A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton

by Carl Bernstein
Reviewed date: 2007 Jul 19
554 pages
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Carl Bernstein has a new book about Hillary Clinton. He was on The O'Reilly Factor a few weeks ago, to talk about what he learned in the seven years of investigating for the book. In the brief segment, he managed to contradict himself every time he opened his mouth.

O'Reilly: Did [Hillary Clinton] break the law?
Bernstein: Yes.
O'Reilly: OK. Good, I like this. How did she break the law?
Bernstein: She broke the law if, indeed, she perjured herself.
O'Reilly: Well, you just said she did break the law.
Bernstein: No. The special prosecutor determined that she did not. So he did not file the charge.
O'Reilly: So you think she did. But the special prosecutor, Ken Starr, said no.
Bernstein: That is co -- you know what? Let me be really straightforward. I don't think she broke the law. I think there was a time that she did not tell the truth.

So what's the real story? To find out, I read A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton. It is a meticulously researched, detailed biography. (There are 70 pages of end notes and references.) It gives insight into who Hillary Clinton is, what motivates her, what her goals are, and why she is so secretive.

The Journey
Bernstein's favorite metaphor is the journey. Hillary's life is a journey. She can't be pigeon-holed as a radical liberal, or a socialized health care nutjob. She can only be understood in the context of her personal journey. My understanding of Hillary Clinton was fairly limited. I could identify her as the proponent of the Clintons' failed attempt at socialized health care. Other than that, all I had was a vague feeling that she was too liberal. So when I heard Bill O'Reilly praising Bernstein's book as well-researched, I went right out and bought it. It was worth every penny.

Hillary Rodham, Republican
Most surprising to me is that she began her journey began as a Republican. This is probably due to her family upbringing. Her father was a staunch Republican who considered Democrats no better than Communists. By college, though, Hillary realized her views were no longer Republican.

Hillary Rodham, advocate for children
I assumed Hillary Clinton used her husband's career to gain her own entry into politics. I was wrong. Before she met Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham had already established her reputation nationally, as an advocate for family and children's rights. Her friends thought she could be elected a US Senator. When she married Bill Clinton, she gave up her Washington career to move to Arkansas, where the public demanded she play a traditional role as the governor's wife.

Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham, public servants
A theme that runs throughout A Woman in Charge is that of Bill and Hillary's deep desire to help the public. Both want to change the world for the better. Hillary Rodham went into law to change the world, one case at a time; Bill Clinton went into politics, to enact wholesale change. Both are genuinely seeking to help the most vulnerable. Theirs is not a quest for power for its own sake. Power is a means to an end. The goal is to do as much good--for the public--as possible.

Bill Clinton, candidate
Bill Clinton always had his eye on the Presidency. It was where he could do the most good. He considered running in 1988, but decided against it. One issue was the amount of time it would take away from his family life--both he and Hillary were determined to be good parents. The real reason, though, was that at that time, his problems with women would have sunk his campaign.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, co-President
During the first two years of Bill Clinton's presidency, Hillary wielded as much power as he did. All the major mistakes of his presidency during this time can be traced to Hillary. Hillary--feeling self-righteous as always, and that God was on her side--was unwilling or unable to listen to critics. She drove the health care agenda into the ground by

  1. Actively mistreating the press
  2. Formulating the plan in secret
  3. Deliberately not seeking the support of Republicans
  4. Refusing to compromise.

Bill Clinton could see she was headed for failure, but he couldn't overrule Hillary. He owed her. During the campaign, she had supported him steadfastly against (legitimate) accusations of womanizing. Only after Hillary's health care initiative was soundly defeated, and the Republicans took control of Congress, did Hillary remove herself from a day-to-day policy-making role in the White House. Bill Clinton's presidency was more effective after her exit.

Hillary Clinton, obfuscater
Hillary Clinton has a problem with the truth. As Bernstein presents it, Hillary does not trust the public to understand the truth in context. She would rather present her own version of the truth--not because she has anything dirty to hide, but because she's afraid that the press will spin it and the public will come away with the wrong impression. Years of relentless persecution by the press and by the Republicans have cemented Hillary's attitude.

Bill Clinton, amnesiac
Bill Clinton has a remarkable ability to make himself genuinely forget about incidents he'd rather not remember. Actions he wishes he hadn't taken are pushed out of his conscious mind. The examples Bernstein provides are all related to Bill Clinton's womanizing.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, blameless
The biggest failing of A Woman in Charge is that it tends to paint the Clintons as blameless. For example: Bernstein mentions some boxes of documents that the Clintons were able to keep sealed. Bernstein quotes several people as saying that if those documents had been released during the Whitewater investigation, Bill Clinton would have been forced to resign. Then Bernstein concludes the documents held nothing incriminating, and that the Clintons kept them sealed for no good reason. Really? It may be true, but that conclusion doesn't seem warranted by the facts that Bernstein presents.

Carl Bernstein, cheerleader
Bernstein's support for Hillary Clinton's policies is evident throughout the text. Her most spectacular policy failure was socialized health care. Bernstein painstakingly details how the Clintons managed to sink the health care initiative. Hillary's irrational secrecy; their disdain for Washington traditions, their mistreatment of the press, and Hillary's inability to compromise. Certainly these all played a part. But Bernstein never even entertains the idea that America didn't want or need socialized health care.

Hillary Clinton, Senator
Bernstein offers no real details on Hillary's Senate career. He offers some speculation: Hillary has learned from her mistakes. She has genuinely reformed, and is eager to make up for her earlier mistakes by reaching out the powerful people in Washington. Her moderate record reflects her real beliefs, which are influenced by her conservative Methodist upbringing.

Bah! A more rational explanation is that Hillary is rehabilitating her image and biding her time so she can be elected President. Her moderate voting record is less indicative of her true political persuasion than of a calculated attempt to avoid controversy so she can spring wholesale change when she becomes President. She's always considered herself on a righteous mission to fix the world, and is willing to stretch the truth and lie to achieve that goal. Bernstein examines that aspect of her character in detail, but seems oblivious that this might also apply to her Senate career.

Hillary Clinton, ?

O'Reilly: I have to tell you, I still don't know what to make of the woman even after -- even after reading the book. That's how complicated this woman is.
Bernstein: That's terrific.

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