Dan Brown better watch his back -- there's another potboiler threatening to take over the best-sellers list, and there's a possible sequel in the making. The cover of Carl Bernstein's book on Hillary Clinton, A Woman In Charge is more buttoned-up pantsuit than ripped bodice, but it's still pretty saucy. Get whips and leather out of your head, because when I say saucy I mean it in the way a real wonk means it: the steamy stuff here is in summaries being tied up in policy meetings, heated debate with health care consultants, and vying for dominant office space. There's no safety word when you're fighting to be in the West, rather than the East Wing. Bernstein notes that "with the notable exception of her husband's libidinous carelessness, the most egregious errors, strategic and tactical, of the Bill Clinton Presidency, particularly in its infancy, were traceable to Hillary," but people seem to be more interested in the juicy bits, committee hearings notwithstanding.
I spoke with the author today about what makes his book a must-read. With papers shuffling in the background, Bernstein told me: "What is so important is that we finally have a biography about Hillary. Until now it hasn't really been possible, partly because she's put up so many impediments, including her own book."
The book is causing some ruffled feathers and raised eyebrows, thanks to some choice interviews with compatriots of both President and Senator Clinton.
Betsey Wright, Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff while he was Governor of Arkansas, and the woman tasked with managing 'bimbo eruptions' during his 1992 campaign, pontificates on Bill's "ongoing inferiority complex... Bill Clinton has spent his whole life scared that he's white trash, and doing whatever he could to try to prove to himself that he isn't." She also dishes on the beginnings of his escapades: "I talked to Hillary several times during that period by phone, and we were pulling our hair about him. He was a mess. During one of the conversations she said, 'There are worse things than infidelity.'" Like divorce, perhaps?
Donna Shalala chimes in on the Clintons' stance as newbies in the Beltway: "They'd spent all of their adult lives in which they were the smartest people in the room. These were two extremely able people who had not really been tested before. So they really had to learn their way." The Clintons as little fish in the Big Pond of DC? Sounds like a prequel to me.
A quote from lawyer Mark Fabiani illuminates Hillary in the days of the Whitewater investigations: "She is so tortured by the way she's been treated that she would do anything to get out of the situation..." Hillary as a silky femme fatale, desperate to get away from da coppers? Suddenly we're in to some pulp fiction! M'yeah, see? I'd buy that if you're sellin' see? M'yeah!.
The Clintons managed to have their dirtiest laundry out on the line for everyone to see, and yet the general public is still mystified by them. Even with their personal lives made as public as can be, we're still not sure who they are or what they want. People are uneasy about Hillary for precisely that reason: they don't know why she's running, they don't know what she wants. A Woman In Charge draws on readers' curiosity: if Bill has the befuddling sheen of the presidency on him, Hillary is still downright mysterious. Juicy quotes might not explain who Hillary is to the voters, but they might just loosen people's corsets enough to get them in the mood to find out.