges have taken on a rich life of their own, reaching a churlish low with columnist William Safire's charge that Mrs. Clinton is "a congenital liar." There is another way to look at all this. Mrs. Clinton's heart is in the social causes she has advocated for years - the legal rights of children and, more recently, the improvement of health care for all, including children.

But there is a tough, unsentimental side to Hillary Clinton, too. She is an excellent lawyer whose job, back in Little Rock days, was supplementing her husband's meager constitutionally capped salary ($35,000 a year) as governor of Arkansas. Like all of us, she likes to put her better foot forward. She'd rather be celebrated as a children's advocate than as a corporate lawyer or commodity speculator - not that there's anything wrong with either of the latter.

When you add to this that she is the first president's wife in American history who was an accomplished professional before her husband's election - and the resentment of womanly professional achievement that still burns among the keep-'em-barefoot-and-pregnant males - you have an unpleasantly combustible formula.

Do I suggest, then, that Hillary Rodham Clinton is flawless? Not at all. Who is? I suggest that she is human, and that in the take-no-prisoners political climate of Washington much too much is being made, in the name of political inquiry, of artless attempts to conceal her tougher side.

Mrs. Clinton's legal work for Madison Guaranty, the faltering S&L owned by the Clintons' business partner, probably looks more dubious in retrospect than it looked in the cozy, forbearing ethos of Arkansas public life. …