June 23, 2005


I wrote the following for the new issue of the L.A. Weekly, out today:

Edward Klein’s new book on Hillary Clinton, published this week, bears the portentous title The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go To Become President. It has been the object of carefully nurtured buzz: Matt Drudge touted it Bill_and_hillary as a book that could “destroy” Hillary’s presidential ambitions, and mega-right Web sites like NewsMax have gushed similar hype. Vanity Fair, for which Klein scribbles with some regularity, ran an excerpt with extravagant fanfare. And the book is already #2 on Amazon's best-seller list, thanks largely to conservative promotions. Alas, this rather slim, air-filled volume — many chapters are only three pages long — is a very wet firecracker indeed.

Up until now, the single best book on the Clintons and their gaping ethical lapses remains Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America by former National Security Council staffer Roger Morris, which unfortunately ends after only a year and a half of the Clintons’ co-presidency (and from which Klein borrows copiously, as his footnotes indicate). A serious, full-scale political biography of Hillary that would include the rest of the Clinton White House years and her Hillary_clinton Senate service is certainly overdue. But Klein’s book — a snarling, rabidly sensationalist pamphlet with precious little of substance that is new — is not it.

The book’s subtitle refers to Bill Clinton’s sexual adventures (already finely dissected in Christopher Hitchens’ infinitely better No One Left To Lie To — a book curiously omitted from Klein’s “selected bibliography”). Klein, a former editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine, devotes a huge chunk of his book to disproving Hillary’s assertions of what she knew about Bill’s affairs over the years and when she knew about Monica Lewinsky, his “little humidor,” as Jay Leno once dubbed the onetime White House intern. Here’s how Klein puts it:

. . . Hillary decided to spin an implausible tale . . . In her memoir Living History . . . she wrote that on the morning of August 15 [1998], her husband woke her up and “told me for Bill_and_monica the first time that there had been an inappropriate intimacy” with Monica Lewinsky. “I could hardly breathe,” she wrote. “Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him.” But her version of events was not credible. Months before, Hillary had taken charge of the White House’s damage-control operations. She ran the meetings that prepped Bill Clinton for his grand jury testimony. She asked Robert Shrum, the highly regarded Democratic wordsmith, to write a mea culpa Bill_and_hilary speech for the President to deliver on national television. She then vetoed Shrum’s speech, because she found it too conciliatory, and instead urged her husband to “come out and hammer Ken Starr.” She saw the headline in The New York Times of August 13 — two days before her husband’s alleged bedside confession to her about Monica — that said: PRESIDENT WEIGHS ADMITTING HE HAD SEXUAL CONTACTS. The fact of the matter was, Hillary knew everything — and she knew of it before anybody else.

Well, of course. But this is hardly a shocking revelation. That Hillary Monica_1 had long been in charge of tracking Bill’s extramarital sexual affairs has been known ever since Roger Morris detailed how she put Bill’s former gubernatorial chief of staff, Betsy Wright, in charge of what was called the “Bimbo Patrol” to compile dossiers on Bill’s girlfriends and pressure them into keeping quiet. The role of Hillary confidante Evelyn Lieberman — nicknamed “Mother Superior” when she was installed by Hillary as Bill’s deputy chief of staff to monitor his contacts with women, and who was the person responsible for reassigning Monica from the White House to the Pentagon to get her away from Bill’s cigar wielding — was endlessly chronicled during the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment proceedings. Klein is correct to say that “Hillary knew everything” — but again, it’s nothing new. Hillary_clinton_2_20050105

Instead of frothing like a 19th-century Comstockian prude at anyone in the book with an active sex life, Klein would have performed a valuable service had he dynamited the myth, perpetuated by the Clintons’ defenders, that the president’s private conduct had nothing to do with his governance. Quite the reverse was true.

As Clinton prepared to run for his second term several years in advance, it was Hillary who brought back to Bill’s inner circle Dick Morris, an ambulant cancer on the body politic and the turncoat Democratic strategist who had crossed the street to ply his trade for Trent Lott and the right-wing Republicans. Together, the prostitute-frequenting political consultant who had fathered a child out of wedlock and the serial-philandering president and his cynical wife made the full-blown “family values” presidency the overarching theme for securing a second Clinton term.

The charade was on: Clinton decided not to implement the lifesaving recommendations even of George H.W. Bush’s AIDS Commission, Bill let alone his own. He made permanent the ban on immigration by HIV-ers; capitulated to the religious right on explicit sex education and condoms in the schools, while his administration — and Hillary in particular — preached the failed fantasy of “abstinence”; threatened prosecution of doctors who prescribed medical marijuana for people with AIDS and other patients to restore their appetites; sided with the know-nothing obscurantists on the issue of clean needles against the unanimous advice of the medical and AIDS-prevention experts; signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law — and then campaigned on it in 1996 with stealth radio ads targeting the Bible Belt so they’d be under the radar for gay voters on the two coasts. And this is only a partial list of the concrete consequences of Bill and Hillary’s hypocrisy. Witch_1

In an apposite irony, Bill’s televised lies about his sex life with Monica, scripted with Hillary’s help, were beamed to the grand jury from the White House Map Room, site of those infamous fat-cat coffees where Clinton sold his soul to corporate America to get the money for the Clinton-Morris “family values” ad campaign. Thus did the twin hypocrisies meet: Clinton-policy Tartufferies were just as much a sham as “Putting People First,” which translated into putting the bond market first. Yet Klein is either too ignorant about policy, or too eager to pander to the conservative audience that is already making this book a best-seller, to delve into these substantive matters and connect them to Hillary’s active collaboration in the charade.

The author’s conservative bias shows throughout the book. For example, in a vain attempt to demonstrate that Hillary was, in her youth, “The Radical” (as one of his chapter headings has it), he makes much of Hillary’s readership of the now-defunct Methodist magazine motive. In Klein’s telling, he labels two who wrote for motive — the Ipanthers anti-war Catholic priest and advocate of nonviolence Daniel Berrigan and the noted civil-libertarian writer Nat Hentoff — both “Marxists,” which will be news to them. Klein hollers about Hillary’s supposed “fiery radicalism” while she was at Yale Law School — although he is able to produce no evidence of it, other than a couple of articles defending the Black Panthers, written by others, which were published in a law journal Hillary co-edited. Klein also devotes pages to implying (without ever coming right out and saying so) that Hillary is, or was, a lesbian. Thus, he writes of Hillary’s years as first lady of Arkansas: “To Arkansans, she walked like a lesbian, talked like a lesbian, and looked like a lesbian.” In fact, Klein sees lesbians everywhere; Hillary’s White House chief of staff Melanie Verveer is “mannish-looking”; another associate is “a Marlboro-Man-in-drag.”

Personally, I have little use for Hillary Clinton, and I’m appalled that the Democratic base has been taken in by her and thinks she’s a “liberal.” When the imprint she’s left on public life is carefully examined, it is that of an unprincipled opportunist who will say or do anything to achieve and hang on to power. Klein makes the latter judgment, but at the same time he pretends to find in Hillary a closet left-liberal who will swing the White House wildly to the left if she’s elected president. And he does so by ignoring much already on the public record, and with such exaggerated rhetoric, as to make this book quite useless to anyone who is not a right-wing Hillary hater.

THE TRUTH ABOUT HILLARY: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go To Become President | By EDWARD KLEIN | Sentinel | 336 pages | $25 hardcover

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