The Man Who Would Be President
T he painters were redoing the governor's mansion in Little Rock, and Bill and Hillary Clinton were sleeping fitfully in the guest house out back. It was the summer of 1991, the season of George Bush's nearly total dominion over our politics. So daunting were his poll numbers that, out of the entire Democratic Party, only a half- forgotten ex-senator named Paul Tsongas had so far been brazen enough to challenge him. But the Clintons were a couple with large and shared ambitions, a common hunger powerful enough to make them reckless of the odds that had scared everybody else into hiding. The mere scent of opportunity, however remote, had been enough to trouble the young governor's rest that night, and as day broke over Arkansas, he sat straight up in bed.
The sudden movement wakened Hillary. She could guess what was on her husband's mind; they had been talking about it off and on for weeks.
"We have to do this, don't we," she said. She meant run for president, and it was a statement, not a question.
"We don't have to do anything we don't want to do," he replied.
"But if we don't," she said, "what will our excuse be?"
It could get ugly, he said. Dirty.
They both knew what he meant. The whispers about him and other women had plagued him for much of his career in politics and had seriously strained their life together. He had considered declaring once before, in 1987, and had gone so far as to invite friends down to Little Rock for the ceremonies. But at the last moment, he had stood down. His announced reason was that his daughter, Chelsea, then seven- going-on-eight, was too young for the rigors of a national campaign. In fact, as intimates knew, the concerns that he and Hillary shared were more specific than that. What they really feared was that questions would be raised about his rumored sexual adventuring and would damage them all -- their daughter, their marriage, themselves.
The problem hadn't gone away. But Chelsea was four years older