Published in the New York Post on March 21, 2008.
Now that Hillary Clinton’s schedule as first lady has been released, her near-total lack of serious involvement in the real inner workings of the government is bluntly apparent.
There are few, if any, meetings with Cabinet members, congressional leaders, the National Security Council, the National Economic Council, leaders of the Irish peace process, players in the Bosnian crisis or representatives from Rwanda. All of her so-called experience is absent from her daily schedule. What’s there, for us all to see, is one soft event after another, a schedule far more typical of such first ladies as Mamie Eisenhower or Lady Bird Johnson than of a future presidential candidate.
This near-total paucity of participation in policy-making dovetails with our recollection of her White House role. In 1995 and 1996, she largely toured the country, speaking at ceremonial events, wrote a book (“It Takes A Village”) and toured the world. During her international travels, there was no serious diplomacy, just a virtually endless round of meetings with women, visiting arts-and-crafts centers, watching native industries and photo opportunities for the local media.
President Bill Clinton’s memoirs reflect this absence of substance. The book contains only a handful of mentions of his wife that aren’t related to their joint travel, her health-care-reform program or her ceremonial duties. The Hil- lary she now claims to be was nowhere evident.
Hillary Clinton was deeply involved in the White House’s inner workings only from the time of Bill’s election through the Democratic defeat in the congressional elections of 1994. She played a key role in choosing the Cabinet and staff, in crafting the health-care-reform legislation and in relations with the Democratic Congress.
But Bill Clinton saw his loss of Congress as owing to Hillary’s policies and ideas. He felt that his presidency had been captured by a liberal phalanx that included the first lady and such staffers as George Stephanopoulos and Harold Ickes. He realized the need to move to the center and exiled Hillary from the White House, asking her to mix the largely ceremonial duties of her “job” with writing, speaking and policy advocacy. Her key role in the White House was a thing of the past – and remained so through all of 1995, 1996 and 1997.
Only in January 1998 did Hillary come back to real power – in order to lead the defense to the Monica Lewinsky scandal and prevent Bill’s impeachment. Of course, after April 1999, she was consumed with her New York Senate race.
So Hillary’s experience, real enough in 1993-94, led to a total disaster, the first loss of the House for the Democrats in 40 years. Her experience in 1998-99 was focused almost exclusively on defending against impeachment, hardly relevant for the future. But her schedule shows the vacuity of her experience in the years in between – the key years of the Clinton presidency – when the budget was balanced, the economy turned around, welfare reformed, Bosnia transformed and Kosovo freed.