The Blog


11:00 PM, Oct 27, 1996 • By MIDGE DECTER
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Of the making of books about the lives and loves of the 42nd president of the United States and his first lady there seems to be no end. Why this should be the case is not quite so easy to answer as some might think. True, Clinton's presidency has been dogged by scandal -- sexual, financial, and political -- and scandal is fast becoming the great profit center of the American publishing industry. On the other hand, as the present quadrennial silly season nears its end, there is good reason to believe that large numbers of the consumers of these books will be quite prepared to cast their ballots without reference to any of the misbehavior that they have with such voracious appetite been reading about. They will have gobbled up the stories of Bill Clinton's sexual frivolities and all-around light-mindedness along with those of Hillary Rodham Clinton's heedless and aggressive campaign to hold herself above the law, and yet they will march themselves to the polling place and cheerfully vote to keep the Clintons in the White House. In short, they may be licking their chops as readers, but as citizens they seem to be unmoved.

The latest contribution to this general puzzlement is David Brock's long and at times wearyingly detailed portrait of Mrs. Clinton, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham (Free Press, 422 pages, $ 26). Unexpectedly, for those familiar with Brock as the man who authored a book exposing the lies of Anita Hill as well as a famous article in the American Spectator bringing to light some of the less appetizing aspects of President Clinton's compulsive womanizing back in Arkansas, this book turns out to be not an expos but rather a gentlemanly defense of a lady Brock believes has been too much maligned.

The story, as Brock tells it, goes roughly like this. Hillary Rodham, highly earnest and socially conscious midwestern Methodist girl, attends Wellesley in the '60s, where she proves to be not only brilliant but a leader and where she finds her true radical calling. From there she goes to -- where else? -- Yale Law School. At Yale, she acquires the necessary professional standing with which to express her now more mature and even more heated passion for social justice. She also meets and settles down to keep house with a young man who harbors in his breast the very highest of political ambitions. He has the charm and originality she lacks, while she has the dedication and organizing drive he lacks. (In the metaphor offered to Brock by Guido Calabresi, who taught them, he was "a hot bath" and she was "a cold shower.")

When the time comes for the two new-minted lawyers to go out into the world, he heads home to Arkansas to set upon the course that will one day bring him the highest prize in the land. She, however -- so David Brock tells us -- is torn. On the one hand, there is her already highly burnished love of social activism, which she will express through her work for the Watergate committee in an effort to impeach Richard Nixon, not to mention her eventual chairmanship of both the Children's Defense Fund and the Legal Services Corporation. On the other hand, there is the deep temptation to her soul involved in the recognition that she is indispensable to Bill Clinton's political career.

Plagued by ambivalence, she consults friends about whether she should actually marry Clinton and risk burying herself in the alien wasteland of Arkansas. Some, staunch feminists like her, predictably say no. But to make the author's long, indeed needlessly long, story short, she follows her heart in both directions. While continuing to look out for the welfare of the poor and the children on the national scene, she marries him and takes over the management of his political career, which from time to time, whenever deprived of her special determination, threatens to falter.

She also goes to work in a Little Rock law firm in order to support the family, the governorship of Arkansas being a job that pays only $ 38,000 per year. She does not actually seem to work very hard at lawyering, there being so many works for the social good on her plate. But little by little she does manage to see to it at least that the Clintons are not hard up.

Now, after serving his first term as governor, Bill -- who only a short time before has been known to the citizens of Arkansas as "Wonder Boy" -- loses a reelection bid. This induces in him a terrible funk, while she merely rolls up her sleeves and sets about organizing his comeback. Two years later he is governor again, and thanks to her successful guidance remains so until he and she are ready to turn their attention -- aided both by his widening circle of buddies and her so carefully amassed Rolodex -- to his future presidency.