[This review was published in the Spring 2006 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 114-122.]

 

Book Review 

Rewriting History

Dick Morris, with Eileen McGann

Regan Books, 2004

 

The Truth About Hillary

Edward Klein

Sentinel, 2005

 

            The subject of these two books—Hillary Clinton—is a person well worth studying.  She is a former first lady, a United States Senator, and according to Dick Morris, has positioned herself to have the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 2008 “for the asking.”  It is far too early to say that that nomination is “tantamount to election in light of the Republicans’ current woes,” but the possibility that that is true underscores Hillary’s importance.  This is particularly underscored when we consider that the president of the United States occupies a role that has a worldwide impact.

            It won’t be the function of this review to decide among the varying perceptions of Hillary’s qualities or to take a partisan view about her potential candidacy.  It will be enough to say that, for reasons we are about to explain, those who champion her will have a serious presumption, in favor of a negative view of her, to overcome. 

            Why is this so?  Because of the commonsense reasoning that inheres in the “law of evidence.”  In a lawsuit under American jurisprudence, “self-serving declarations” made out of court are not admissible into evidence, whereas “admissions against interest” are.  The former are considered to lack any special assurance of reliability, since it is presumed that people will speak favorably about themselves both when truthful and when lying.  It is presumed, however, that someone will not make an “admission against [his own] interest” unless he is telling the truth, because the admission is made in the face of his natural motive to avoid anything harmful to himself.  Each of these presumptions is rebuttable by evidence to the contrary.

            The dilemma a Hillary candidacy faces is that almost anything favorable said, whether true or false, by her or her political associates about her personal characteristics will necessarily be in the nature of a “self-serving declaration.”  On the other hand, at least three presumptively credible sources paint quite a distasteful picture of her.  There are others, but we will limit our discussion here to three of the most prominent (while reviewing the two books).  All three have had abundant opportunity to observe her over a period of years.  At least to all appearances, one is in a position that would go far to assure his objectivity.  The other two are in positions that would make it improbable that they are fabricating a negative portrait of her, because what they say runs contrary to the biases they would normally be expected to have. 

            The first of the three “speaking against Hillary’s interest” is Gary Aldrich, who served as a member of the two-man FBI team posted in the White House during the final two years of President George H. W. Bush’s administration and during the first three years of President William Clinton’s presidency.  Aldrich wrote the 1996 book Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House after Aldrich’s retirement in 1995.[1]  His account was not centered on Hillary per se, but there was much that involved her.  Among many other things, he told how on Inauguration Day in 1993, she and the new president screamed at each other; how they frequently raged between themselves and at the staff; how they spoke more or less constantly in obscene language; how one of the White House insiders told Aldrich of an affair between Hillary and White House counsel Vincent Foster; how Hillary insisted that staff members not look at her; and that Hillary in 1993 obtained and displayed Christmas tree ornaments from art students from around the country that included male figurines with large erections, drug paraphernalia, “cock rings,” and condoms. 

            Clinton presidential advisor George Stephanopoulous, in his book All Too Human (1999), dismissed Aldrich’s descriptions of Hillary’s and others’ behavior in the Clinton White House as “either silly, specious, or provably false.”   As we have said, it won’t be the purpose of this review to decide which, as between Aldrich and Stephanopoulous, is telling the truth.  A neutral observer will note, however, that, consistently with the reasoning in the law of evidence mentioned above, Aldrich’s account is at least presumptively in a stronger position to be believed than Stephanopoulous’s denials.  Both men were in a position to observe, but the reasoning underlying the law of evidence would say that they do not share equal standing in terms of ostensible credibility.  Aldrich’s position in what must necessarily have been a select FBI assignment provides reason to assume his objectivity; Stephanopoulous, however, has the unfortunate burden that anything favorable he says about Hillary is unavoidably in the nature of a “self-serving declaration.”

            The other two “speaking against Hillary’s interest” are the authors, respectively,  of the two books under review here.  Dick Morris, author of Rewriting History [which is in effect a critique of Hillary Clinton’s book Living History], says he “began working with Bill Clinton in 1977 as he was gearing up from his first race for governor [of Arkansas].”  Morris’ service to the Clintons as a political consultant continued until an estrangement between them in 1990.  He was brought back in 1994 after Bill Clinton became president, and helped prepare the 1995 and 1996 State of the Union addresses.  He reports that “my own feelings about the Clintons changed as I saw their tactics in defending against impeachment.”  Speaking of Hillary, he says “I worked closely with her for two decades.”  Accordingly, Morris was “in a position to observe.”  And for him to paint an unflattering picture of Hillary, who was in effect a client for so many years, seems to run counter to his own interests and to the partisan support he might (if he were not disillusioned) be expected to provide. 

            Edward Klein, author of The Truth About Hillary, ranks among the prominent journalists of our time.  Author of several books, he was at one time the editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine, and is a former foreign editor of Newsweek.  His “observing” was not through day-to-day contact with Hillary, but through a number of interviews.  Unfortunately (for the analysis of credibility), many of his sources chose to remain anonymous, and Hillary herself refused to be interviewed for the book.  Taken by itself, this puts a fair-minded observer in much the same position as someone reading one of Bob Woodward’s books: faith must be placed in the journalist, since there is little public accountability on the part of his sources. Two facts in particular, however, weigh on the side of Klein’s essential credibility: one is that a negative portrait of Hillary seems so evidently to run counter to the political preferences and ideology of both the New York Times and Newsweek, with whom Klein’s career has been closely tied; the other is that Klein’s account so fully agrees with that of both Aldrich and Morris, with the result that their credibility reinforces his own.  There is, so to speak, corroboration “by triangulation.”

            Morris and Klein give virtually the same picture of Hillary Clinton.  Here are theits essential features of what they have to say:

            1.  That Hillary has a carefully cultivated “public face” that changes from time to time based on what will be politically most acceptable.  Calling her (as he does Bill) a “master of subterfuge,” Morris says “she conceals her motives and ambitions beneath a mask that bears no real resemblance to how she acts when the cameras are off.”  Most recently, she has been “friendly, open, giggly, practical, family-oriented, caring, throughtful, unflappable, balanced and moderate.”  For his part, Klein seconds all of this, saying that Hillary has undergone many makeovers, and that she is “a master of reinvention.”  Her “bubble was unique, because it was designed to conceal her moral imperfections.”

            2.  That Hillary’s “hidden side” or “true nature” is very different from that public face.  Morris points to her “paranoid style of politics—ruthless, angry, moralistic, and dogmatic.”  He speaks of her “insecurity” and says that for her “all politics is personal,” leading her to “ruthlessly oppose those who disagree with her.”  He takes particular offage at her hiring private detectives, which Morris considers a threat to civil liberties, to “scour the backgrounds” of her (or her husband Bill’s) adversaries, including the women with whom Bill has consorted and who could emerge as sources of political trouble.  Analyzing the root cause of this mixture of insecurity, antagonism and duplicity, Morris says “her problem seems to be that, on some level, she believes we won’t like who she is.”   Klein agrees, saying that Hillary “was brought up… to believe that she was stronger, smarter, and better than everyone else.” He concurs that she is “closed, guarded, careful.”  She is, he says, a perfectionist who needs “iron control over the lives of others as well as her own.”

            3.  At the same time, Morris and Klein tell of Hillary’s strengths. Morris says “she is: an aggressive, brainy, substantive, policy-wonkish lawyer with a serious ideology and commitment to social causes and core Democratic Party ideals” [although Morris himself never relates in detail what is necessarily the wide-ranging content and implications of those causes and ideals].  “Hillary is a great manager.  She keeps her focus on the main objective, and delegates authority and power well.”  Years of experience have made her “one of the best and most hard-nosed political strategists and tacticians in politics today.”  Klein’s observations are similar: Hillary, he says, has “an awesome ability to absorb complex information” and to master local issues.  Although she was once a poor speaker, “she honed her oratorical skills to the point where she is now one of the best public speakers in America.”

            4.  Both describe her as having a strong propensity to lie.  Morris tells how she advised him simply to deny that her husband, while governor of Arkansas, had on one then-recent occasion been violent toward him.  He recounts how during her campaign for the Senate seat from New York she appeared on the David Letterman show, where Letterman gave her a quiz to test her knowledge about New York state.  “Hillary would pretend to search her memory as Letterman asked each question,” but in fact had “been given the questions in advance.”  Klein says she knew otherwise when she denied the Lewinsky scandal charges by saying “certainly I believe they are false—absolutely.”  “With these words,… Hillary laid the foundation for all the lies that were yet to come.”  He tells how “she once told reporters that [Senator] Moynihan never held hearings on her health-care plan, when in fact he had held thirty such meetings.”  He quotes Senator Moynihan’s wife Liz as saying about Hillary that “she’s duplicitous… She can look you straight in the eye and lie, and sort of not know she’s lying.”  In sum, Morris says, “she has a real problem telling the truth.”

            5.  Hillary’s ideology, according to Morris and Klein, has long had a strong undercurrent of 1960s New Leftist cultural radicalism, while at the same time being modulated, transmogrifying into a sort of political centrism, as the situation first of her husband and most recently of herself has demanded it.  Her youthful flirtation with conservatism, when she campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964, soon gave way, Klein says, to the “seeds of a radical left-wing political philosophy… planted by her Methodist youth group minister.”  At Wellesley College, she took on a hippy look, “with big glasses, shapeless clothes, and hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in a month.”  One of her favorite publications was an underground New Left magazine so typical of that time; it promoted obscene language, ran a birthday card for Ho Chi Minh, and pictured “a pretty coed with an LSD tablet on her tongue.”  Klein recounts how at Wellesley Hillary experienced “the indelible imprint” of the college’s “long tradition of lesbianism.”  “Her role models were the strong-willed, ideologically passionate, sexually adventurous feminists.”  Klein explains that the lesbianism wasn’t necessarily physical (though for many it was, and has continued to be); it could be an asexual, ideological lesbianism.

            From Wellesley, she went on to law school.  Morris describes her as having been “a dedicated leftist at left-leaning Yale Law School.  In 1971, while a student, she was a law clerk for a California firm whose lead partner had once been the lawyer for the Communist Party.  “During her time at Yale Law School,” Morris says, “Hillary was especially active in defense of the Black Panthers,” eight members of which were charged with torture and murder.  “Hillary served as an editor of… an alternative leftist publication” that ran contributions by “William Kunstler, Charles Gerry (the lawyer representing the Panthers), and Jerry Rubin, who wrote… that… students ought to ‘kill our parents.’”

            While at Yale, she met and fell in love with Bill Clinton, who at the time was as scruffy as she was.  This led into the political life they have lived together in the ensuing years.  At first, she continued her frumpy look and even retained her maiden name.  But after her husband lost the race for reelection to the Arkansas governorship after his first term, “Hillary made a calculated decision to reorder her priorities,” according to Klein.  “Her feminist principles would be scuttled.  Even her politics, which were far too liberal for Arkansas, would be toned down.”  “Gone were the thick Coke-bottle eyeglasses… She wore makeup, a stylish dress, and sheer nylons….,” and acquired a Southern accent.  Politically, she brought in an adviser whose purpose was to move her husband “toward the center of the political spectrum.”  After the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a refashioning of the state’s school financing system, Hillary threw herself into the project, at which time, Morris says, “Hillary adopted a distinctly moderate tone.”  She infuriated the teachers’ union by insisting that teachers pass a test (but then, when “minority teachers flunked the test in high numbers,” she and Bill “adjusted the passing grade so that only 10 percent failed the test”).

            Klein says that “after Bill Clinton became president, Hillary reverted to form…She urged her husband to govern from the political left, even though he had been elected as a centrist.”  But after the lurch to the left and her misadventure in heading up an effort to create a national system of health insurance were largely instrumental in the Republican congressional victory in the 1994 elections, Klein says Hillary assumed a low profile, “keeping up an outward show that she was no longer a major player in the White House.”  This continued until the Lewinsky scandal in 1998, which caused Hillary to come forward into a major role in the defense of her husband.  Following her election to the Senate in 2000, she has again adopted a low profile, cultivating personal relationships within the Senate and devoting herself largely to political fund-raising for Democratic candidates all over the country, collecting political I.O.U.’s that have put her in, as Morris says, the far-front-runner position for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. 

            Although Morris and Klein both see Hillary as deeply committed to the Left (Morris speaks of her as “an ideoloque awaiting her moment”), it would seem from what they tell us that the substantive scope of her ideology is peculiarly narrow, focusing on women’s issues rather than on the infinitely broad range of subjects that would face her as president.  Morris says “Hillary has a core issue: the needs of women and children.”  Her priorities, he says, are “working women… gender discrimination… pregnant teenagers.”  Those who accept the Aldrich-Morris-Klein view of her and who seek to discover the broader reach of her thinking, will perhaps find it as a derivative of her psychic make-up.  We are told she sees things in Manichean terms as sharply divided between good and evil, keeps mental “enemies lists,” holds to “a paranoid style of politics,” and—perhaps most significantly—tends, according to Morris,  “to formulate her ideas based on the groups she opposes.”  Significantly, in this personalization of ideological, political conflict, all of her “core constituencies” are to the left, while all of “the groups she opposes” are on the right. There would accordingly be  strong reason to infer two things about the ideas that would guide her as president: first, that she would most congenially embrace the entire spectrum of ideas that cluster together to inform the modern Left; but, second, that she would be likely to continue the repeatedly  adaptive, chameleon-like recastings, moving rapidly toward whatever is politically demanded, that have been so characteristic of her past.

            6.  Both Morris and Klein give considerable detail about Hillary’s many scandals and what they describe as her avarice for luxuries.  We won’t rehearse that detail here.  What is most significant about that dimension, it would seem, if Morris’ and Klein’s view of her is to be credited, is that they suggest that a Hillary Clinton presidency might easily spin off into a maelstrom of cronyism, corruption and misguided direction.  It is Morris who provides the analysis: “The administration of Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) ranks as one of the most corrupt in American history.  Ominously, many of Hillary’s scandals bear a remarkable resemblance to those that ruined the reputation of the man who won the Civil War.  Grant himself, it should be noted, was scrupulously honest.  But… when he became president his head was turned by the luxury showered upon him by a grateful people in general, and by rich businessmen in particular.”  Grant “never probed too deeply into their motives and ambitions.  And, like Hillary, Grant’s family led him into scandal.”  Morris goes on to say that “Hillary’s acceptance of gifts from rich friends, and her willingness to open her White House and Camp David homes to them, parallels Grant’s infatuation with the wealthy.”   Nothing illustrates the role of family and of wealthy friends more than the pardon scandal.  Hillary’s brothers Hugh and Tony Rodham each played central roles, according to Morris, in securing pardons from President Bill Clinton for major crimes.  Another pardon went to Mark Rich, whom Morris describes as “a fugitive who fled the United States, renounced his American citizenship, and settled in Switzerland to avoid answering federal fraud charges.”  Both Rich and his “estranged wife” Denise donated large sums to Democratic causes as they “fought hard for the pardon.”  

            Morris suggests that a similar process may lead Hillary into exotic political excesses.  He says she approaches issues “with a grand theory.”  To this, he adds that “even with the best intentions, anyone who depends so thoroughly on grand theories will inevitably find herself in thrall to grand theoreticians—gurus, in common parlance.”  (The similarity of such a process to what has happened to the George W. Bush presidency in light of the central influence upon the president by a circle of neo-conservative “global hegemonists” is too striking to require mention.)

            An optimistic possibility is brought up by Morris near the end of his book, where he poses the question of “whether Hillary will grow.”  In light of what he has said, however, and of his own pessimistic assessments earlier in the book about precisely her capacity to change, one senses a certain artificiality about this seeming optimism, as though Morris were writing somehow for television’s always-edifying Hallmark Theater or concocting a “happy-ever-after” ending for a Brothers Grimm tale.        

 

                                                                                                 Dwight D. Murphey



[1] For a discussion of this book by Gary Aldrich, see the article “Presidents Kennedy and Clinton: Case Studies in American Condonation of ‘Twilight Behavior,’” by Dwight D. Murphey (this reviewer) in the Summer 1997 issue of this Journal, pp. 185-197.