"Rewriting History" — Chapter Excerpt

by Dick Morris

Chapter One: Deconstructing Hillary

Like the moon, she shows us the same face each time we see her. Sometimes she displays more, sometimes less of her visage, but always it is the same carefully presented persona: friendly, open, giggly, practical, family-oriented, caring, thoughtful, unflappable, serious, balanced, and moderate. Just like the moon, though, Hillary Rodham Clinton has a face she never shows us, a side that is never visible, never on display.

This book is a voyage around that side of Hillary — the parts of her personality and history that have been rewritten, reinvented, or omitted from her memoir "Living History" and her other writings or public statements. Senator Clinton’s book is no more revealing of her hidden side than is a telescopic view of the moon seen from Earth. Her book simply presents, in one volume and in greater detail, all the pretense and pretend that dominates the Hillary we are allowed to see. "Rewriting History" offers a kind of annotation of Hillary’s memoir, to tell more of the story she hides and the facts she omits. For much of "Living History" is not history, and much of Hillary’s history is not in her book.

Some of what Hillary conceals is not dark, only unseen. Not sinister, just covered-up, protected from our gaze. Parts of it, although not always flattering, would be quite acceptable if she were to expose it to full public view. With incredible discipline, however, she conceals this side of herself in order to create the idealized portrait of Hillary that’s on display in "Living History."

But some of Hillary’s hidden side is indeed dark. Like the moon, she has been scarred by the constant pounding of political meteorites. Under their battering, she has developed a sinister side, which is chilling even to those who know her well. Some of her reinventions are defensive, a form of protective coloration to minimize her potential vulnerability and maximize her capacity to deny what she must to survive politically.

This secretiveness about who she really is creates a puzzle for onlookers. Just as we are curious about the dark side of the moon — and spend billions to fly there to have a look — so the missing parts of Hillary’s public image drive us to speculation, myth, and rumor about the real person underneath.

Both of the Clintons are masters of subterfuge. But Hillary’s deceptions and disguises are very different from Bill’s. Bill Clinton deceives himself, and fools us in the process. He pretends, even when he is alone, that he is not doing what he knows he is doing. He never tells his right hand what his left hand is up to.

By contrast, Hillary knows full well who she is and what parts of her must never be exposed to public view. She reminds herself consciously, day after day, which parts of herself to hide and which to expose. Where Bill’s instinct for deception is neurotic, Hillary’s is opportunistic. He wants to hide his private life from our eyes; Hillary seeks to conceal her character from our view. But the things that Hillary hides are integral to her political essence. They are who she is and what makes her tick. Her trickery is designed to hide her most basic character and instincts from all of us.

Covering up one’s flaws is certainly not unusual — especially in politics. All politicians have done things they would rather not see broadcast to their constituents. Everyone in the public spotlight has private issues he or she would like to keep hidden. JFK did not want us to see his illness or promiscuity. FDR disguised his paralysis. Bill Clinton pretended to be a faithful husband. But what makes Hillary’s unseen side unique is that, for the most part, it represents her real personality, her true self, far more than the person who smiles and giggles at us day and night. All public figures use makeup to cover a blemish or two. But only Hillary wears a mask of so many layers, one that hides her true face altogether.

Who is Hillary? We need to know. In fact, it’s become critical that we do so.

After all, John Kerry is the Democratic Party’s candidate in 2004, but Hillary is still its most popular politician. Unless Kerry beats Bush, she can have the nomination for the asking in 2008. And even if Kerry wins and runs for a second term, it will probably be Hillary’s turn in 2012. She could even run for vice president in 2004. But would such a public step forward show us the real Hillary Rodham Clinton? It’s hard to believe it would. Even after all the media coverage of the past twelve years — after we’ve read the interviews, reflected on the editorials, and absorbed the analyses — she still remains a mystery.

Is Hillary a dedicated public servant, or an unabashed self promoter? The victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy, or a shrewd operator who often gets caught in her own devious schemes? An innate politician, or a reinvention of herself refined by her ghostwriters and handlers? A sincere advocate for women and children, or an opportunist out for power? A New Democrat, or an old-fashioned liberal?

More than a million people bought Hillary’s book hoping to get the answers. But, instead, all they got was a flattering self-portrait of an earnest, talented, devoted daughter, mother, and wife. Her rewrite of her own history reflects only the thoroughly reinvented Hillary she wants us to know — a softer image, a kind of Hillary Lite, but also an incomplete portrait. After reading it, we still don’t know what makes her tick. We still don’t have the answers. Once more, we see only what she wants us to see.

Yet the answers to our questions become more important as the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidency becomes more and more real. After thirty years of political consulting, I know that longrange forecasts of political climate are dangerous. Even so, we should not ignore what the coming alignment of demographic and circumstantial forces means for Hillary and her ambitions. Like the weather systems in the book and movie of the same name, they seem to be gathering into a political “perfect storm” that Hillary Clinton plans to ride all the way to the White House.

Consider the omens:

• The population of African and Hispanic Americans is rapidly rising.

• Voters are drifting to the left.

• The Republican Party is low on future presidential candidates, and Hillary’s strongest potential rivals there are the ones most likely to sow division within the party.

• Likewise, no major Democratic alternative stands in her way.

• Democratic fund-raisers are setting new records for an out-of power party.

• The Clinton machine is strengthening its control over the party.

• Bereft of winning issues beyond terrorism, Republicans are still groping for a theme to replace welfare and crime, which Bill Clinton stole away from them—and George W. Bush seems destined to leave huge deficits as a negative part of his legacy.

So things look pretty good for Hillary. She could be the first female president of the United States. But should she?

The list of biographers of this would-be president is extensive. Dozens of books have been written to chronicle Hillary’s development and probe her character. Unlike these other authors, though, I worked closely with her for two decades.

And that firsthand experience tells me that the person Hillary’s supporters want to see in the White House is a fiction — a character carefully and assiduously cultivated for decades to mask the real Hillary.

The mask is imperfect, of course. Its gaps are revealed in the questions raised frequently, by the press and the public, about the junior senator from New York — questions that remain unanswered. We’d better answer them before she gets to be president. After that, it will be too late.

The presidency magnifies the personal qualities and character — good or bad — of the chief executive and projects them onto our nation. In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy’s dynamism electrified an entire generation. Lyndon B. Johnson’s obsessiveness led us into massive trauma. Nixon’s paranoia plunged the country into a spasm of recrimination and reform. Jimmy Carter’s naiveté triggered what even he termed a national “malaise.” And the joy and optimism of Ronald Wilson Reagan animated the world.

What qualities of Hillary Clinton’s personality would characterize her presidency? And how would they influence us all?

Every man or woman who morphs from private citizen into public figure is changed forever by the journey. As the personalities of these figures are inevitably simplified into caricature by the media, the relationship between their public personas and private selves becomes especially complicated. A public figure’s image begins to look like a cartoonist ’s drawing of his face, exaggerating certain qualities and omitting others from the cartoon entirely.

But Hillary’s transition — perhaps the word should be “transitions” — has been unusual, and not merely because it has taken place on the most public stage imaginable. As she journeyed from campus activist to lawyer to governor’s wife to first lady, and finally to United States senator, Hillary has changed just about everything about herself — her politics, her physical appearance, even her life story. In the process, she became not only the candidate but the cartoonist, deciding what features to emphasize and which to sublimate.

Think about it. As we all know, Hillary has changed her hair, her eye color, her dress, and her face more frequently than a professional model. But the changes run far deeper. In her decades of public life, she has adjusted her opinions, modified her ideology, altered her priorities, and revised her rhetoric. Her marriage is different from what it once was; her tax bracket has shifted nicely upward. Those who knew her before all this could be forgiven for asking for DNA evidence that she is, in fact, the same human being they used to know.

Hillary might like to describe this wholesale alteration as a product of growth or maturity. But most of it is the result of simple calculation. Hillary Clinton’s image became what it needed to become in order to maximize the chances of election to high public office and to minimize the odds that her hidden side would come into public view.

So, again, we ask the question: Does Hillary Clinton have the character and personality to be president?

Many people seem to assume that, since we know one Clinton, America must know them both. We are, after all, living in what author Kevin Phillips has described as an era of “dynastic politics”; by that token it’s tempting to treat the Clintons as a unit, and put great stock in Bill’s 1992 offer of two Clintons for the price of one. Likewise, we assume that Bill Clinton’s political talents have rubbed off on Hillary. Some have even characterized a prospective Hillary presidency as a third and fourth term for her husband.

But should we assume that Hillary is just like Bill? The natural human tendency to expect a similarity between namesakes has led good people astray before — look at the spotty record of the British monarchy to fathom the limits of inheritance. How much of the increasingly dismal and undistinguished record of the United States Senate is due to the presence of eleven members — more than a tenth of the body — who hold their seats as a sort of legacy from their famous relatives? These derivative senators won their seats mainly because their brothers, fathers, or husbands made their name in politics before they came along. Just call the roll of these hereditary senators: Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Hillary Clinton of New York, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, David Pryor of Arkansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and both John Sununu and Judd Gregg, the two senators from New Hampshire.

In 2000, we watched two sons of political fathers — Bush and Gore — battle it out for the presidency.

Not only are the sons and daughters of famous politicians ascending with ease into national office; now the wives of presidential candidates are themselves running, propelled by the names of their famous husbands. As Phillips points out, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole — the spouses of the two 1996 adversaries — sit together in the Senate. In 2001, Tipper Gore was mentioned as a possible candidate for a Senate seat in Tennessee. Will we see Mrs. Heinz Kerry or Mrs. Lieberman on the ballot next year?

Where shared DNA is part of the inheritance of these second generation politicians, there is some logic, however strained, to the equation. But there is no shared genetic talent for politics between husband and wife. Whether one likes Bill Clinton or not, his towering brains and political magnetism cannot be denied. But these traits are uniquely his, not transferable by marriage license. Like most other people, Hillary Clinton is in a totally different category from her husband, Bill, when it comes to political skills.

Somehow, though, in the past year or two, a political consensus has emerged that Hillary could easily step into his shoes and become the first woman president. Most who think that way believe that she would prove a virtual female carbon copy of Bill Clinton. This new conventional wisdom allows for no differentiation between the two Clintons. And, more and more, Hillary has begun to adopt this mantra for her own purposes, appropriating the successes of the Clinton administration as her own.

As much as Bill and Hillary would like to morph into one political being, however, they are separate people with different skills and flaws. Hillary Clinton is a highly focused, hard-working, and effective advocate for women and children. But she no more possesses the political strengths of Bill Clinton than she does his personal weaknesses.

To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s famous gibe at Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice presidential debate: I know Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was a client of mine. And Hillary, you’re no Bill Clinton.

She lacks his instincts, his empathy, his political savvy, his creativity, his subtlety, his antennae, his ostensible earnestness. Bill Clinton is flexible, charming, charismatic, and solicitous; Hillary, to put it mildly, is not. Bill Clinton has a rags-to-riches story and a down-homey warmth; Hillary has neither. And while Hillary is certainly bright and book-smart, she lacks his creativity and intellect. Hillary is robotic, where Bill is as human as they get. He is spontaneous; she is packaged. Hillary is a memorizer, sometimes a plodder; where her husband wanders, ponders, prowls, explores, weighs options, and circles around a problem, she moves straight ahead. Where Bill loves nothing more than to dance lightly over his policy options, never getting nailed to a firm position until it is the perfect one, she promotes her chosen policies and programs with dogmatic assertiveness. To warm up his audience, Bill needs only uncork the bottle and let the charm flow. Hillary must resort to contrivance and pretense to try to connect with her audience.

He can be friends with anyone. She keeps a mental enemies list.

He’s a natural. She’s not.

Hillary Clinton, in plain fact, is a student of Bill Clinton. She is not his clone.

When Bill Clinton speaks to an audience, he famously taps into the emotions of each and every listener. Hillary, on the other hand, never seems to live up to her billing. After the excitement of her dramatic arrival by motorcade has passed, her speech itself is usually a disappointment. With a speaking style that ranges from flat to shrill — and that sometimes ascends to a shriek in high E — she rarely gets an emotional response from a crowd. Her speeches routinely echo the cadences of an old-fashioned political rally, punctuated with designated pauses for partisan applause. She may get a rise out of the faithful, but that is very different from the emotions Bill evokes.

Once, when I was at the White House, President Clinton called me to ask that I tune in and watch a speech he was giving at Georgetown University. He told me it would be a “conversation” with the student audience. Some conversation, I thought, he’ll be doing all the talking. As I watched him speak, though, I understood what he meant. He watched the faces in the crowd, picking up their reactions on his well-tuned personal radar, and adjusted his tone, delivery, content, emphasis — even his arguments — to take their emotional responses into account.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, never talks with her audience on such occasions. She only talks at them.

Hillary, in turn, has many strengths that Bill himself lacks.

Bill Clinton’s convictions are always open for discussion; he seems to tailor his ideology to the political needs of the moment. Hillary’s political orientation, on the other hand, is fixed, her opinions ardent. Americans always had difficulty explaining what Bill Clinton stood for. No one has any difficulty identifying Hillary’s signature cause: the needs of women, children, and the Democratic Party base. Where Bill tended to be accommodating to the views of others, Hillary has a fierce faith in the justice of her own convictions. She is moved by a commendable desire to spare other children the pain her own mother suffered as the child of an irresponsible teenager without the skills or desire to nurture her child. She is passionate about these issues because they are a part of her. She owns them. Bill Clinton’s emotional elusiveness has always made such conviction impossible for him.

Where Bill brings only empathy to his favorite issues, Hillary brings passion. Her agenda has a moral tone that Bill’s lacks. The pledges on which he was elected — to focus “like a laser beam” on the economy, to “end welfare as we know it” — are scarcely rallying cries for those who would storm barricades. But Hillary’s determination to end injustice against single mothers, working women, babies in day care, foster children, adoptive parents, teachers, students, and those who go without adequate health care stems from a moral, not an intellectual, calculus. His memorable appearances at the National Prayer Breakfasts notwithstanding, Bill Clinton in almost every respect is about as secular a candidate as America has seen in recent years. It’s Hillary who wears the religious fervor in the family.

Yet Hillary’s passion about political issues is both her strength and her weakness. It often leads her into inflexibility, and traps her within moralistic requisites that distort her political compass. Her health care reform program, which began as a way to lower health care spending, became an almost theological crusade to make health benefits a universal right and entitlement. She moved fearlessly — but also heedlessly — into the teeth of strident opposition — and in the end her failed efforts only contributed to her party’s loss of Congress in the ensuing election, almost toppling her husband from office.

Hillary’s tendency to treat political questions as moral issues also makes her susceptible to the lure of gurus who eagerly try to sell her on their omnibus programs or ideological utopias. Would she be vulnerable to new Ira Magaziners — the Rasputin who got her to embrace a complicated and crazy holistic approach to health care reform? Would her apparent credulity give rise to a presidency entirely subsumed by an ideological construct?

Hillary Clinton is passionate and, by her lights, honorable. But can she be trusted?

We have seen time and again that the most fundamental element of a good presidency is the trust of the electorate. When a Johnson, Nixon, or Clinton lies to the voters, he soon finds it impossible to govern. Bush Sr. was doomed to a one-term presidency when he broke his “read my lips” promise not to raise taxes. If voters decide that George W. Bush’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were not a mistake but a fabrication, he may face similar problems in the 2004 election.

The yawning credibility gap that separates "Living History" and Hillary’s other public pronouncements from actual history point ominously to the difficulties that could cripple her presidency. "Between Hope and History" was the title of President Clinton’s 1996 campaign book, but it would have been a better fit for his wife’s autobiography. "Living History" is, in fact, a mélange of hope and history — Hillary’s hopes for how we will perceive her, mingled with the history of what she actually did and who she really is.

Throughout the Clintons’ White House years, Hillary’s constant physical transformations — represented most dramatically in her everchanging hairdos — offered an almost-too-easy metaphor for her awkward efforts to reinvent herself as first lady. But her personal reinventions are more than a cosmetic matter. She has a disturbing tendency to concoct carefully revised “facts” about her past, her persona, her circumstances, and her experiences—in other words, she has a real problem telling the truth. Sometimes her deceptions are silly. At other times, they are deeply pernicious. But even the fluffier fabrications send us a warning not to trust her.

Take an apparently innocuous example: her nutty claim that her mother named her after Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest. Meeting Sir Edmund by chance at the Katmandu airport, Hillary apparently made up the story on the spot, telling reporters she was named after the intrepid explorer. To bolster her claim, she piled on the details: While her mother was pregnant, Hillary extemporized, she had read an article about Sir Edmund and noticed that he spelled his name with two l’s — “which,” the first lady said, is how her mother “thought she was supposed to spell Hillary.” She continued: “So when I was born, she called me Hillary, and she always told me it ’s because of Sir Edmund Hillary.”

But Sir Edmund didn’t climb Everest until May 29, 1953 — five and a half years after Hillary was born. In fact, until 1951 Sir Edmund Hillary hadn’t even left New Zealand for his first climb in the Himalayas. Before that, he was an unknown beekeeper.

Why would Hillary make up such a silly and unnecessary story? To give the press good copy? To try to glamorize her family history by connecting it with the heroic mountaineer? The reporters covering her trip would have written favorably about a simple meeting with Sir Edmund, but Hillary had to make it into something bigger — something up front and personal, something that made her different. She wasn’t named Hillary just because her mother liked the name. No, the real story was much more important than that: She was named after a world-famous explorer. It ’s as if Hillary was trying to absorb his aura by osmosis.

Is Hillary charismatic? Her circumstances are: She is a United States senator, a former first lady, and likely to become the first serious woman candidate for president. Her ideology is: She is a strong advocate for the rights of women and children. Her past is: She is married to the former president of the United States. And, unquestionably, there have been times when she has made all of that work for her — when she has seemed to exude a certain je ne sais quoi. But the crowds that throng her book signings and speeches seem more driven by curiosity than drawn by whatever personal charisma she may radiate — by what she stands for, rather than what she is. So she reaches for more.

Sometimes, though, Hillary’s inventions have been more than simple Walter Mitty fantasizing — as when she invented a story about 9/11 on the "Today" show, implying to Katie Couric that her daughter, Chelsea, had narrowly missed being on the grounds of the Twin Towers at the time of the attacks. Hillary told a national television audience that Chelsea had “gone on what she thought would be a great jog...She was going to go around the [World Trade Center] towers. She went to get a cup of coffee and — that’s when the plane hit...She did hear it. She did.” Couric told NBC’s viewers that Hillary, “at that moment...was not just a senator, but a concerned parent.”

Chelsea herself, though, flatly contradicted her mother’s account in an article for "Talk" magazine, which she apparently had not cleared with Hillary. As Chelsea revealed, she “was alone at a friend’s Union Square apartment in Manhattan that morning” when her host phoned to tell her what had happened.

Instead of being anywhere near the World Trade Center, she was three miles northeast of Ground Zero — clear on the other side of town. Chelsea wrote that she “stared senselessly at the television” as she saw the terrorist plane strike the Towers. No mention of a jog, of a coffee shop, of hearing the planes hit.

Hillary had lied. Effortlessly, spontaneously, chillingly, Hillary simply invented the tale. Why? It was a week after 9/11. She was under no pressure to come up with a story. And she could not have been confused about the facts. What would make a person try to capitalize on a tragedy — and insult by implication all those who truly were killed or imperiled on that dreadful day?

Why did she do it? Was she trying to make herself a victim, one of the people who had been personally seared by the tragedy to get a warmer reception from the families, firefighters, and police at Ground Zero? Was she trying to one-up Chuck Schumer, New York’s other senator, whose daughter had been in danger, attending classes at Stuyvesant High School, adjacent to Ground Zero? Was she trying to share the limelight with her erstwhile political rival, Rudy Giuliani? Did she feel the need to bond more closely with her newly adopted state at the moment of its greatest catastrophe? Whatever it was, to lie in this way at that time suggests a serious character flaw.

It’s worth noting that neither this tall tale nor the story of how she came to be named is repeated in "Living History." Of her daughter’s experience on 9/11, Hillary merely expresses gratitude for Secret Service agent Steve Ricciardi’s “calm presence” when he reached Chelsea by phone in “lower Manhattan.”

When Al Gore claimed to be the father of the Internet, or that his marriage was the basis for "Love Story," his exaggerations tripped him up. Would a Hillary candidacy — or presidency — be constantly embroiled in similar controversy?

If her history is any guide, this might be an area of great difficulty for Hillary given the harsh and unrelenting media spotlight placed on presidents and presidential candidates. For if Hillary exaggerates and fabricates stories on the national campaign trail, or in the White House, an attentive press corps will pierce her mask, damaging a president’s most important asset: her credibility.

The chapters that follow will take you behind each of the layers of Hillary’s mask. One layer hides the canny political tactician, another the ideologically doctrinaire zealot, a third layer draws a self-serving veil over Hillary’s long history of dubious financial transactions, and a fourth covers up her streak of ferocity, even viciousness.

It is vitally important that we peel back these layers of Hillary’s mask — before she becomes our president.

From "Rewriting History" by Dick Morris. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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