Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton's resume is like a rap-sheet wrapped in an enigma, sprinkled with potential greatness, seasoned liberally with controversy, and then adapted as a Lifetime Cable TV Movie of the Week.
No one can deny she keeps busy: Lawyer, alleged "feminazi," bestselling author, notoriously wronged woman, working mother, alleged murderer and adulterer, Senator, cookie-baker, First Lady, enemy of cookie-bakers, and quite possibly future president of the United States.
Hillary Rodham was born in Chicago, on October 26, 1947, the first of three children. Her early upbringing betrayed little of what was to come: She was a typical bright kid, into school sports, Girl Scouts, going to church and getting good grades.
She went to Wellesley College and subsequently on to Yale Law School, which is when life became a little more complicated. As the free-love 1960s were coming to a close, she met a young Bill Clinton. Her future with Bubba would be poignantly foreshadowed by her second job out of college—as a staff lawyer assisting a Congressional committee drawing up articles of impeachment for Richard M. Nixon related to Watergate (articles which proved unnecessary when Nixon resigned later that year).
She moved to Arkansas and married Bill in 1975. A short while later, she took a job with the Rose Law Firm, where one can only assume from the volume of later news coverage that she immediately began a full-time effort to compile damning records on herself and her husband, perhaps before they even did anything especially bad. In 1980, she took a break from compiling massive incriminating dossiers to have the Clintons' only daughter, Chelsea.
While her husband was clawing his way to the top of the Arkansas political food chain, first as attorney general and then as the state's youngest governor in 1978, Hillary Clinton was forging a name for herself as a formidable attorney.
It was 1978 when the fun really started. Clinton opened a commodities trading account with $1,000, as her husband's gubernatorial campaign was heating up, and had made $100,000 by the time she closed it the next year. She was assisted in this venture by a local power lawyer employed by one of the state's biggest employers, Tyson Foods. To a lot of people, this deal looked pretty fishy, but no credible criminal case was ever built.
In 1979, the Clintons joined a company to peddle Arkansas real estate—not exactly a stellar growth sector. Their partners in the deal, who apparently bore most of the risk, were close friends, James and Susan McDougal. The development, known as Whitewater, went belly up in about six seconds flat, but that didn't keep it from snarling the nation in a tediously endless controversy for decades to come.
With one financial disaster under his belt, James McDougal naturally assumed it would be a good idea to get into the banking business. He bought a S&L called Madison Guaranty, and promptly sank it as well. That's when things got a little sticky.
At about the same time presidential spawns Neil and Jeb Bush were wiping out upward of a $1 billion in taxpayer money with their own S&L debacles, including millions of dollars in defaulted loans, a measly $100,000 loan from Madison went to help pay off the Whitewater mortgage. CNN estimated the total cost of Whitewater to taxpayers as $13,000—not counting the cost of later investigations, as we shall see. The eventual collapse of McDougal's S&L, which Hillary occasionally represented as a lawyer, took $60 million of taxpayer money to bail out. The extent of any actual involvement by either of the Clintons in managing the Madison collapse is still debatable, but is generally thought to be pretty minimal, despite all the subsequent fuss.
As all this was going on, Bill Clinton lost and subsequently re-won and retained the governorship of Arkansas throughout the 1980s.
During the '80s Hillary Clinton appeared largely unfazed by her husband's frequent womanizing. Clinton herself would later emerge as kind of a slightly scary sex symbol for many men, and Bill's meanderings perhaps reflected a desire for contrast, as he repeatedly sought out the trashiest and least imposing women Arkansas had to offer—which is saying a lot. Affairs firmly on the record included Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers, both of whom would go on to bare their assets in soft-core porn spreads, while rumor indicated anywhere from a few more dalliances to dozens of them.
The volume of Bill's affairs, and the occasional whispered rumors that Hillary might have had a few of her own, have led to much speculation that the former First Couple had an "open marriage" arrangement. But, as with so many aspects of the Clinton's lives, you won't find anyone who will testify to that effect.
One of the most repeated (but entirely unproven) rumors about Hillary Clinton's sex life was a whisper that she may have been involved with her close working partner Vincent Foster, another Rose Law Firm Partner.
As the Clintons moved to the national stage with Bill's run for president in 1991, Hillary Clinton almost instantly became a lightning rod for criticism. No, wait, criticism is too pale a word for it. Unbridled hate is much more accurate. Man, did people hate Hillary! And if they didn't hate her, they really, really loved her. In fact, the only other person in American history ever to inspire as much violent love and rabid hate was her husband.
It started with the whole marriage thing, when she committed the first of many violations of the cardinal rule of politics: "Try not to be quotable."
In an interview with "60 Minutes," Clinton responded to questions about Bill's dalliances by explaining that she wasn't "some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." Whoa! Now THAT'S a sound bite. The media went nuts, repeating the clip endlessly and quizzing random citizens on the street about exactly how pissed off this statement made them. It was never exactly clear why this was supposed to piss people off, but after the sixth or seventh week of coverage it was just assumed that it did.
Shortly after the Tammy Wynette debacle, the "cookie incident" cemented Clinton's reputation as the woman America loved to hate. During the primaries, presidental contender and ultra-flake Jerry Brown made a fruitless effort to get some traction in his lost cause by attacking the Clintons for conflicts of interest caused by Hillary's law practice while Bill was governor of Arkansas. Clinton responded by saying that she "could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas" instead of holding down a job, and that's when the fireworks really erupted.
The media went totally berserk over this one. According to the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, one news story in a New York Newsday article on Hillary Clinton mentioned cookies five times, while the L.A. Times (not exactly a hotbed of social conservatism) featured the quote repeatedly in headlines and news stories.
For some people, and again it's not entirely clear whom, the "cookie" comment amounted to open war on women who stayed at home, eschewed careers and dedicated their lives solely to mutely serving their husbands and churning out babies. You know, the dominant social paradigm... in 1952.
For all the seething cauldron of outrage these comments produced in insecure, anger-driven morons like Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell, Clinton's no-nonsense, take-no-crap attitude also established her as a something of a hero to modern working women. Naturally, this was considered a massive political liability for hubby, who already had the modern working woman vote locked up but was polling poorly among insecure, anger-driven morons (i.e., a large chunk of the American electorate).
Bill's team of crack political consultants instantly shifted into damage control-mode. A chastened Hillary shared cookie recipes on morning TV talk shows and generally kissing homemaker ass in every conceivable way. By summer, Hillary had been effectively neutered as a political force, and Bill went on to take the White House. Five minutes after that, everything was back to normal.
The first thing Bill Clinton did on taking office was give Hillary the massive task of creating a health care reform plan, one of the key platform planks that had gotten him elected. Despite the fact that everyone pretty much agreed health care needed reform, the thousands of pages of proposals Hillary delivered to Congress provoked Republican hysteria about "big government" and mainstream dread at the thought of another monolithic mind-numbing bureaucracy to deal with. The end result was a humiliating defeat that sent Hillary back to cookie-baking detail.
But she wouldn't stay there for long. As 1993 wore on, the specter of the Whitewater deals began to loom large, and White House Counsel Vince Foster was in charge of compiling and vetting documents for the increasingly inevitable investigation. In July 2003, Foster was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in a Washington, D.C. park, and the fecal projectile hit the rotating metal blades with great gusto.
A vast conspiracy machine was born out of that apparent suicide, the likes of which had never been seen in the United States. If half the energy devoted to Vince Foster had been given to JFK's assassination, we'd probably know where Jimmy Hoffa was buried today. Three separate, massive and costly investigations (including one by the notoriously desperate Kenneth Starr, see below) ruled Foster's death a suicide, but that hardly matters to anyone.
Most conspiracy theories on the subject involve one or both of the Clintons committing a cold-blooded and unsubtle murder in order of a high-ranking, high-profile member of their administration, who was also a close family friend, to cover up their involvement in what most reasonable observers agree is at most a couple hundred thousand dollars of no-more-than-moderately shady deals. A popular sidebar to the murder theory involves an alleged affair between Hillary and Foster, who was a long-time associate of the First Lady at the Rose Law Firm.
These theories offer no explanation for why Webster Hubbell, James McDougal, Susan McDougal, Roger Clinton, Vernon Jordan, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky were allowed to live.
Needless to say, the Vince Foster "suicide" was the beginning of a long national nightmare. Hillary Clinton was dragged out of the kitchen, where her cookies were still cooling on the counter, to answer the questions of an insistent media. In an April 1994 press conference, she claimed that a) she had made her $1 million in commodities trading all by herself and b) she hadn't worked on a specific shady real estate deal related to Madison S&L. Neither of these claims turned out to be true, but on the other hand, neither of them were particularly interesting either.
By summer 1994, everyone was getting kind of pissed off about this whole scandal thing, so an illustrious and impartial legal expert named Robert Fiske was brought in as a special counsel to investigate Whitewater, including the Foster suicide.
Investigations by Fiske, the Washington, D.C., police, the national park service, the Resolution Trust Corp., various U.S. Attorney branches, various House and Senate committees, at least one grand jury, Matlock, Ironsides and Perry Mason all failed to turn up any compelling criminal case which could effectively be levied against the Clintons.
Not wanting to look like quitters, Congressional Republicans lobbied for another special counsel, and got the bulldog of their dreams when they found Kenneth Starr. Starr wasn't having any of that innocent crap, and he poured hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money into proving his case. In 1995, a couple crates of billing records related to various Whitewater issues mysteriously turned up in the White House residence, sparking a new round of speculation about Hillary's crimelord tendencies, but once more, "the glove didn't fit," in the immortal words of Johnnie Cochran. The teflon First Lady walked yet again.
After years of investigating, Ken Starr grudgingly admitted that Foster's death was a suicide, and finally conceded that he couldn't build a criminal case on based on the pretty marginal Whitewater fiasco. Luckily for Starr, Bill Clinton was a horndog—and THAT was a fact that could be proven beyond any reasonable doubt.
Starr pursued allegations relating to Clinton's womanizing, running them into the ground before finally building an exhaustive (and exhausting) case that the President had been the recipient of (gasp!) blow jobs from a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. Since we all know that American Presidents NEVER cheat on their wives, Starr dragged the Clintons in for depositions and finally managed to build a fairly flimsy (legally speaking) case for perjury based on a couple of whopping lies (in layman's terms) issued by the President regarding the whereabouts and activities of his schlong.
While a salacious press corps drooled over the semen-stained details of the case, much of America turned its attention to Hillary, looking for a Jerry Springer-style outburst of pain and rage. The press corps was sorely disappointed. Clinton maintained a stoic public persona throughout the seemingly endless proceedings, which eventually climaxed in unprecedented impeachment proceedings for an offense committed by John F. Kennedy three times before breakfast every day.
In the absence of public comment, the media (tabloid and otherwise) ran a continuing barrage of rumors, hearsay and innuendo regarding Hillary Clinton's feelings and reactions to her husband's peccadillos. The most believable of these indicated that she was more pissed off about the stupidity of being embroiled in a political mess than about any more conventional concerns regarding marriage vows.
By doing nothing, Clinton dramatically reinforced the polarized reactions that had followed her every move since her husband's election. For the people who hated her, the stony silence reinforced her image as an ice queen; for those who loved her, it was a reaffirmation of her personal strength.
Despite all this, Bill Clinton easily cruised to re-election in 1996. Hillary Clinton filled her time (and distracted herself from the headlines) by penning an acclaimed book on child-rearing called "It Takes A Village," which instantly set off yet another round of the by-now familiar schizoid reactions.
Hailed by many as inspirational in describing a community role in guiding the development of children, the book was damned by nearly as many for a vaguely Communist tilt. Looneys like Jerry Falwell shrieked about the way book acknowledged the existence of such dangerously anarchistic and unAmerican phenomena as "working mothers" and "divorce," which could never happen in America.
Somehow Hillary Clinton and the nation itself survived Bill Clinton's presidency. The First Family exited the White House with an extremely tiny scrap of dignity, a couple truckloads of merchandise and (in what has now become a presidential tradition) a funny-smelling cloud of last-minute presidential pardons.
The couple moved to New York, where they had lived their entire lives. At least, that was how they tried to pitch it to the New York voters, as Clinton made the jump from First Wronged Woman to wearing the political pants in the family.
While her husband hit the lecture circuit in an effort to raise funds to polish off years of legal bills, Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate. Her opponent was a smarmy young Turk named Rick Lazio, who employed an aggressive attack strategy and attempted to make political hay out of the fact that Clinton was rather a latecomer to the Great State of New York.
But we're talking about a woman who survived seeing the most intimate details of her husband's transformed into four straight years of Tonight Show monologues. Lazio came off as petulant, obnoxious and immature. If Ken Starr, with his army of investigators and a bottomless pit of taxpayer money at his command, couldn't sink Hillary Clinton, you could hardly expect much from a local politico with an image reminiscent of a disgruntled game show host. Wronged Woman Hillary Clinton was permanently retired, along with her cookies, and Senator Hillary Clinton was born.
Nearly two years into her Senate tenure, Clinton appears to be settling in as a pretty average Senator. Early polling showed her to be the front-runner among Democratic candidates for the 2004 presidential election, but she opted to stay put and build her resume for a while.
It's hard to imagine that situation is anything but temporary. The Clinton White House, Round Two, has a certain feeling of inevitability about it. One can only hope that the second time around will go a little more smoothly than the first...