In February of 1998, in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, I interviewed Diane Blair about her dear friend Hillary Clinton.
Blair was ill then, suffering from cancer, but she was vehement about two things: that Hillary was a dynamite friend–smart, funny, thoughtful and loyal–and that the Clintons had a real marriage. She told me a story about the two of them getting into a wild, screaming fight over some obscure policy issue, a fight so intense that she was beginning to get embarrassed and thought about making for the door…when Bill took Hillary’s face in his hands, looked over to Blair and said, “Isn’t she amazing?”
And so I wasn’t expecting much dirt from the Diane Blair papers, even though they were splashed internationally on Drudge on Sunday, with a big SCANDAL headline. And I wasn’t disappointed: not much there, except Hillary’s stiletto discription of Lewinsky as a “narcissistic loony tune.” Indeed, the “editor” of the “publication” that “broke” this story described the then-First Lady as “surprisingly human.”
To which I can only ask: Why surprisingly? I’ve known Hillary Clinton for nearly 30 years now. I wouldn’t say I know her particularly well, but well enough to describe her in an entirely different way–as relentlessly human. She has been willing to get really angry in my presence (I didn’t like her health plan). She has been willing to have open, questioning discussions about policy. She has, at times, displayed a wicked sense of irony; she has, at other times, admitted to having been badly hurt by the public reaction–the spitting, the invective–that splattered her 1994 health plan speaking tour. She has a profoundly goofy okey-dokey-artichokey personal manner; she is an extremely hard worker and clear thinker. She really cares about people, including the people on her staff, all of whom would stop a bullet for her. I’m not nearly cynical enough to attribute these qualities to pretense. She is obviously ambitious and can, at times, be ruthless–but so what? She is one of the finest people I’ve known in public life. (Which is not to say that I don’t think she may have some real problems running for President, problems of insufficient boldness and sometimes being just plain wrong–but that’s a different story.)
Oh, and one other thing: She loves her husband. The marriage is not a “partnership.” She loves the guy. Indeed, one of the saddest intimacies of the Blair papers was the implication the Clinton blamed herself, in a way, for the Lewinsky disaster.
My overwhelming reaction to the release of the Blair papers was sadness–sadness because I remember Diane Blair fondly, the sort of smart, level-headed person I’d want as a friend. But also because it brought back the disgraceful bilge volcano of the Clinton years–the non-stop garbage peddled and sleazed by Drudge and Rush and the then frisky young Fox Network, the fact that the Clintons were accused of drug-trafficking, murder, financial scandals and all sorts of vile craziness–none of which proved to be true. And no apologies have ever been forthcoming from the greasy perps.
In the end, Bill Clinton’s behavior toward women was primitive and embarrassing. He defiled the Oval Office…but looking back, he wasn’t a half-bad President, was he?
It would be profoundly sad if all this manure were dredged up yet again. If Hillary Clinton does run for President, she should be examined carefully–as a public servant, not as a demonic caricature. She’s far better than that; I hope we are, too.