Inside Hillary's mind

Posted: Jun 22, 2005 12:00 AM

About once a year I review a book in this column that ought to be required reading for people who care about politics. Edward Klein's "The Truth About Hillary" is such a book. The pre-publication leak about the book -- that Bill Clinton had allegedly talked about raping his wife -- was off-putting for me. I don't usually waste my time reading salacious scandal books from the Left or the Right. But I was advised to take a look at this book, which I read last weekend.

 It was worth my time. This is not a scandal book intended merely to gratify the reader's salacious interests. Instead, Mr. Klein has written a serious political and psychological biography of the most likely next Democratic nominee for president -- and thus, quite plausibly, I fear, the next president of the United States.

 Although this is a heavily researched book that includes amongst its sources almost a hundred people who are or were personally close to Mrs. Clinton, this is not a peek through a keyhole. Instead, it is a peek -- and more than a peek -- into the mind of Hillary. And, whether you like or hate Hillary, the inside of her mind is a fascinating place in which to rove about. Hillary haters will certainly find further evidence to support their sentiment. Principled liberals, I suspect, will be deeply disconcerted by what they will find out about her mind in this book.

 But for people who like their presidents ruthless, expedient and very smart (in a dangerous time, those are not all bad features), the portrait Mr. Klein paints may well not be seen as negative. In fact, as the author notes, Mrs. Clinton has more than a little in common with Richard Nixon.

 One of the more interesting anecdotes recounted in the book describes the time President and Mrs. Clinton met with President Nixon. It was March 1993, the first time Nixon had been invited back to the White House since he departed in 1974:

 "The elevator door opened, and the first person Nixon saw when he stepped off was Hillary Clinton. 'Your health care reform legislation in 1973-74 was so good that we are using it as a blueprint for our own package,' Hillary said. This struck Nixon as an incredibly strange, wonkish greeting from the First Lady. But then Hillary managed to top even that by adding: "Had you survived in office, you would have been light years ahead of your time." "Had I survived in office! Nixon later remembered thinking. Maybe I could have if she hadn't been working to impeach me."

 The anecdote continued with Nixon's recollection that he had thought that Bill Clinton was too nice to provide world leadership:

 "He doesn't scare anybody.' Then Nixon added, as though he had a sudden insight: 'Hillary inspires fear.' Nixon explained that a few minutes after the meeting started Chelsea Clinton joined the group." The kid ran right to Clinton and never once looked at her mother. I could see that she had a warm relationship with him, but was almost afraid of her mother. Hillary is ice-cold. You can see it in her eyes. She is a piece of work … Hillary inspires fear." Of course, for Nixon, that was a high compliment.

 For any woman running for president, she must first prove to the public that she is tough enough. And what better character reference could such a woman hope for than from the arch-tough guy President Richard Nixon.

 If readers with a taste for realpolitic find the previous Nixon endorsement of her toughness comforting, liberals will find chapter 39 positively chilling. Therein Mr. Klein describes Sen. Clinton's encounter with some New York liberals who had raised money and campaigned for her, and had close ties to Marian Wright Edelman (Mrs. Clinton's ideological godmother.) The women had come in to seek Sen. Clinton's support for a child-care bill. When they asked her why she was not supporting it, Sen. Clinton explained: "It's not going to fly. I'm not going to spend my political capital on something that is doomed before it starts." The women responded: "We want you to spend your capital whether you win or not … If it was Ted Kennedy, he'd stand on what he believes." Hillary bristled at the invidious comparison between her and Ted Kennedy … "If you don't understand my position, there is nothing more to say. I have other people waiting … Goodbye." And with that, she strode out of the room in a huff." The women understood quite well: " … she will do anything to get to the White House, including dropping child care."

  But perhaps the most revealing chapters of the book are numbers six through eight, in which Mr. Klein studies Hillary Clinton's childhood. The focus of those years is her father, a former Penn state football star and Navy drill instructor. He raised young Hillary and her two brothers to be tough, excel at all things and fight to win, which Hillary did, literally on a number of occasions punching out boys larger than her who displeased her. Mr. Klein's description of Hugh Rodham Sr.'s parenting methods reminded me of no one so much as Joseph Kennedy Sr. -- father of a president and two senators.