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Bill Clinton in 1980s: ‘I think I’ve been able to change my bad habits’

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US President Bill Clinton waits his turn to speak at a dinner for the White House Endowment Fund January 21, 1998. (Reuters)

Bill and Hillary Clinton discussed the future president’s compulsive personality, his struggles with the loneliness of public office, his ambitions for the future, and the future first lady’s career and hopes for her daughter Chelsea in a series of interviews with an Arkansas journalist between 1983 and 1987.

The interviews, recorded on more than five hours of audiotape and donated to the University of Arkansas Special Collections archives by the Arkansas reporter Roy Reed, were supposed to make the pages of Esquire.

The story, which would have marked the Clintons’ first major profile in a national magazine, never ran due to space constraints. The recordings were made available to the public for the first time in January of this year.

Obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, those recordings included the former first lady’s cavalier discussion of her legal defense of a child rapist—publication of which prompted the rape victim, now 52, to break her silence in an interview with the Daily Beast.

It also prompted the university to revoke the Free Beacon’s research privileges for failing to ask for permission prior to publication. The dean of libraries at the university is a Clinton donor.

However, the controversy over the new information regarding Clinton’s defense of the child rapist threatens to obscure the other material contained in the Reed interviews, which paint a complex and intimate portrait of the Clinton family during a pivotal moment in its political career.

Bill and Hillary Clinton discussed the future president’s compulsive personality, his struggles with the loneliness of public office, his ambitions for the future, and the future first lady’s career and hopes for her daughter Chelsea in a series of interviews with an Arkansas journalist between 1983 and 1987.

The interviews, recorded on more than five hours of audiotape and donated to the University of Arkansas Special Collections archives by the Arkansas reporter Roy Reed, were supposed to make the pages of Esquire.

The story, which would have marked the Clintons’ first major profile in a national magazine, never ran due to space constraints. The recordings were made available to the public for the first time in January of this year.

Obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, those recordings included the former first lady’s cavalier discussion of her legal defense of a child rapist—publication of which prompted the rape victim, now 52, to break her silence in an interview with the Daily Beast.

It also prompted the university to revoke the Free Beacon’s research privileges for failing to ask for permission prior to publication. The dean of libraries at the university is a Clinton donor.

However, the controversy over the new information regarding Clinton’s defense of the child rapist threatens to obscure the other material contained in the Reed interviews, which paint a complex and intimate portrait of the Clinton family during a pivotal moment in its political career.

“Almost every major personal and political error I’ve made in my life came at a time when I was totally exhausted,” Bill Clinton told Roy Reed.

It was 1983 and the 37-year-old Arkansas governor was preparing for reelection. First elected in 1978 as the youngest governor in the United States, Clinton lost the office in 1980, winning it back in 1982.

Determined to avoid the mistakes of his first term, Clinton was clearly troubled by his tendency to be his own worst enemy.

“I still have to watch it, boy, in election year—I can feel it now,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the edge a lot more than I have in the previous 18 months—just because I’m a compulsive person. I’ll always think of something more to do, another phone call that needs to be made, another thing that needs to be read.”

Journalists and Clinton biographers have noted his compulsive tendencies throughout his career. And though Clinton does not go into detail about his marriage struggles, his close former aide Betsey Wright told Carl Bernstein in a Woman in Charge that the governor was conducting frequent affairs with women between 1982 and 1987.

“For five years [prior to 1987], Betsey had watched and listened as Bill made arrangements for assignations and slipped out of the office for meetings with various women,” wrote Bernstein. “Sometimes the troopers gave her sly heads-ups.”

“When a person gets to be a certain age it’s hard to change a lot,” Clinton told Reed. “But I think I have been able to change some of my bad habits, and to shore up my weaknesses a little better, set up a system which helps my strengths.”

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