After Diane Blair died in 2000, the prominent University of Arkansas political-science professor’s papers were archived at the school she had called home for most of her professional life. When the archives were made open to the public in 2010, Hillary Clinton — her best friend and subject of many of her musings — recorded a video honoring Blair’s life and work.
Pages from Blair’s papers were sent to TIME on Monday by the University of Arkansas’s Special Collections Library, after an initial report of their contents on a conservative blog ripped across the web on Sunday night. Despite some early interpretations to the contrary, the papers represent a collection of thoughtful reflections and evolving positions on Clinton’s part, rather than a smoking gun of anything damning, or even surprising. But they do offer a colorful look into the thoughts of the former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and possible 2016 presidential candidate.
Did Clinton first privately advocate a single-payer program for health care reform 21 years ago? Apparently she did, but she didn’t believe in it enough to go public with that assertion. Was she annoyed that the Bosnian War distracted from her health care fight? She kvetched to her best friend that she was, but publicly she strongly supported the war effort. Did she intermittently loathe Washington’s social circuit, Congress and the press? Yes, but no one needed Blair’s diaries to show that. “Every human being has lots of thoughts all day long, and you’ll never be able to capture all of them,” says Kiki McLean, a longtime Clinton friend. “Like a lot of things in politics people will want to project meaning in those archives that have little to do with the context of the experience at that day and at that time.”
For those who loved the USA Network television show Political Animals — starring Sigourney Weaver as a former First Lady turned Secretary of State modeled after Clinton — for its voyeuristic quality of what we always imagined Clinton might sardonically say in a closed room about everything from her husband’s infidelities to health care to Vince Foster’s death, these papers are a treasure trove. But in terms of policy and news, Hillary and Bill Clinton’s own voluminous writings are much more revealing.
The papers were first disclosed by the Washington Free Beacon. A PDF of some of the papers can be found here. Below are three mostly chronological takeaways revealed within the trove of almost 2 million documents.
Two for One
From the very beginning of Bill Clinton’s insurgent 1992 bid for the presidency, the couple knew they were running an outside-the-box campaign, particularly with respect to Hillary’s role. Going back to March 1992, the campaign was struggling to define her role and how she should campaign, comment on policy and attack opponents. The Clintons ultimately ran on a platform of getting “two for the price of one,” or two co-Presidents on one ticket. But their staffs warned as early as May 1992 that tying Bill and Hillary so closely together held inherent strengths and dangers.
Excerpts from an eight-page memo on Hillary by pollsters Celinda Lake and Stan Greenberg on May 12, 1992:
“If voters did not see [Bill] as weak politically, they might view Hillary’s strength in a more positive light and her role as less salient …
“While voters genuinely admire Hillary Clinton’s intelligence and tenacity, they are uncomfortable with these traits in a woman. She needs to project a softer side — some humor, some informality.
“[T]hey also fear that only someone too politically ambitious, too strong, and too ruthless could survive such controversy so well.”
Their conclusion: “What voters find slick in Bill Clinton, they find ruthless in Hillary.”
Everyone Hates Washington
The fact that Bill and Hillary Clinton had a rough transition from Little Rock to Washington is no secret. Asked by Hillary to create a timeline of her first terrible year in the White House, Blair documents their frustrations in their first 18 months in office. She notes repeatedly how much disdain Hillary had for Congress, Bill’s staff and the press. Please note all typos and misspellings in these outtakes are from the source documents.
March 4, 1993 HC baffled and angered by DC attitude and ways
April 23, 1993: HC adamant; BC must devise new outside strategy; we’re getting killed. Congress a bunch of whiners; no courage. Her health care plan will save billions in long run but cost big $ up front. Don’t work; only 3 days a week; only care for reelection. After 90 days Cong. has passed 7 n-brainer bills. BC clearly not ver y happy w/ his own crew and advisers. HC urging hard ball
May 11, 1993: HC exasperated by super=slow decision-making in West Wing but can’t keep nagging and pushing Bill.
May 19, 1993: [Saint Hillary piece by Michael Kelley is published]. HRC says press has big ego’s and no braisn and they’re just going to have to work them better; that her staff has figured it out and would be glad to teach BC’s staff (but still tension between them).
May 22 or 23, 1993: Visit to Sharon Rockefeller’s and lengthy discussion of superficiality of DC scene; most US senators diseased from egomania.
HC dumbfounded by people who look her in eye and lie to her.
July 28, 1993: (eight days after Hillary confidante and deputy White House counsel Vince Foster is found dead) HC says it’s time to stop complaining about DC and its insane process and just figure out how to make the crappy thing work.
HC still in despair that nobody in WH tough and mean enough.
Sept 26, 1993: [Ahead of Hillary’s three days of testimony before Congress on health care reform] She’s begun to see that they don’t really care about the issues but want to feel they’re part of the process. So she’s slobbering over their “craft” as she testifies.
Dec. 3, 1993: [Oregon Republican Senator Bob] Packwood—HC tied of all those whiney women, ans she needs him on health care. I told her I’d been bonding with creeps, she said that was the story of her whole past year.
Jan. 22, 1994: Camp David work on State of Union; she reviews, takes out, he puts back in
HC furious at speechwriters
April 2, 1994: Mostly, talked about how should she deal with all this shit. She thinks she’s gotten thru some of her anger; is maybe about ready to meet the press (tho she’s concerned she’s more combative than Bill and won’t be able to handle things so causally and low-key).
Mostly, she can’t figure out why these people out there so anxious to destroy them.
May 17, 1994
HC furious at BC ruining himself and the presy. She keeps trying to shape things up, knows what’s wrong, but he can’t fire people, exert discipline, punish leakers—throws tantrums, but when does nothing lowers their respect Now so desperate offered t loan them Maggie [Williams, a long time Hillary aide] but BC mad—now you do it. Never has strategy for Whitewater, troopers, Paula. Self-inflicted wounds. Inability to organize, make tough choices, drives her nuts.
[In a long call with Blair, Clinton vented her frustration at her current role]
She has come to the conclusion that no matter what she does she is going to piss off some people, so will just continue to be herself and let everyone else make whatever adjustments they have to. “I’m a proud woman” “I’m not stupid; I know I should do more to suck up to the press, I know it confuses people when I change my hairdos, I know I should pretend not to have any opinions—but I’m just not going to. I’m used to winning and I intend to win on my own terms”
“I know how to compromise, I have been compromised. I gave up my name, got contact lenses. But I’m not going to try to present to be someone that I’m not.”
[Clinton lamented she had] no real power to do anything. I can be an advocate, a cheerleader, a nag, an enthusiast. But no real power
What she really enjoys is policy. Doesn’t enjoy advocacy. I’d be happy in a little office somewhere thinking up policies, making things happen, refining them
Press are complete hypocrites.
On her deathbed, wants to be able to say she was true to herself and is not going to do phoney makeovers to please others.
Inside the Clintons’ Marriage
The Clintons’ marriage has long been the subject of much speculation. Is it real? Fake? Why did she stay with him? Blair’s notes are revealing in how affectionate the two were with each other and how much they depended on each other. They also presented the world with “masks” that they rarely took off, even among close staff and friends. Blair also has a revealing look at Hillary’s mind-set following impeachment and why she decided to stay with Bill:
Feb 23 1993 dinner: Bill “tenderly hugging and thanking HC for sucking up to all thos ego’s nd taking all this shit”
March 19, 1993 BC told me last 2,3 months hideously stressful, and has really never had a break since campaign. Said when he named W. Christopher to state, screwed up the transition. Said that HC also under great stress, and that he hadn’t had time to really take care of her, be3 good to ech other, expect to acknowledge mutual stress
April 24, 1993: [Attorney General Janet] Reno wants to communication with HC directly.
finds her a “mask”
Dec 3, 1993: Call from BC on road: very, very affectionate
September 9, 1998: [This is following a rough year of Monica Lewinsky and impeachment]
Here’s where she is. Is having to separate two very different thi ngs
a) the personal—he has been her best friend for 25 years, her husband for 23 years, they’r econnected in every way imaginable, she feels strongly about him and family and Chelsea nad marriage and she’s just got to try and work it through. She is not trying to excuse him; it was a huge personal lapse. And she is not taking responsibility for it. But, but, she does say this to put his actions in context. Ever since he took office theyve been goin through personal tragedy (Vince, her dad, his mom) and immediately all the ugly forces started making up hateful things about them, pounding on them. They adopted strategy, public strategy, of acting as tho it didn’t’ bother them; had to. She didn’t realize the toll it was taking on him.
She has staff she can vent with, can call Starr a sob, etc; she has friends like me she totally and completely trusts. He does not. Anything he says gets leaked to the world. She thinks she was not smart enough, not sensitive enough, not free enough of her own concerns and struggles to realize the price he was paying.
It was a lapse, but she says to his credit he tried to break it off, tried to pull away, tried to manage someone who was clearly a “narcissistic loony toon”; but it was beyond control. And, HRC insists, no matter what people say, it was gross inappropriate behavior but it was consensual (not a power relationship) and was not sex within any real meaning (standup, liedown, oral, etc.) of the term. As an aside, they got a letter fro ma psychologist who does family therapy and sexual infidelity problems: most men with fidelity problems raised by two women and felt conflicted between them he’d read about Bill’s bio; grandmother despised Virginia, tried to get custody of Bill; Bill adored by his mother but she left him, etc etc
b) public sperspective—she’s loyal, thinks its appalling the hypocrisy, what is being done to the country, to constitution. Bill has done brilliant things as president, she believes in those issues and causes and will continue to fight for them.
So she’s in it for long haul. Party because she’s stubborn; partly her upbringing; partly her pride—but, mostly because she knows who she is and what her values and priorities are and she’s straight with those—she really is okay.