A layered, thoughtful, critical biography of the woman who, at this writing, seems poised to become the 44th president of the United States.
Hillary Clinton, to read between of-Watergate-fame Bernstein’s (Loyalties: A Son’s Memoir, 1991, etc.) lines, is a political cyborg, clinically devoted to remaking her image in order to appear to best political advantage, quick to shed ideology for expedience. Many of those who knew her in the White House, as first lady, consider her intellectually outclassed by her foxy husband, himself no stranger to image-remaking and self-serving expedience; her strengths there lay in organization and hard work, not in dazzling displays of dialectic. Bernstein lays many of her husband’s failures, but not failings, at her door, “not just her botched handling of their health care agenda, or the ethical cloud hovering like a pall over their administration, but so many of the stumbles and falls responsible for sweeping in the Congress led by Newt Gingrich in 1994 and ending the ambitious phase of their presidency.” A vast right-wing conspiracy faces Hillary, to be sure. It always has, beginning with her father, hypercritical and oppressive; happily, Bernstein resists the temptation to practice psychobiography without a license, but the influence on her adult life seems fairly clear even without such commentary. (Welfare reform? Tell it to a father who refused to give her an allowance because she already ate and slept for free.) Bernstein attributes to Clinton, too, a rather grim ethic of salvation through work, and he well documents her essential conservatism and humorlessness; the spice in all that is the thought that it is her job to save her husband from himself, despising his weakness all the while, even as the two formed “a single, intertwined governmental and martial power,” one that may continue after a Bush interregnum.
And as to Vince Foster, and Whitewater, and rumors of Sapphic revels, and vengeful calculation, and overweening ambition? Never fear: They’re all to be found in Bernstein’s revealing, admiring, often surprising book.