Author Sally Bedell Smith: Hillary Signed Off on Bill's Big Decisions
National political reporters and pundits have often forwarded preposterous-sounding reports about one of the biggest political problems that Bill and Hillary Clinton have: their spectacle of a marriage. That's why it's so interesting that Newsweek (one of those shameless outlets that wrote of how the devoted Clintons "don't kiss, they devour each other") would feature a page on biographer Sally Bedell Smith's new book on the Clinton marriage, For Love and Politics. (And that Smith had a rough time getting Hillary nuggets out of the Clinton Presidential Library.) NBC's Ann Curry also interviewed her on Friday's Today. MRC's Justin McCarthy jotted down the good parts:
CURRY: You found something pretty interesting. Not only evidence of Hillary's early ambitions from very young to run for president. But also you say on one page here that Hillary had to sign off on all the big decisions that her husband made as president. Now, how do you know that?
SMITH: The best source, her husband. Right before he took office, he did an interview with "Time" magazine and the editor said, "you know, when Jack Kennedy was asked who he wanted in the room when he had to make a big decision, he said, 'my brother, Bobby.' Who would that be for you?" And he said, "Hillary." He didn't say his vice president or anybody else. He said, "Hillary." And that was a reflection of the kind of deep collaborative relationship they had going all the way back to Arkansas.
CURRY: You said that while Bill was in office, Hillary was in some ways a co-president. In fact, you go on to say that she competed with Vice President Al Gore like a, quote, "brother and sister trying to win basically the affection not of a father but of an older brother."
SMITH: Right, that was from one of their very close advisers. It was a, it was a constant theme that went through the whole, the whole White House.
CURRY: So what have you learned from looking back at this? What can we learn that would tell us, then, more and understand greater how Hillary is as a candidate and possibly as a president?
SMITH: Well, first of all, this is a portrait of a very unusual and compelling marriage, and it is perhaps the most complicated and unique political partnership that we've ever had. And by looking back at these eight years in the White House, we can get a good idea of what it would be like to have two presidents in the White House who are married to each other, which is really so extraordinary. And people have not focused on that until now. And it has many implications for, say, a vice president, secretary of the Treasury, secretary of Defense, secretary of whatever, because here's a president who has sat in that Oval Office for eight years and who just by definition has such an unusual role.
CURRY: My goodness, what you're saying is that whoever Hillary chooses as a running mate, if in fact she gets to that point, is likely going to have to vie with Hillary's husband, Bill, for the kind of influence that we would expect from a vice president, especially as we have seen in the wake of Dick Cheney, his power as a vice president, that's unlikely to happen if Hillary becomes president.
SMITH: Well, I think we're going to have two extremely powerful centers in the White House. Whether he is--
CURRY: So you're saying we're electing Bill and Hillary, that's what you're saying, if she's in fact elected president?
SMITH: Based on their history together. And, if you, again, if you look at those eight years, it is -- it is the road map, how they collaborated, how they sometimes competed, how the push and pull of their marriage affected a lot of what happened --
CURRY: Address the push and pull of the marriage. Does Bill's womanizing help or hurt Hillary in her run?
SMITH: Well, I don't think it necessarily helps, but it was -- it's been a factor in their marriage from, from the very beginning. And, of course, it had -- you know, it had enormous consequences. His affair with Monica Lewinsky was perhaps the most important thing that happened in the Clinton presidency. As one of their friends said, it changed history. It's like a bright light that's very difficult to look at.
CURRY: I have to talk about one last thing, because in this book you say something very interesting. You say that Bill told Hillary a story in 1991 about this phone call from a Bush administration official warning Clinton that Republicans would, quote, "do everything we can to destroy you personally." This is about the vast right wing conspiracy that Hillary was talking about even on this program. You're saying that this Bush administration official says this conversation never happened.
SMITH: That's right. And he has documentation to back that up. But his theory was that at this moment, Bill Clinton knew that people were going to come at him on his personal life. He knew he was vulnerable, and he knew he had to get Hillary behind him. And this was a way of enlisting her support. In his own book, in his own book, he said that he never spoke to this man, Roger Porter, again until long into the White House. In fact, I discovered from the public record, they had, had a conversation right after Bill got elected and he was helpful to him.