New insights

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 May, 1999, 12:00am

Until the beginning of The Clintons: A Marriage Of Power (World, 10pm) most of us had probably decided we had heard more over the last year than we would ever want to know about Bill and Hillary.

One of the reasons why this series actually leaves one wanting to know more, is that it goes not just beyond the headlines, but straight to the players who created them.

These people not only include spinmeisters like Dick Morris, but also the journalists who spent so many months digging around to find something to stick on Teflon Bill.

This evening in Big Dreams, presenter Michael Elliott of Newsweek takes us through the first painful years of the first Clinton administration. In last week's opening programme about the Arkansas years, Elliott was unable to stop a note of hostility from creeping into his otherwise outstanding commentary.

In those days, nothing seemed to be able to hold this dazzling young couple back. Every obstacle was vaulted over, with a confidence that turned to arrogance.

Within a year of getting to Washington, the Clintons had faced more setbacks, disasters and tragedies than in all their previous careers, and even Elliott begins to feel sorry for them.

The first bridge too far was their plan for health care reform. The richest country in the world could not provide decent health care for many of its citizens, and in 1993, the president appointed the first lady to do something about it.

The all-powerful health insurers launched a series of television advertisements, the notorious Harry and Louise spots, to try to warn the American public that what was under discussion was a kind of creeping socialism. Free health care for all.

The American public fell for it and Mrs Clinton was booed almost to silence at rallies by people holding placards that said things like 'Health Care Reform Equals Genocide'. Only in America.

As if that defeat was not enough, there followed Travelgate, Vince Foster's suicide, the first mention of Whitewater, the tattling of Arkansas state troopers who claimed to have procured women for Mr Clinton, and finally, a woman - Paula Jones - who claimed to have been procured, although she did not put it quite like that.

Throughout, Elliott provides an analysis of the analysis that sheds light where before there was none. How many times have we heard about the Clintons losing money on the Whitewater deal? It has Elliott saying 'the only people who made money out of the Whitewater deal were the people who wrote about it', a minute or two after interviewing an ABC reporter who remembers, with some embarrassment, how many thousands of dollars were spent by his network to film the countryside where Whitewater was supposed to have been built.