Knowing Bill

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 April, 1999, 12:00am

One of the reasons why most people will probably like the Clintons more, rather than less, after watching the first of four programmes in the series The Clintons: A Marriage Of Power (World, 10pm) is because it shows that, despite the talk, they have not always succeeded.

Australia might be the place famous for its tall poppy syndrome, and Britain might be the country that coined the expression 'the politics of envy'. Sometimes it feels that the Clintons' real crime has been that they have fulfilled their personal ambitions. We all know that Hillary and Bill fell for one another as the two stars of their year at law school. According to this programme, they dreamed of living in the White House even then.

Mrs Clinton was a young member of the committee that investigated Richard Nixon, and a much older lawyer remembers her telling him that her boyfriend was going to be president.

In this programme there is an unstated assumption that this information amounts to proof that the Clintons' rise to power was part of an enormous, carefully choreographed plot, and that this is somehow deeply sinister. This opening episode charts those early years spent taming Arkansas and triumphing, but the film-makers are too professional to describe that period as one glorious ascent. Mr Clinton ran for office and lost, several times.

He may have been the youngest governor in the United States but he lost that job a few years later after introducing a deeply unpopular car tax to pay for a new road system.

He may be the great communicator today, famous for making you feel, as one former colleague puts it, 'like he is your new best friend' within seconds of meeting him. But this film reminds us that not too long ago, he made a real mess of his first speech on national television. His career as a national politician only survived because a shrewd television producer friend got him on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson the next day, and Mr Clinton was able to laugh at himself.

The image of Mrs Clinton as Lady Macbeth is also wheeled out and re-examined. She was loathed by many of her husband's supporters in the early years in Arkansas, mostly because bright, successful women were considered such monsters. Much has been made of her attempts to soften her public image, and again there is the unspoken assumption that the real Mrs Clinton, in those horrid glasses and unflattering outfits, is still there behind the blonde highlights and contacts.

Public sympathy for her only ever appeared after all the Lewinsky revelations. Some people who knew her better felt a pang years before. One observer remembers watching the three Clintons embrace in front of a roaring crowd having heard he had won the Democratic presidential nomination. 'I thought, I hope they know what hell they are letting themselves in for.'




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