News & Politics

The Clinton Marriage—Asset or Liability for Hillary?

Biographer discusses the couple’s marriage as a potential pitfall for Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations.

Photograph by Ellen Schreiber.

After Tuesday's presidential debates, it was all Clinton talk at author Sally Bedell Smith’s Q&A Cafe session with Nathans restaurant owner Carol Joynt yesterday. Smith recently published a biography of the Clintons during their eight years in the White House and had plenty to say about the Democratic presidential front-runner, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The author described Clinton as “self-contained” and very cognizant of her political image. Talking about the debate, Smith said Clinton was not one to hide when under fire: “She’s a big girl. She can take care of herself.”

But is Clinton invulnerable?

Not so for Smith, who hinted that the chink in Clinton’s armor lies in her marriage to former president Bill Clinton. “She’s been very selective of what she wants to highlight of that time,” Smith said of Clinton’s tenure as First Lady, noting that the senator has avoided any direct talk of the Lewinsky incident so far.

Discussing Clinton’s attempt to distance her political image from that of her husband, Smith pointed to the couple’s inexorable link (“To really understand how they operate, you have to look at them in tandem”) and half-jokingly suggested that perhaps the best thing the former president could do to help his wife’s chances would be to stay away: “He’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

The author also implied that in terms of the Clinton administration, Americans seem to have a collective amnesia, and she stressed the importance of re-examining those eight years of government through a “clear” rather than “nostalgic” lens.