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Risky business for GOP raising Lewinsky affair


Publication: The Day

Published February 16. 2014 4:00AM
Doug Mills/AP Photo
Chelsea Clinton with her parents, President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, in 2000 as they walk to Marine One on the South Grounds of the White House. The family was going to visit longtime Arkansas friend, Diane Blair, who was ill and would die later that year.
Precedent has been set for the messenger to get the blame

How responsible is a wife for the betrayal of her husband?

In the case of Hillary Clinton, the answer is a lot, according to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Sen. Rand Paul. They got delicious material to use in their effort from exchanges between Clinton and her best friend Diane Blair. Blair died at 61 in 2000. Her husband donated her papers to the University of Arkansas, where they were reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website.

The charge against Hillary is that she was an enabler, not a victim, of her husband's extramarital affairs, a long string of which culminated in the White House encounters with Monica Lewinsky.

Recalling a 1998 conversation, Blair wrote: "HRC insists, no matter what people say, it was gross inappropriate behavior but it was consensual (was not a power relationship) and was not sex within real meaning."

As engrossing as it is to get inside Hillary's mind, to use Bill Clinton's behavior against Hillary requires that you think she let the philandering happen, that she somehow deserved it (she's often portrayed as cold and withholding), that she did nothing to stop it, blamed the other woman, and through it all, didn't suffer.

Her first reaction about Monica was the one many of us would have: This can't be true; surely, not in the Oval Office (or the adjoining study), surely not with an employee; surely not someone young enough to be his daughter. Then came the second thought: How do I protect Chelsea, calm the rabble hounding us on the front lawn night and day, keep our enemies from using it?

What she didn't do was leave. But since when do we punish people for not breaking up their marriages? Aren't Republicans the family values folks? And her instinct was to believe her husband above the women with whom he strayed. Who wouldn't?

Still these remembrances from Blair show Hillary to be ready to attack women to defend her husband, guilty to all but her. She believed too long, defended too strenuously, and lined up with women's groups who wouldn't ordinarily be siding with a public official who treated women so badly.

Most damaging to her is that it wasn't just aides such as Sidney Blumenthal who described Monica as a crazed, spurned groupie as she stormed the Northwest gate, waiting in the pouring rain to be admitted. It is chilling to read Blair's telling of how Hillary damned Lewinsky as a "narcissistic loony tune," even after she knew the intern was telling the truth.

Even worse, when it wasn't Hillary's marriage imperiled and in the cool light of day, she takes after "whiny women" who were (rightly) accusing Democratic Sen. Bob Packwood of sexual aggression. Her reaction is knee-jerk, and she is looking out for the support in Congress for her health care effort, not the young girls Packwood went after.

This plays into the assessment of Clinton's own pollsters that while Bill came across as slick, she came across much worse, as "too politically ambitious, too strong, and too ruthless."

There's a lot to read in Blair's papers, aside from the R-rated. The inner thoughts of the Clintons are on display as they found themselves in the crucible of Washington, a foreign country that surprised them with its hostility. Ever since Bill Clinton "took office they've been going thru personal tragedy ([the death of] Vince [Foster], her dad, his mom) and immediately all the ugly forces started making up hateful things about them, pounding on them."

As with most things Hillary, her behavior and the reaction of those who would defend her is as mixed as is she, a combination of Lady Macbeth and a Methodist Mother Teresa gathering up a village to save the world. There is a lot here to damn Hillary for as she combined wife, mother and first lady to deal with the perfidy of her husband with no privacy (she didn't even have that with Blair) and a cracked, if not broken, heart.

Before Republicans go full hog on this tack they might recall two things. One is that Hillary's poll numbers were in low single digits before Monica and but for Monica might not have risen enough for her to run for, and win, a Senate seat in New York.

The other is that sometimes the messenger is tarred by the message.

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.

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