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'No one can make me laugh the way Bill does'

June 13, 2003 21:59 IST

After having denied for many weeks that he had done anything improper with Monica Lewinsky, President Bill Clinton, hounded by independent counsel Kenneth Star, finally confessed to his wife that he had a sporadic sexual relationship with the intern. Then reluctantly, and a bit angrily, he owned up his philandering act to the nation in a televised speech.

Yet, America trusted him to run the country.

'Bill's standing in public opinion polls remained high,' writes Hillary Rodham Clinton in her new book, Living History. 'His standing with me had hit rock bottom.'

In one of the few passages in the book where she lets her rage over her husband's outrageous betrayal sear the pages in white-hot anger, Hillary recalls the vacation at Martha's Vineyard she had planned with her husband and daughter.

Though the vacation was the last thing she wanted, she still decided to go, mostly for Chelsea's sake, she reveals, even though she was outraged and humiliated by the truth.

'So Bill, Chelsea and I left for the island... Buddy, the dog, came along to keep Bill company. He was the only member of our family who was still willing to.'

The recollection is one of the few candid and heartfelt observations she offers in her 562 page memoir, which has neither any startling revelations nor deep and humble examinations of the mistakes the Clintons committed wittingly and unwittingly -- including how their evasions often infuriated investigators and made them even more determined to go after the couple. Much more than the charges of corruption, Clinton's presidency was rocked by the sexual harassment charges. Hillary hardly deals with them except, of course, with the Monica Lewinsky episode.

She wanted to 'wring Bill's neck,' she says, when he admitted his illicit sexual trysts in the White House. But, even as she was 'privately working on forgiving Bill,' her task was made easier by her fury 'at those who had deliberately sabotaged him.'

As for the oft-asked question as to why she has stayed married to Clinton (for three decades), she offers an explanation which we have heard before in other contexts:

'All I know is that no one understands me better and no one can make me laugh the way Bill does,' she writes. 'Even after all these years, he is still the most interesting, energising and fully alive person I've ever met.'

The book, which fetched her an $8 million advance, sold 200,000 copies on June 9, the day of its release, and has reportedly sold 100,000 copies in the next two days.

Only a handful of writers get such an advance -- Mary Higgins Clark gets about $12 million and Stephen King and John Grisham each get about $8 million. Simon & Schuster has to sell at least 1.5 million copies of the $28 book to recover the advance. Owners of several New York and San Francisco bookshops expect it to be a bestseller for several months.

But this could also be a case of the gone-today-back-tomorrow phenomenon that happens in the case of some highly controversial or awaited books. Thousands of copies are sold within the first few days of publication, but a substantial number of them are returned -- as it happened with Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses -- a few days later.

Those who watched Hillary on the Barbara Walters show don't really have to read the book. She has nicely summarised it on the show.

Hillary doesn't dazzle either by her prose or by the anecdotes. In fact, the book is clumsily written in many parts and contains so many cluttered details about issues close to her heart (such as health care reform) that make for a prodding read. There are too many loose sentences: 'A hand-printed poem written by...' Or, 'the poem struck a chord with the audience members.'

Mrs Clinton uses over six pages to recall her visit to the subcontinent with her daughter Chelsea. She was remarkably moved and impressed by the work being carried out by Ela Bhatt and her associates, who have been empowering women for many years through their organisation, the Ahmedabad-based Self Employed Women's Association. On one day, thousands of women came to listen to her. 'Ela Bhatt took the microphone and announced the women wanted to express their gratitude for my visit...'

'In a stunning flash of moving colour,' she writes, 'they all sprang up to their feet and began singing We shall overcome in Gujarati. I was overwhelmed and uplifted...'

In Nepal, mother and daughter started worrying about hygiene. 'Peace Corps members showed up to see me wearing tee shirts that listed all the diseases they had survived.' The hosts went out of their way to address her concerns, she writes. ''Mom, you won't believe what the Secret Service agents told me,' Chelsea says. 'They said the hotel pool was drained before we arrived and refilled with bottled water!''

None of these recollections will amuse or impress Clintons' foes.

Linda Tripp, who made public the shocking sob story Lewinsky had told her, has not commented on the book. But Lucianne Goldberg, a friend of Tripp and a book agent, told The New York Post she does not believe Simon & Schuster will recoup its investment.

'The public has reached critical mass with these hypsters, Bill and Hillary,' she said. 'We don't care about her hair or her marriage,' she continued, adding she would like to see a 'honest version' of the many controversies that had swirled around the Clinton administration.

As for Hillary claiming she did not know the truth about Lewinsky till the last days, she said she simply couldn't buy the assertion. 'It was Hillary who instituted the Bimbo Brigade, private detectives going around getting ladies to sign affidavits [saying] they never had an affair with Bill.'

Even The New York Times, a reliable Democratic Party supporter that had nevertheless publishing scathing pieces on the Clintons, has reservations about the book. In fact, their review slammed the book. So did an editorial. 'Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's new book is a reminder that the memoir -- and especially the mid-career political memoir -- is an inherently insincere art form,' the editorial said. 'Often she writes as if she were filling in a resume...'

When it comes to candour and self-examination, Hillary does not mention anything about her sexuality, if she had been tempted or if she ever had an affair.

The day after the Barbara Walter interview, a reporter asked her if she had been faithful.

Hillary Rodham Clinton wasn't flustered or angry. Her answer would be the same one Roselyn Carter gave when she was posed a similar question many years ago. Apparently she had been asked about fidelity after her husband, the presidential candidate, had confessed in an interview with Playboy magazine that he had committed adultery in his heart. Mrs Carter had said she would not tell the reporter even if she indeed had an affair. And that was Mrs  Clinton's response as well.

Image: Rahil Shaikh

Buy Hillary's memoir, Living History

Arthur J Pais