Carl Bernstein's stunning portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton shows us, as nothing else has, the true trajectory of her life and career with its zigzag bursts of risks taken and safety sought. Marshaling all the skills and energy that propelled his history-making Pulitzer Prize reporting on Watergate, Bernstein gives us the most detailed, sophisticated, comprehensive, and revealing account we have had of the complex human being and political meteor who has already helped define one presidency and may well become, herself, the woman in charge of another.
We see the shaping of Hillary as a self-described "mind conservative and heart liberal" --her ostensibly idyllic Midwestern girlhood (her mother a nurturer, but her father a disciplinarian, harsher than she has acknowledged); her early development of deep religious feelings; her curiosity fueled by dedicated teachers, by exposure to Martin Luther King Jr., by the ferment of the sixties, and, above all, by a desire to change the world. At Wellesley, we watch Hillary, a Republican turned Democrat, thriving in the new sky's-the-limit freedom for women, already perceived as a spokeswoman for her generation, her commencement speech celebrated in Life magazine. And the book takes us to Yale Law School as Hillary meets and falls in love with Bill Clinton and cancels her dream to go her own way, to New York or Washington, tying her fortune, instead, to his in Arkansas.
Bernstein clarifies the often amazing dynamic of their marriage, shows us the extent to which Hillary has been instrumental in the triumphs and troubles of Bill Clinton's governorship and presidency, and sheds light on her own political brilliance and her blind spots--especially her suspicion and mishandling of the press and her overt hostility to the opposition that clouded her entry into the capital. He untangles her relationship to Whitewater, Troopergate, and Travelgate. He leads us to understand the failure of her health care initiative.
In the emotional and political chaos of the Lewinsky affair we see Hillary, despite her immense hurt and anger, standing by her husband--evoking a rising wave of sympathy from a public previously cool to her. It helps carry her into the Senate, where she applies the political lessons she has learned. It is now her time. As she decides to run for president, her husband now her valued aide, she has one more chance to fulfill her ambition for herself--to change the world.
In his preparation for A Woman in Charge, Bernstein reexamined everything pertinent written about and by Hillary Clinton. He interviewed some two hundred of her colleagues, friends, and enemies and was allowed unique access to the candid record of the 1992 presidential campaign kept by Hillary's best friend, Diane Blair.
He has given us a book that enables us, at last, to address the questions Americans are insistently--even obsessively--asking about Hillary Clinton: What is her character? What is her political philosophy? Who is she? What can we expect of her?
Which Hillary Clinton will prevail in this sprawling, muddled biography? Is she a "messianic" idealist or a ruthless pragmatist given to negative ad campaigns and vilifying opponents? A liberal feminist firebrand or a closet traditionalist and Washington prayer-group fixture? A Lady Macbeth, a First Soul-mate, or a stand-by-your-man marital martyr? Bernstein (All the President's Men) gives us all these Hillary's, foggily uniting them by reference to her "extraordinary capability for change and evolutionary development." (Then again, the Senate candidate who "told voters largely what they wanted to hear" seems much the same species as the Wellesley student-body president who "was more interested in...achieving victory than in taking a philosophical position.") Bernstein's ill-balanced treatment puts "the Journey"-Hillary's mystic term for her politico-conjugal relationship with Bill Clinton-at the center of the story, particularly her dominant, sometimes disastrous role in Bill's scandal-plagued administration. Ever the investigative reporter, the author serves up chapters of eye-glazing Whitewater arcana and probes Hillary's emotional turmoil as she defends Bill from bimbo eruptions, but flits through her entire post-impeachment career as a high-profile senator and leader of the Democratic party in a scant 19 pages. Bernstein provides a densely detailed road-map of Hillary's life, but we get little sense of where the Journey has taken her. Photos.
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-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 05, 2007
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Excerpt from A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein
Chapter One: Formation
I adored [my father] when I was a little girl. I would eagerly watch for him from a window and run down the street to meet him on his way home after work. With his encouragement and coaching, I played baseball, football and basketball. I tried to bring home good grades to win his approval.
Hillary Rodham's childhood was not the suburban idyll suggested by the shaded front porch and gently sloping lawn of what was once the family home at 235 Wisner Street in Park Ridge, Illinois. In this leafy environment of postwar promise and prosperity, the Rodhams were distinctly a family of odd ducks, isolated from their neighbors by the difficult character of her father, Hugh Rodham, a sour, unfulfilled man whose children suffered his relentless, demeaning sarcasm and misanthropic inclination, endured his embarrassing parsimony, and silently accepted his humiliation and verbal abuse of their mother.
Yet as harsh, provocative, and abusive as Rodham was, he and his wife, the former Dorothy Howell, imparted to their children a pervasive sense of family and love for one another that in Hillary's case is of singular importance. When Bill Clinton and Hillary honeymooned in Acapulco in 1975, her parents and her two brothers, Hughie (Hugh Jr.) and Tony, stayed in the same hotel as the bride and groom.
Dorothy and Hugh Rodham, despite the debilitating pathology and undertow of tension in their marriage (discerned readily by visitors to their home), were assertive parents who, at mid-century, intended to convey to their children an inheritance secured by old-fashioned values and verities. They believed (and preached, in their different traditions) that with discipline, hard work, encouragement (often delivered in an unconventional manner), and enough education at home, school, and church, a child could pursue almost any dream. In the case of their only daughter, Hillary Diane, born October 26, 1947, this would pay enormous dividends, sending her into the world beyond Park Ridge with a steadiness and sense of purpose that eluded her two younger brothers. But it came at a price: Hugh imposed a patriarchal unpleasantness and ritual authoritarianism on his household, mitigated only by the distinctly modern notion that Hillary would not be limited in opportunity or skills by the fact that she was a girl.
Hugh Rodham, the son of Welsh immigrants, was sullen, tight-fisted, contrarian, and given to exaggeration about his own accomplishments. Appearances of a sort were important to him: he always drove a new Lincoln or Cadillac. But he wouldn't hesitate to spit tobacco juice through an open window. He chewed his cud habitually, voted a straight Republican ticket, and was infuriatingly slow to praise his children. "He was rougher than a corncob and gruff as could be," an acquaintance once said. Nurturance and praise were left largely to his wife, whose intelligence and abilities he mocked and whose gentler nature he often trampled. "Don't let the doorknob hit you in the ass on your way out," he frequently said at the dinner table when she'd get angry and threaten to leave. She never left, but some friends and relatives were perplexed at Dorothy's decision to stay married when her husband's abuse seemed so unbearable.