A new book tries to make sense of the gripping, grating psychodrama that is the Clintons' marriage.

Breaking News

Never mind the man she's married to, Hillary Clinton isn't big on feelings. "Unthinking emotion," she wrote a friend in college, "has always been pitiful to me." In "For Love of Politics," Sally Bedell Smith's new book on Bill and Hillary Clinton's marriage during their White House years, the First Lady is a woman determined not to surrender to emotion, even when her husband and the nation have. While President Clinton idles away an hour hugging his way through a rope line at a Democratic Leadership Council fund-raiser, his wife, backstage, waits patiently to depart. As the president admits on TV to an affair with Monica Lewinsky, the First Lady waits in the White House solarium and greets staffers with a smile. Chelsea, the dutiful daughter, tries hard to mimic mom: "Emotions aren't rational," she tells friends.

Now Senator Clinton is moving toward the Democratic presidential nomination, and emotions have little place in her campaign. Even discussions about her marriage, that gripping, grating psychodrama, come off as cerebral and qualified—when the candidate and her staff choose to have them at all. The Clintons' marriage is important, they say, because it gave her the unparalleled experience of seeing a presidency up close. Except not "up close" in the dynastic sense; Clinton, they say, is an accomplished senator and an independent woman. Except not "independent" in the separate-lives/marriage-of-convenience sense; theirs, they say, is in every way a real marriage. Either way, the Clintonites contend, all that is irrelevant now.

Smith does not agree. A biographer who's written on Pamela Harriman, Princess Diana and Jackie and Jack Kennedy, she has a keen instinct for history made inside of marriages. She knows the irrational is often most important. Her book is narrower than other recent Clinton biographies, which deal with the nuts and bolts of her career, but is perhaps more relevant. Certainly, it is more subversive. Homing in on "the push and pull" between them and their love of politics, Smith presents a story Clinton isn't eager to remember: how her marriage made and then nearly wrecked her career.

comments powered by Disqus