Hillary's support comes at a price
IF THERE WAS ever a question of just how far Hillary Rodham Clinton would go to maintain power, her conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair should remove all doubt.
"She's in total battle mode," says Newsweek. The New York Times calls her "the chief engineer of her husband's damage control efforts."
Following the sordid revelations, Hillary took to the airwaves to prop up her man. Americans are too "smart, savvy and fair-minded" to be taken in by tabloid trash, the first lady insisted.
The most media-minded administration in history was itself smart and savvy in choosing Hillary as its flack-catcher. The public is naturally sympathetic to a woman in her position.
They can't believe that a wife who's been wronged would defend her betrayer with such apparent conviction. They can't believe anyone could be that cold, calculating and manipulative. (In other words, they don't know Hillary very well.) If she has confidence in her husband, they will too.
Mrs. Clinton has had a long and successful run in this supporting role. Her 1992 appearance on "60 Minutes" saved Bill's first presidential campaign. As recently as late January, she was blowing smoke on the Paula Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit.
Hillary: "I think certainly when you see the kind of political maneuvering that goes on against my husband on a daily basis, there are certainly a lot of agendas out there." Hidden agendas buried deep in the labyrinths of vast right-wing conspiracies.
This was slightly more credible than Mrs. Clinton's response to Sam Donaldson in the '92 campaign. During an interview with her, the ABC reporter played the Gennifer Flowers telephone tape, where Flowers says "Goodbye, darling" and the president-to-be replies, "Goodbye, baby."
That proves nothing, the Yale-educated lawyer shot back, "Anybody who knows my husband knows he bends over backwards to help people who are in trouble and is always willing to listen to their problems." He's sort of a cross between the Salvation Army and Dr. Laura.
Whatever else she is, Hillary is no dumb bunny. Surely, she has no illusions about her husband's gift of a dress to a 21-year-old woman or Lewinsky's 37 visits to the White House, after she moved to the Defense Department, or the operations of the Vernon Jordan employment service.
The first lady will stand by the first zipper to the bitter end. He is her ticket to power, and power is what she craves above all else. If the president is impeached or driven from office over the latest scandal, Hillary loses her considerable influence over appointments and her ability to shape the second-term agenda.
In his book, "Unlimited Access," Gary Aldrich, the former FBI agent who did security clearances in the Clinton White House, disclosed: "Mrs. Clinton was also the de facto White House counsel and director of presidential personnel, selecting and clearing personnel. I saw no evidence of a power struggle between the first lady and president. The power was all hers."
Three of the top Cabinet posts are held by Hillary clones -- Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
During the '92 campaign, Shalala succeeded Mrs. Clinton as head of the Children's Defense Fund. At the same time, Hillary and Reno met and became fast friends.
Tom Jipping of the Judicial Selection Monitoring Project notes that on the appointment of federal judges, Hillary's decisive voice "has been a running assumption throughout the process. A lot of the names came from her Rolodex." Her deputy chief of staff, Melanne Verveer, once worked on judicial nominations for the deliriously liberal People for the American Way.
Hillary is the only first lady to lead a task force assigned to deal with a major policy issue -- overhaul of the nation's health-care system. A child-care initiative, at the top of the second-term agenda, has it-takes-a-village fingerprints all over it.
Her influence should not be exaggerated. She is no puppeteer or wizard pulling levers behind the Oval Office. But she cares for power more than the president does. (He enjoys the trappings.) While he postures and preens, she advances her causes.
Bill Clinton knows that he needs her to maintain appearances and deflect projectiles
from erupting bimbos. For services rendered, he is willing to cede a degree of power
which she is eager to accept. Not exactly George and Martha Washington, would you
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