The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, July 6, 2003

Blind love for Bill?
A.J. Philip

Living History
by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Headline, London. Pages 562. Rs 650

Living History A SENIOR colleague teased me for spending all of Rs 650 for a copy of Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoirs. He thought the book's merit lay in the references she makes to the Monica Lewinsky episode that had nearly finished Bill Clinton's Presidency. Since Associated Press scooped that part of the book and every newspaper carried it even before Time could officially carry excerpts from it, this was not the reason why I bought it. In fact, there is more to Hillary than her marital status. The first time the reader comes across Monica Lewinsky is on page 440 and she is dismissed in no more than a few paragraphs in a book of 562 pages.

Gennifer Flowers, who claimed that she had a 12-year affair with Clinton, and Paula Corbin Jones, who filed a sexual damages suit against him, are dismissed in fewer sentences. For these very reasons the prurient will be grossly disappointed. The only scandal linked to the Clintons that she discusses at length is the Whitewater scandal that dealt with their questionable real estate ventures in Arkansas.

Hillary's purpose is to portray the Clintons as more sinned against than sinning. She makes it a point to mention that the investigation into their alleged wrong-doing cost over $70 million "for the Independent Counsel investigation alone". Those familiar with the rhetoric of politicians accused of corruption from Rajiv Gandhi to Parkash Singh Badal will find nothing extraordinary when she says: "Whitewater signaled a new tactic in political warfare: investigation as a weapon for political destruction." She even has the audacity to quote Harry Truman to say that the White House is the "crown jewel in the American penal system."


Nonetheless, the book merits attention because Hillary is one of the most remarkable politicians in the US who is on the threshold of a career that can bring her back to the White House as the first lady President. Whatever be her protestations, the book was written with the primary objective of providing a sanitised version of the Clinton Presidency and her role as the First Lady. That it fetched her an astronomical sum as royalty is incidental.

Hillary has evidently succeeded in the attempt, though many would question the truthfulness of her account. For a better appraisal of the period, one may indeed have to wait for Bill Clinton's own memoirs which, given the build-up that accompanied the launch of Living History, will be an equally spectacular publishing event. Be that as it may, Hillary is not new to the art of writing autobiography having penned one as a teenager. She has cleverly manipulated her skills to provide a version that glorifies her role but does not show her husband in a bad light.

This delicate balancing has been accomplished with remarkable finesse. But that did not prevent her from quoting Richard Nixon who commented on her: "If the wife comes through as being too strong and too intelligent, it makes the husband look like a wimp." Call it candidness or whatever, there is no mistaking that she never allowed her personality to be subordinated to that of Bill.

It was with great reluctance that Hillary added 'Clinton' to her name and that too not at the cost of her maiden name. It is not for no reason that she quotes John Wesley's famous line: "Do all the good you can, at all times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can". It is a pointer to the profound influence the Methodist upbringing had on her. The reason why she was able to take up issues that concern the poor, the neglected and the underprivileged can be traced to this connection.

She devotes page after page to her valiant bid to bring a semblance of sanity to the health care provisions in the country. Her concern for the handicapped children and those born out of wedlock is at once genuine. That she had an independent mind and was ready to pursue causes that were dear to her is without doubt.

Few other first ladies had as many opportunities as she had to represent the US in international forums. What she said and did on those occasions had the imprint of her distinct personality. She never reduced her duty to reading out texts prepared by the State Department or the White House speechwriters.

Little surprise that the speech she made at the UN Women's Conference in Beijing is still remembered for the sharp indictment it contained of a system that allowed the selling of women, dousing of women with gasoline and genital mutilation of young girls.

Hillary may not be a feminist in the classical mould but she has the courage of conviction to take up women's issues. Little surprise that she goes virtually ecstatic over the little poem that Anasuya Sengupta wrote, especially for her when she visited New Delhi: "Too many women/ In too many countries/ Speak the same language./ Of silence/ We seek only to give words/ To those who cannot speak/ (too many women in too many countries)/ I seek only to forget/ The sorrow of my grandmother's/ Silence."

She reverts to the theme as often as she can to drive home the point that the problems that beset women are the same everywhere.

Yet, how was it that she allowed herself to be blinded by her love for her husband to the point that she believed all his claims of innocence till that evening when a stained cloth worn by Monica Lewinsky exposed him as a liar and forced him to admit his guilt? It is difficult to believe that it is all because of her blind love for Bill. To do so is not to know Hillary Rodham Clinton who uses memoirs as a political manifesto and gets $8 million in the bargain. And, perhaps, Presidency too!