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Clinton Offers Reflection, Not Revelation, on Life

Senator and former first lady explains why she worked to save her marriage after its low point during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

June 09, 2003|Geraldine Baum | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — There were no jaw-droppers in a just-released excerpt from Hillary Rodham Clinton's new memoir, "Living History," nor startling revelations in her interview with ABC's Barbara Walters that was broadcast Sunday night. Rather, the former first lady and current Democratic senator from New York offered more texture and color to the now-familiar story of her life -- particularly the eight years she was living in the White House with her husband, President Clinton.

The long excerpt in Time magazine revisited what Hillary Clinton portrays as an ugly time in their marriage, after she learned her husband had lied to her about his affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. But Clinton also insisted that although her husband's behavior was morally wrong, she did not think that he in any way betrayed the American public.

The memoir, published by Simon & Schuster, went on sale today across the country and overseas. The senator launched a book tour in New York over the weekend that will continue intermittently for the next six months, whenever she has a break in her Senate schedule.

Many of the personal passages in the book provide frank details of her life. She writes about her struggles with her strong-willed father, and how she had a hard time relating to her flamboyant mother-in-law, the late Virginia Ellis.

However, there is little new in her assessment of her political course, her time in the White House or her descriptions of Bill Clinton's enemies. She told Walters she remained convinced that there was and is a "very well-financed, right-wing network of people -- it's not really conspiracy because it's pretty much out in the light of day -- that was after his presidency from the very beginning."

Clinton's book does not voice many regrets. At one point, she writes that she and the president, during his first term, were probably too ambitious in thinking they could reform America's health-care system. "Our most critical mistake was trying to do too much, too fast," she said.

The Clintons' relationship, she said, hit a low in August 1998 -- two days before he testified about his affair with Lewinsky before a grand jury. Up until then, he had told her the relationship was not inappropriate. When he finally did come clean, she said, she shouted at him: "What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?"

Without offering many specifics in the book, Clinton says that over time and through counseling, she and the former president have patched up their marriage.

When asked by Walters what she would do if she caught her husband being unfaithful again, Clinton -- who is up for reelection to the Senate in 2006 -- said that topic is none of the public's business. "That will be between us, and that will be that zone of privacy that I believe in," she told Walters. "But right now I'm very, very hopeful and very committed to our marriage and our relationship."

Clinton reiterated that she has no plans to run for president in 2008. But her language left open the possibility for her to change her mind.

At the end of Walters' interview, Clinton read a passage from the book that tries to explain what to many outsiders appears to be a very complex and erratic marriage.

"What can I say to explain a love that persists for decades and has grown through our shared experiences of parenting a daughter, burying our parents and tending our extended families, a lifetime's worth of friends, a common faith and an abiding commitment to our country?

"All I know is that no one understands me better and no one can make me laugh the way Bill does. ... he is still the most interesting, energizing and fully alive person I have ever met. Bill Clinton and I started a conversation in the spring of 1971, and more than 30 years later we're still talking.

"It took a long time, but I reached the point where I decided that I was either going to have to forgive ... or we weren't going to have a marriage."

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