CBS’s Smith on Clinton Marriage: ‘Still-Young Couple’ are ‘Rock Stars’

In an interview on Tuesday's CBS "Early Show" with Sally Bedell Smith, author of the new book ""For Love of Politics: Bill and Hillary Clinton, the White House Years," co-host Harry Smith began the fluffy segment with this adoring intro (emphasis mine):

Brad and Angelina, Charles and Diana, Burton and Taylor, and you can count Bill and Hillary's union as one of the most scrutinized marriages of our time. A simple Google search reveals there are more than 40 books about this still-young couple. They met in law school, two bookish, wonkish, idealistic kids who somehow transformed themselves into political rock stars. Remember when Bill grabbed a sax on the Arsenio Hall show during the '92 campaign? Now it's Hillary who's handling Letterman and trading one-liners with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.

Despite Bill Clinton being one of the most famous adulterers of all time, Smith managed to get through the interview without ever discussing the former president’s infidelity with the author, Bedell-Smith. Instead, Smith set up the interview with this question, "This is a meticulous reconstruction, or even deconstruction, of their lives, and the thing that I came away with...is ambition trumps everything. Could that be the subtitle?"

Bedell-Smith later commented on how the Clintons’ had "...such a unique collaborative relationship that when they were back in Arkansas, people called them "Billary." Smith wondered if Bill Clinton would maintain this "collaborative relationship" given the fact that, "...he has this separate life now. He is this world traveler. He is a solver of problems. The Clinton Global Initiative, et cetera..." Smith seemed to have a different take on Bill Clinton’s global achievements when fawning over Jimmy Carter two weeks ago: "Were you unhappy with the way the Clinton Administration picked up on the seed work, the tilling of the soil that you did in some of those trouble spots?"

When Bedell-Smith speculated on "...the notion of having two presidents in the White House...," Smith countered with his own speculation: "Right. Maybe worse yet, a Secretary of State." Yes Harry, that would definitely be worse.

After such a glowing segment that completely glossed over some of the most obvious flaws in the Clinton marriage, Smith oddly ended it by discussing how Bedell-Smith’s book "...is meticulous and at times an excruciating look at the two of them in their public lives." It was clear that this segment was neither.

Perhaps Smith’s tease of the segment earlier in the show can more accurately describe the Clinton marriage: "Also ahead a fascinating look at the Clinton marriage and our favorite scary movies for Halloween." One wonders, what’s the difference?

Bedell-Smith did a similar mushy interview with NBC’s Ann Curry just last Friday on "Today."

Here is the full transcript of the 8:07am interview:

HARRY SMITH: So many people say that Senator Hillary Clinton's biggest asset in her presidential bid is Bill Clinton, but it's only fair when he was president she was his biggest asset. And after 35 years, we still want to know what makes them tick. Brad and Angelina, Charles and Diana, Burton and Taylor, and you can count Bill and Hillary's union as one of the most scrutinized marriages of our time. A simple Google search reveals there are more than 40 books about this still-young couple. They met in law school, two bookish, wonkish, idealistic kids who somehow transformed themselves into political rock stars. Remember when Bill grabbed a sax on the Arsenio Hall show during the '92 campaign? Now it's Hillary who's handling letterman and trading one-liners with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.

HILLARY CLINTON: I think you've got a future.

SMITH: Sally Bedell Smith explains the Clintons' complicated marriage and the impact it has had on all of us in her new book, "For Love of Politics." Bill and Hillary Clinton, the White House years. And she joins us. Good to see you again.

SALLY BEDELL SMITH: Good to be here.

SMITH: This is a meticulous reconstruction, or even deconstruction, of their lives, and the thing that I came away with -- and tell me if you agree with this. You're the one who spent all this time researching this book -- is ambition trumps everything. Could that be the subtitle?

BEDELL-SMITH: Well, I think ambition has been very much a part of their lives from the beginning. And politics is something that really attracted them to each other in the very beginning.

SMITH: Right.

BEDELL-SMITH: Back in 1972, one of the first things they did was work for the McGovern campaign. And they have been such a political unit. Their marriage is so unusual, and they have such a unique collaborative relationship that when they were back in Arkansas, people called them "Billary."

SMITH: Billary, yeah.

BEDELL-SMITH: It was even -- it was a term of sort of admiration and disparagement. And those habits of close collaboration carried through into the White House, which is why now that we are facing the prospect of possibly having two presidents in the White House...

SMITH: Right.

BEDELL-SMITH: Which is really unprecedented. The way to understand how they might work together in the White House were she to return as president and he to return as president, you have to look back and see the dynamics of that relationship.

SMITH: Which is the question, because she was sort of omnipresent in his presidency. If she were to become president, would you assume that he would have a similar sort of role?

BEDELL-SMITH: Well, I think it's -- it's absolutely consistent with the way they operated back then.

SMITH: But he has this separate life now. He is this world traveler. He is a solver of problems. The Clinton Global Initiative, et cetera, et cetera. He's not going to be -- have an office in the West Wing like she did, would he?

BEDELL-SMITH: Well, he hasn't ruled it out. He said he'd take an office in the basement if somebody offered it to him. But, but she was, in effect, a kind of -- she was a sort of de facto vice president for him. I kind of think we should look at them as more a president and a chairman of the board.

SMITH: Interesting. Well, they dropped that two-fer stuff a long, long time ago. Remember back in '92, during the campaign.

BEDELL-SMITH: They did.

SMITH: For a little while, they were doing a two for one. They've stopped that. If you were thinking, if she -- assume she gets the nomination and you get a call and "I want you to be my vice-presidential candidate," are you -- what are you thinking in terms of the dynamic of the two of them? How do you fit into that?

BEDELL-SMITH: Well, I think that's a serious question, and it's one of the many questions that follow from the notion of having two presidents in the White House because this is something the Founders never anticipated, not only two presidents, but two presidents married to each other with all the undercurrents --

SMITH: Right. Maybe worse yet, a Secretary of State.

BEDELL-SMITH: Secretary of State because she's already said that one of the things that he would do would be ambassador to the world. I think when they talk about the notion of first spouse, or he says "Oh, I'll be First Laddy," that's really beside the point. I mean, we have a 22nd Amendment that precludes a president from serving more than two terms. And it might not be too far-fetched to say that this is sort of an end run. It was interesting during the health care debate, for example, somebody who was in the health care industry said at one point, the two Clintons are working so much at cross-purposes with each other that there's a Hillary White House and a there's a Bill White House, and we don't know who's in charge.

SMITH: Wow. Sally Bedell Smith, thank you very, very much for joining us this morning. It is meticulous and at times an excruciating look at the two of them in their public lives.

BEDELL-SMITH: But it needs to be looked at.

SMITH: There you go. You can read an excerpt from "For Love of Politics" on our website at cbsnews.com.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC