The big story

It’s a joke. We’ve had so many grand­fa­thers in the White House that to say, ‘You’re disqual­i­fied be­cause you are a grand­mother,’ is ridicu­lous, Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton tells Janice Turner

Friday - - Contents -


Is Amer­ica ready for grand­moth­erto-be Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton to move into the White House?

On the 19th floor of the Penin­sula Ho­tel in New York, Se­cret Ser­vice agents, stocky and un­smil­ing, stand sen­try by the lift, speak­ing into their cuffs. Even the ur­bane Man­hat­tan Pub­lish­ing PR is nervy and mi­cro­manag­ing. “You will have a couch,” he tells me firmly. “Sec­re­tary Clin­ton will be on a chair.”

The vibe is more G8 sum­mit than book launch. It has taken high lev­els of se­cu­rity clear­ance just for me to ac­quire Hil­lary Clin­ton’s new 600-page mem­oir,

Hard Choices. Even­tu­ally, just days be­fore my in­ter­view, it was biked to my house on con­di­tion I re­move the dust jacket if I read it on the plane.

What is at stake here – al­though no one says it – is more than press spoil­ers or dented sales. It is the most pow­er­ful elected of­fice in the world.

The night be­fore we meet, I watch Hil­lary Clin­ton be­ing in­ter­viewed by Diane Sawyer on CNN. She looks tired, de­fen­sive, al­ready em­bat­tled in a cam­paign that has of­fi­cially not yet be­gun. Her re­mark that she and Bill were so “broke” on leav­ing the White House they had to take lu­cra­tive speak­ing en­gage­ments just to pay Chelsea’s col­lege fees was grabbed glee­fully by her en­e­mies as a sign she is out of touch with vot­ers. The piti­less at­tack dog of 24/7 US TV news, which she evaded for four years as Pres­i­dent Obama’s for­eign fire­fighter, is once again snap­ping in her face. Who, at the age of 66, could stomach two more years of this?

But the woman who firmly shakes my hand looks re­laxed and recharged. She is slighter and softer in per­son, wears navy trousers with a cerise jacket the pre­cise shade of the roses po­si­tioned by her seat. She is warm, light­en­ing-wit­ted, with an un­ex­pect­edly ready laugh and that con­sum­mate politi­cian’s art of form­ing a ready con­nec­tion. She just loves my red Fendi bag. “Isn’t it fan­tas­tic?” she says to her press sec­re­tary and chief of staff who sit pertly on chairs to my left. “I have one in hot or­ange. It’s a great ac­cent colour.”

Her day, which be­gan with an hour-long drive from her home in up­state New York for Good Morn­ing

Amer­ica, has al­ready seen her give three in­ter­views. This af­ter­noon she will launch her book in Chicago, then re­turn to New York for more press. It seems re­lent­less, but she has an ap­petite above all for the crowd.

“I’m go­ing to do my first book sign­ing, which I’m very ex­cited about,” she says. I’d heard that the first per­son in line out­side Barnes & No­ble was a man. “We got a re­port from a friend of mine who was walk­ing by. That guy was there at like 10 o’clock at night.” That’s keen, I say. “Keen or weird!” says Clin­ton and lets rip a loud guf­faw.

That crowd await­ing her isn’t in­ter­ested in Hil­lary Clin­ton, au­thor: they want to meet the prob­a­ble first fe­male pres­i­dent of the United States. But will she run? She won’t say un­til af­ter the midterm elec­tions in Novem­ber. But she’d be 69 when she takes of­fice, as old as Rea­gan, in an era when lead­er­ship is ever more as­so­ci­ated with youth­ful vi­tal­ity. All that sprint­ing up the steps of planes or con­fer­ence plat­forms, I say. “Wear flat shoes, that’s my ad­vice,” says Clin­ton and laughs. “I think you can have in­di­vid­u­als of all ages, all back­grounds, all at­tributes, who ex­hibit en­ergy, and those that don’t. And, of course, people want to see en­ergy in their lead­ers. But I don’t think it’s so much age as how you con­duct yourself.”

And Chelsea will have her first child in the au­tumn. Isn’t it hard enough for Amer­ica to elect a woman, let alone a granny? “You know it’s al­most a joke that we’ve had so many grand­fa­thers in the White House that I think for some­one to say, ‘Well, in my mind you’re disqual­i­fied be­cause you might be a grand­mother,’ is just so ridicu­lous.” H er new book is a care­ful, com­mit­tee-writ­ten ac­count of her four years as sec­re­tary of state: an in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions text­book with scant per­sonal in­sights. Yet what shines through is Clin­ton’s joy in at last do­ing a job wor­thy of her in­tel­li­gence and ex­pe­ri­ence. No longer a cypher at her hus­band’s side, nor even a se­na­tor stuck in the sti­fling, stymied Wash­ing­ton ma­chine, she has her own govern­ment Boe­ing 757, fly­ing a mil­lion miles as diplo­matic su­per­hero.

Work­ing for Barack Obama, who’d beaten her in such a close, bit­ter Demo­cratic pri­mary race, showed

mag­na­nim­ity, her in­ter­na­tional pro­file gave her grav­i­tas, and a photo of Clin­ton in dark shades on a mil­i­tary plane to Libya, scowl­ing im­pe­ri­ously into her Black­Berry, gave rise to the in­ter­net meme “Texts from Hil­lary”, which even made her cool. In her Twit­ter bi­og­ra­phy, along with “FLOTUS [First Lady of the US]”, “US Se­na­tor”, “SecS­tate” and “glass ceil­ing cracker”, she lists “hair icon”. And to Clin­ton-watch­ers, her dis­avowal of the hel­met blow-dry, her long hair in a scrunchie as she emerged on to hot war-zone tar­mac, sig­ni­fied her free­dom at last from triv­ial and sex­ist judge­ments: Hil­lary Un­bound. More­over, the sec­re­tary of state is con­sti­tu­tion­ally above do­mes­tic pol­i­tics: she could not even at­tend the Demo­cratic con­ven­tion. Did she en­joy this break from the shrilly par­ti­san? “Hav­ing gone through the cru­cible of the 2008 cam­paign, it was lib­er­at­ing,” she says. “It re­ally was. And I felt that I was do­ing an im­por­tant job. It wasn’t about me; it was about my coun­try. I don’t know whether that’s a per­sonal trait or a gen­der-linked trait, but it’s eas­ier for me to go out and say ‘we’ and ‘us’ than it is to say ‘I’. So for me, be­ing out there rep­re­sent­ing the United States was a joy.”

The high­light, she tells me, was meet­ing Aung San Suu Kyi, “whom I’d ad­mired from afar for so many years, and to sit down at that first din­ner – where I show up wear­ing a white jacket and she shows up wear­ing a white jacket, my hair is pulled back and her hair is clas­si­cally pulled back – and we just start talk­ing like we’re old friends. See­ing this woman who had been through so much, so de­ter­mined and gra­cious and smart.”

The Burmese dis­si­dent, for decades a fig­ure­head, ex­pressed her wish to be­come a “flesh and blood politi­cian”. Clin­ton cau­tioned that this is not for the faint-hearted, and she’d cer­tainly know. “Any­body who gets into the pub­lic arena… in any kind of po­lit­i­cal set­ting,” she says, “has to know full well that it’s a bru­tal, un­for­giv­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

Isn’t she daunted her­self at re­turn­ing to the me­dia on­slaught? “It doesn’t bother me any more,” she says flatly. “Be­cause my view is, I’m go­ing to say what I be­lieve and people will ei­ther agree or they won’t.”

As for the idea she is too rich to un­der­stand or­di­nary con­cerns: “Of course, I know how hard life is. Bill and I had stu­dent loans. Nei­ther of us was born with any kind of... so­cial stand­ing and wealth. We were very for­tu­nate be­cause he was in pub­lic life for a long time, but the flip side is that we re­ally had to hus­tle to put to­gether the re­sources that we needed once we got out­side the White House – we couldn’t go to some fam­ily es­tate or some beau­ti­ful home. We had to get out there and do it for our­selves.”

The word “hus­tle” to de­scribe the grubby busi­ness of fundrais­ing is quin­tes­sen­tial Clin­ton. She is not one for eu­phemisms or bot­tled-up feel­ings: State Depart­ment of­fi­cials were of­ten star­tled by her off-piste blunt­ness, chid­ing North Kore­ans lead­ers for not push­ing for­ward hu­man rights, for in­stance.

And maybe it is use­ful for Clin­ton to have a rea­son to re­mind vot­ers that,

for all her in­sider con­nec­tions, she is no Bush or Kennedy. In her first, far more re­veal­ing mem­oir, Liv­ing His­tory, she de­scribes a child­hood in sub­ur­ban Park Ridge, Illi­nois. Her Methodist fa­ther, Hugh, a draper, was so thrifty, if she or her broth­ers left the top off the tooth­paste he’d throw it out the win­dow so that they would have to go search for it – even in the snow – as a re­minder not to waste. Her mother, Dorothy, had sur­vived a cruel De­pres­sion-era child­hood, aban­doned by her own mother and sent by train across Amer­ica aged eight, in sole charge of her three-year-old sis­ter, to live with harsh, unlov­ing grand­par­ents. It was Dorothy’s plight, she says, that in­spired her first ca­reer, as a le­gal ad­vo­cate for ne­glected chil­dren.

Clin­ton was a dili­gent stu­dent, with her bot­tle-bot­tom glasses and lim­it­less drive. Ar­riv­ing at Welles­ley Col­lege in 1965, she re­calls, “All the girls seemed not only richer but more worldly than I.” They smoked coloured cig­a­rettes and talked about sum­mers in Europe, while she spent ev­ery Au­gust in a lake­side cabin with no in­door plumb­ing. B ill, whom she met at Yale Law School, was of the same bright, or­di­nary stock: raised by a sin­gle mother who, by Hil­lary Clin­ton’s ac­count, wore false eye­lashes and full make-up ev­ery day of her life and was aghast at her daugh­ter-in-law’s blue-stock­ing style.

Yet Bill – large, charis­matic, ex­pan­sive – opened up her world. “My hus­band,” she says, “has been a great en­cour­ager and guide for me to try things that were frankly out­side my com­fort zone. I mean, I’d never trav­elled out­side the US un­til I met Bill Clin­ton! So off we’d go to Eng­land, back to Ox­ford to see his old stomp­ing grounds.

“It sounds silly now, be­cause I’ve been to 112 coun­tries as sec­re­tary of state, but that was a big step for me. My fam­ily didn’t do things like that. Or mak­ing up my mind whether to run for Se­nate: he said, ‘It’s to­tally your de­ci­sion, but let me tell you why I think that would be a great idea...’ He has al­ways been the per­son who has said, ‘You can do this, even though you don’t think you can’.”

I ask how their re­la­tion­ship has changed since she stopped be­ing Bill’s po­lit­i­cal help­meet and he be­came hers. “It’s funny,” she says, “be­cause from the mo­ment we be­gan dat­ing, we were help­ing each other. I’d take notes for him when he had to miss a class; he would take a look at a paper I was writ­ing and make sug­ges­tions… Even when he was gover­nor [of Arkansas] and I was prac­tis­ing law full time, I’d dis­cuss cases and he would do the same with me.

“When I was First Lady, I did ev­ery­thing I could to help him with health­care; when I was in the Se­nate he was very sup­port­ive, and then cer­tainly as sec­re­tary of state. It’s a mu­tu­ally sup­port­ive re­la­tion­ship.”

In the 16 months since she left the State Depart­ment she’s writ­ten her mem­oir, but also en­joyed nor­mal life: clear­ing out her clos­ets and watch­ing

House of Cards. Does she think that drama por­trays Wash­ing­ton more ac­cu­rately than The West Wing?

No, she says. “I’m not say­ing there’s no skul­dug­gery and all kinds of bad be­hav­iour that goes on, but it’s to­tally un­be­liev­able that it could go on as long as it has and not be dis­cov­ered, par­tic­u­larly in the age of cell­phones and so much else.

“The West Wing might have been too po­lit­i­cally tilted to­wards the Demo­cratic party, to­wards a more lib­eral agenda, but the re­la­tion­ships within the White House re­ally had the ring of cred­i­bil­ity.”

It has also been the long­est pe­riod nei­ther she nor Bill have been in pub­lic of­fice. “We re­ally like to hang out with each other,” she says. “We do a lot of hill-walk­ing, walk­ing our dogs, watch­ing tele­vi­sion,” she says. “Bill [records] ev­ery­thing so we binge-watch all these pro­grammes. Go­ing out for din­ner. Tak­ing the time to just be with each other. Both of us are read­ing con­stantly, en­gaged in a never-end­ing con­ver­sa­tion, ‘Did you see this? Have you read this yet?’ I’m so grate­ful that I have such a broad base of ex­pe­ri­ences with my hus­band that we never... you know, never quit.”

At this point, the spirit of Mon­ica Lewin­sky, of all those women – Paula Jones, Gen­nifer Flow­ers – hangs in the room. Clin­ton will only say she cov­ered his in­fi­deli­ties in her first book – “Gulp­ing for air, I started cry­ing and yelling at him” – and that, al­though she has not read Lewin­sky’s re­cent Van­ity

Fair es­say, she wishes Mon­ica well. Now, Bill is 67, has lost a ton of weight on a ve­gan diet af­ter his quadru­ple heart by­pass (leav­ing him some­how shrunken), the ap­petites of the flesh have re­ceded and it seems that Clin­ton has what she val­ued all along: a mar­riage of minds.

Crit­ics of her time as sec­re­tary of state have scorned her tan­gi­ble achieve­ments: she could not stop the war in Syria, her fa­mous ‘re­set’ of re­la­tions with Rus­sia did not pre­vent later in­cur­sions into Ukraine. But Clin­ton ad­vo­cates what she calls “smart power”, be­friend­ing civil so­ci­ety in na­tions emerg­ing from dic­ta­tor­ship, try­ing to aid demo­cratic progress.

Clin­ton’s voice in Hard Choices rings most true when talk­ing about women, about how for­eign pres­i­dents and even her own staff glazed over when she ar­gued the se­cu­rity case for back­ing global women’s rights: the more

Since she left of­fice, she’s writ­ten her­mem­oir, done out her clos­ets and watched House of Cards

ed­u­cated and eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive a na­tion’s women, the fewer its ex­trem­ists.

She was in­censed when an un­named Obama of­fi­cial de­scribed sup­port for girls’ ed­u­ca­tion in Afghanistan as her “pet rock”. Her fem­i­nism has been unswerv­ing, even as First Lady, when it would have been eas­ier to smile and is­sue cookie recipes or cham­pion an un­con­tro­ver­sial cam­paign such as Michelle Obama’s drive against child obe­sity. Clin­ton has stood firm on con­tentious is­sues such as women’s re­pro­duc­tive rights.

She re­fused to take her hus­band’s name un­til he stood for a sec­ond term as Arkansas gover­nor, and then in­sisted on Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton. Dur­ing his first pres­i­den­tial bid, a batch of her sta­tionery came back mi­nus her mid­dle name; she made them print it again.

Clin­ton says in our life­times so much has im­proved for women, ex­cept that women, es­pe­cially in pub­lic life, are judged ever more on their looks.

She says, “When I was a young woman, there wasn’t the em­pha­sis on ap­pear­ance. My friends and I weren’t fash­ion icons; we just wanted to look pre­sentable. There wasn’t the con­stant hold­ing up of a cer­tain model of what a woman’s body is sup­posed to look like, and the veiled mes­sage that you don’t mea­sure up, that you’re not good enough. Maybe it’s the me­dia sell­ing prod­ucts or we al­ways look for ways to dis­tin­guish our­selves, and they are of­ten shal­low and triv­ial and cruel.”

Re­cently Clin­ton ac­cepted an hon­orary de­gree from the Univer­sity of St An­drews, along­side the Cam­bridge clas­si­cist Mary Beard.

“She and I got talk­ing and she’d had such a hor­ri­ble year be­cause she’d made a TV pro­gramme and had been con­stantly at­tacked for her looks.

“Now she was a woman more in­ter­ested in her mind than the lat­est make-up trends, but even she, some­one of such distinc­tion, an ac­knowl­edged

‘Many young women are edit­ing them­selves – they are not per­fect enough. As if any­body is’

ex­pert who is cer­tainly ma­ture... I am telling you, a man of her age would never have been treated that way. And so, what are we do­ing to our­selves?”

Do the at­tacks on her – the hair and pantsuit gags, the 2008 Face­book group “Hil­lary, make me a sand­wich” – bother her?

“I’m pretty used to it,” she says. “I have en­dured a lot over many years. But so many young women com­ing up be­hind with the very mes­sages you’re talk­ing about, they get paral­ysed. They’re con­stantly edit­ing them­selves – they’re not per­fect enough. As if any­body is.”

Later, down at Barnes & No­ble, I find a stall sell­ing un­of­fi­cial Clin­ton mer­chan­dise: T-shirts with the logo, “It’s a man’s world, but a woman should run it”. A bunch of Clin­ton sup­port­ers have camped out all night. “We want to give her a mes­sage,” one tells me. And what’s that? “Run! Just run!”

But her op­po­nents are ready­ing them­selves, too. Repub­li­cans have ques­tioned her health af­ter a fall in which she banged her head; a blood clot was dis­cov­ered and treated. Brain dam­age has even been ru­moured, but with her punchy, ag­ile an­swers, I see no sign. And she has promised, if she stands, to make pub­lic her med­i­cal files.

In the book-sign­ing queue is a ca­ble TV shock-jock try­ing to make fun of her fans. “Vote Hil­lary Clin­ton, if you hate your mom,” he says. The men who de­spise her, who have likened Clin­ton to “ev­ery­one’s an­gry first wife”, can’t fathom her ap­peal. But to many Amer­i­can women she rep­re­sents time­less fe­male sto­icism: she fol­lowed her man to Arkansas, leav­ing be­hind a stel­lar le­gal ca­reer in Wash­ing­ton DC; she en­dured his af­fairs, the tears and shame; she fought valiantly to be pres­i­dent but was ul­ti­mately beaten by a younger, slicker man.

So, six years since her failed bid, is Amer­ica more ready for a woman pres­i­dent? Her sup­port­ers at the book sign­ing are adamant: Clin­ton is proven, ex­pe­ri­enced, knows how to op­er­ate Congress bet­ter than Obama. Sev­eral tell me her elec­tion would be even more sig­nif­i­cant than that of the first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. So does Clin­ton agree? “There will al­ways be the hard­core dis­crim­i­na­tors and doubters about women and women’s abil­i­ties,” she says. “I have no il­lu­sions that it will still be an is­sue for who­ever puts her hat into the ring, whether it’s pres­i­dent, gover­nor or any­thing else, but I think we’re fur­ther along than we were in that dis­cus­sion.”

And then Clin­ton signs my book, the very first of many thou­sands, be­fore the Se­cret Ser­vice sweep her away on­wards to­wards an Amer­i­can pub­lic ask­ing just one ques­tion. But this morn­ing it does not seem a very hard choice at all.

‘From the mo­ment we be­gan dat­ing we were help­ing each other, Clin­ton says of hus­band Bill

Daugh­ter Chelsea (left) is due to make Clin­ton a grand­mother later this year

Clin­ton dis­cusses re­ac­tions to her stance on women’s rights in her book

THE BIG STORY Mother, wife, lawyer, politi­cian… Clin­ton wears many hats, and even jok­ingly in­cludes ‘hair icon’ in her Twit­ter bi­og­ra­phy

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