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Dissecting Hillary

Author puts first lady under the microscope

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted April 26, 2000

Though painted as a liberal by her adversaries, Hillary Clinton advocates the death penalty, is personally opposed to abortion and believes homosexuality is not natural, says Gail Sheehy, author of a new book on the first lady.

Her conservative leanings date back to her days as a "Goldwater Girl," a group of young women who campaigned for right-wing presidential nominee and Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, said the bestselling author, who shared her thoughts on Clinton during a recent campus visit.

But things began to change for Hillary when she left her white, upperclass Chicago suburb for Wellesley College, Sheehy said. In a letter to a high school friend during this time, she wrote: "I'm a heart liberal, but a mind conservative."

"Hillary is a complex and fascinating woman," said Sheehy, who has followed the first lady since 1992. "She is easy to admire, but not easy to like."

Sheehy's compiled her observations of Clinton in her latest book "Hillary's Choice," published last fall. In her lecture, she described the first lady and New York senate candidate as a "compassionate misanthrope."

Clinton doesn't really like people, said Sheehy, but understands that she has to tone down that aspect of her personality in order to achieve her goals.

These traits may have been inherited from her parents, Sheehy said. Her father, who rose from the coal mines of Wales to become successful in America, taught his children that life is tough, emotion is a sign of weakness and you must compete and win.

When the young Hillary came home from school one day, crying because she had been hit by a bully, her mother told her "there is no room for cowards in this household. If she bothers you again, punch her back."

A natural leader, Hillary likes to run things, so her peers were surprised when, after graduating from Yale Law School and working for Watergate prosecutors, she married Bill Clinton and followed his career, Sheehy said. "She had a burning ambition but wasn't confident she could achieve her goals."

Bill Clinton was a natural politician who, unlike his wife, enjoyed being with and listening to people. But Bill Clinton was undisciplined so his wife helped get him on track, said Sheehy. Her efforts enabled him to win the governorship of Arkansas. Because of his many improprieties, she assumed the role as his fight manager.

Hillary has re-made herself many times in order to get what she wants, said Sheehy. When she found out her image as an independent "Yankee" woman might affect her husband's gubernatorial campaign, she took his last name, cut her hair and replaced her glasses with contacts.

The first lady recently emerged from another makeover, this time for her race for the United States Senate.

When her showing in the polls began to plummet, she and her friend, producer Linda Bloodworth Thomason, created a video that cast the first lady in a new light.

References to Hillary Clinton as first lady, Bill Clinton's wife and lawyer were excised. Instead, said Sheehy, the new images project her as a strong, committed mother and social activist.

Her campaign stops now include truck stops and shopping malls, places that Clinton would normally find beneath her, said Sheehy.

"There is an arrogance about her," said Sheehy. "She thinks she's better than most people. Her approach to politics is more cerebral than emotional."

While blue-collar hangouts may not be her bag, Clinton's not particularly welcomed by those more like her -- middle-aged career women who are successful and educated.

Many of these women feel she betrayed the feminist movement by riding the coattails of a man to achieve success, said Sheehy.

But, says Sheehy, Clinton will do what it takes to win the seat. Her race is based on redemption -- for her husband's tarnished presidency, the sullied family name, and the pain of her highly publicized failure to reform healthcare.

However, Sheehy thinks Clinton would make a "hell of a good senator. She does her homework, is success-oriented, knows the issues, and is very courageous."

If she loses her race for the Senate, Sheehy predicts that Clinton will get right back to work on something else, either writing a book, heading up a foundation or preparing for another chance at political office.

When asked what the first lady thinks about the book, Sheehy replied: "Hillary doesn't want anything written about her that she can't control. To be in Hillary's inner circle, you must defend her and Bill no matter what. If you have a problem with the truth, then you're the enemy. I am the enemy now."



April 26 - May 3, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 30)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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