Private Hillary 

Her supporters wonder why so many people do not like Hillary Clinton, and reporters and columnists keep trying pointlessly to answer. David Brooks, the New York Times resident conservative brain, explained that she had always been too dead-level serious and that maybe she had needed a hobby to balance or humanize her wonkiness.

Who needs likability if people who wouldn't relish an evening of canasta with you trust you to run the country while they wrestle with the demons of their own lives?

Rather, the better question is, why has she made so many mistakes of a political nature over 40 years that dog her to this day, when she has become the first woman nominee for president of a major party but faces a tough race against a man with an even lower likability quotient? It happens that I can answer that question.

Since she is a lawyer and I am prepared to admit from personal experience that she is an authority on the subject, the simple answer is her obsession with privacy, which she would point out the courts have said is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. and Arkansas constitutions. It is actually broader than that. Pathologically private people do not get into politics, at least successfully, but leave it to people who love the public nature of it, thrive on controversy, battle and compromise, and get away with a little dissembling, like her husband, or in the case of Donald Trump, plain lying.

Hillary Clinton's insistence on privacy for practically everything, even when it was wholly in the public sphere, produced her lifelong hatred of and battles with the media. It led to the failures and epic controversies of the Clinton presidency — health care reform, Travelgate, the billing records, Kenneth Starr's Whitewater investigation and the impeachment. Her refusal to let anyone, especially reporters at the Washington Post, see her old billing records with little Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan at Little Rock because they were client records and no one's business, led to the appointment of a special prosecutor. When they were finally turned over years later, it was mostly routine title opinions for the little thrift. I had seen them years earlier.

Of course, the whole overblown email controversy arose from her obsession with privacy. You could be surprised that Secretary of State and former National Security Adviser Colin Powell insisted on a private email server, but it is hard to imagine Hillary Clinton doing anything else.

My first encounter with Hillary followed an article I had written in 1977 for the Arkansas Gazette about a prominent businessman who had been taped asking an ex-convict to steal diamonds, an air compressor and a load of truck tires for him. He and others were indicted by a federal grand jury, but the Justice Department got the federal district court to dismiss the charges. I had obtained and transcribed hours of recordings from a mike taped to the thug's chest and my story was mainly a recitation of the recordings, including the businessman's derogatory references to members of his family.

My publisher sent the story down the street to the Rose Law Firm, the Gazette's counsel since the 19th century. I met with Vince Foster, a Rose partner, who concluded there was no libel since the story was all based on the businessman's own words. But a long legal opinion arrived the next day from Hillary Rodham, who had recently joined the firm. While she concurred that there was no libel, she recommended that the Gazette not publish the story because parts of it invaded the privacy of the businessman's family who were not public figures and who had done nothing illegal. While the family members probably would have no recourse against the paper, she thought it had a moral responsibility to respect their privacy and the Constitution. The paper didn't publish the story, over my objections.

None of my other encounters with her had a pleasant outcome for me, although I should say in the interest of full disclosure that I think she will make a pretty solid president if she can restrain her hawkish impulses.

No woman and few men have had their private and public lives dissected and analyzed more than Hillary Clinton, and no one ever hated it more. The books fill a library shelf. The best single piece remains Connie Bruck's 32,420-word profile in the May 30, 1994, The New Yorker, as her great health care reform initiative was crashing. Bruck got members of Congress, the White House staff, news people back in Little Rock, old classmates and seemingly every friend Hillary ever had to talk about her — gushing usually but sometimes too revealing. The first lady was too busy to talk to Bruck even by phone, but the president of the United States spent two hours gabbing to her about his wife. The article recounted how senators and congressmen were blown away by her grasp and articulation of difficult issues but it also picked at her dissembling and dodging about matters she thought were private, like her futures trading and White River land deal in 1977 and 1978, her legal billings and her husband's womanizing. Most subjects would have been thrilled with the overall story but she was furious.

Bruck's story had some remarks from me about how Hillary had earned her husband eight years of peace by schmoozing the managing editor of the Arkansas Democrat, a once fierce critic of Bill. Her press aide, Lisa Caputo, called and said she was sure I had been misquoted since everyone else she had called disputed the remarks credited to them. I said it looked pretty accurate. She hung up. Never again would her friends talk to the press or to prying scholars and authors.


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