Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady
In the first of three panels examining Hillary Clinton's record, a mix of critics and defenders looks at her White House legacy. The contributors are
* John Brummett, a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette who has covered Mrs. Clinton longer than anyone else in the media
* Joyce Milton, a New Yorker who wrote The First Partner, the most substantive biography of Mrs. Clinton now available
* David Brock, who wrote one of the first biographies of the First Lady, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham
* Eleanor Clift, a contributing editor at Newsweek and a prominent defender of Mrs. Clinton on "The McLaughlin Group" and other TV programs.
JOHN BRUMMETT: While I've not watched the Clintons with any greater insight than others, I am perhaps the only guy here who's done it pretty much as a life sentence. I began covering them as a very young reporter in the early 1970s, and so have more right to Clinton fatigue than just about anyone.
I want to make five points about Mrs. Clinton. I will put them in sequence from the most blatantly obvious to the least obvious, and illustrate them with stories from back home in Arkansas.
The first point is that Mrs. Clinton is a political and policy disciplinarian for her husband--if not a personal disciplinarian. I like to tell the story of a card game on a little airplane during Clinton's 1982 campaign. He had been the youngest governor in the country. After two years he became the youngest ex-governor in the country, and in 1982 he was making the first of his many comebacks. I was traveling with him, Hillary was traveling with him, Chelsea was a toddler tagging along. There were three or four others in this tiny airplane. We'd had a busy day and were travelling from Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Little Rock in the early evening.
Clinton discovered a deck of cards and in his excited way said, "Let's play hearts." He wanted to put up a little makeshift table and play a game. As he prepared to deal the cards, from the back bench of the plane came Hillary's voice saying, very sternly, "Bill, no!" And he stopped in mid-deal and said, "What do you mean?" She said, "It's been a busy day. You need to work on that radio script for that spot we're going to do tonight, or you could get some rest, but you don't need to be playing cards."
We all looked at each uncomfortably, and I think mainly for my benefit he said, "Just one round," and dealt. And we played a very uncomfortable single hand of hearts.
More substantively, in that same campaign, I was traveling with the Clintons to northeast Arkansas, a farming community, and as we prepared to land, Clinton got out his notebook and noticed, apparently for the first time, that possibly in attendance at this event was a gentleman named Wayne Kryts, who at the time was a poster boy for the American Agriculture Movement. Kryts was a southeast Missouri farmer who had gone to a grain elevator and taken back his grain in a dispute over the way farmers were treated.
Clinton fretted, "I don't know enough about his situation, I don't know what to say to or about him." Then Hillary calmly gave him a superficial but accurate assessment of the issue and three or four quick, neutral talking points. He turned to me and said, "Isn't she great?" And I had to agree for that purpose she certainly had been.
The second point, still fairly obvious, is that Hillary Clinton is presumptuous and take-charge to the point of being controlling.
In 1980, the Clintons were going down. Bill was in a tough campaign for his first re-election, which he would lose. I was a 25-year-old reporter, wide-eyed, and entirely too friendly to him--nearly adoring, in fact. Late in the campaign, with things not going well, I was in a rural Arkansas motel, and the next day there was to be a full campaign schedule, ending in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with a debate between Clinton and his Republican opponent, Frank White. …