As the "mainstream media" books on Hillary emerge, the media itself often echoes the Clinton spin line -- yawn, no news here. Newsweek's Conventional Wisdom Watch joked this week: "Newsbreak: Her marriage has been troubled! Some good details, but we've heard it all before." Carl Bernstein's book was excerpted on page 3 of the Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section -- not even the front page of an inside section? -- and you can watch Bernstein attempt the usual ridiculous loving-marriage-full-of-womanizing spin:
She carefully positioned herself during those years to have a fallback plan in case their marriage or political journey ran aground. She knew that Bill's history of compulsive infidelity during their courtship meant the chances for a stable marriage, especially a marriage without adultery, were at best a crapshoot.
In the end, she married for love, and the shared dream of a grand political future someday in Washington. But that future would be focused on him, not her, she reluctantly conceded to friends who were urging her to pursue a more independent course and separate identity. Going to Arkansas meant forgoing a prestigious job in the capital or New York, and all but extinguishing her own flash in the season of her greatest promise.
Let's stipulate this -- not for the sake of politics, but for the sake of any compelling notion of romance -- that it's not "marrying for love" when you accept a groom with "compulsive infidelity" during your courtship in the interests of a "grand political future someday in Washington."
But Bernstein isn't only trying to mix the oil and water of romance and infidelity, he's trying to mix messianic religious zeal and political "killer instinct" in Hillary. Religious and ruthless? She had a passion for doing the right thing -- and flame-throwing at the right wing.
Part of what Hillary brought to her union with Bill was an almost messianic sense of purpose, a high-mindedness and purity of vision that hovered above the conventionally political. Bill's political beliefs were strongly held, but "with Bill, you felt he just wanted to be president, whereas Hillary had this religious zeal," said a friend from their Yale Law School days. Hillary had seemed to believe since her adolescence that her life was an unending search to determine what was right and how to make it happen.
Their most important political counselor and consultant for two decades, Dick Morris, remarked -- before he turned enemy -- that Hillary "has a quality of ruthlessness, a quality of aggressiveness and strength about her that he doesn't have. A killer instinct. Her genre of advocacy is always straight ahead -- fight, battle, take the fight to the other side. There's no subtlety, there's none of the nuance that he has."
But Hillary's is not the caricatured, bitchy, ball-breaking toughness that their enemies like to attribute to her. She has almost always been much more thoughtful than they granted. It is more like a kind of military rigor: reading the landscape, seeing the obstacles, recognizing which ones are malevolent or malign, and taking expedient action accordingly.
Bill's thought process is different. He is slow to recognize the malevolence in others; he wants to assume the best about them, and he is willing to spend months trying to win their hearts and minds. Hillary means to cut off the enemy at the pass.
Then there's pitching Hillary the intellectual as half leftist utopian, half Burkean realist about human nature. Bernstein refers to the Hillary’s letter exchanges with liberal minister and mentor Don Jones:
One of Jones's letters to Hillary at Wellesley alluded to Edmund Burke's emphasis on personal responsibility and raised the question of "whether someone can be a Burkean realist about history and human nature and at the same time have liberal sentiments and visions." In her response, Hillary mused, "It is an interesting question you posed -- can one be a mind conservative and a heart liberal?"
No description of the adult Hillary Clinton -- a mind conservative and a heart liberal -- has so succinctly defined her as this premonitory observation at age 18. She believed it was possible, though difficult, to be both.
There may be lots of interesting details in Bernstein's book, but he's clearly tormented by trying to paint Hillary as both how she really is and how the liberals want her to be painted.