Confidant's notes expose the old, chaotic Hillary Clinton

Opponents keen to capitalise on unflattering portrait of frontrunner for tilt at White House

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 11:29am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 6:26am

America is getting a new look at an old version of Hillary Clinton, with a time capsule from the political maelstrom that tore through her life in the 1990s.

The revelations are contained in notes of communications with Clinton when she was first lady, taken by her confidant Diane Blair, an Arkansas professor who died in 2000.

The unflattering character sketch of Clinton is a far cry from the poised and popular operator she has since become and it is already fuelling a pseudo political war as she deliberates over another White House run in 2016.

The papers reveal Clinton to be "baffled and angry" at the ways of Washington, mystified by people out to "destroy" her husband's administration, and furious at him for a chaotic first two years in office.

Since losing the Democratic Party's presidential nominating race to Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton has refashioned her image, serving him as secretary of state and is again a big favourite to lead the Democratic ticket.

But the Blair archive includes polling by Democrats in 1992 that found voters admired Clinton's intelligence but saw her as "ruthless", highlighting how divisive a figure she was in her White House years when she attracted fire by carving out a policy role as first lady.

The papers, first reported by the Washington Free Beacon website, offer a glimpse inside the Clinton marriage, rocked by Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Blair reveals Clinton faulted her husband for a "huge personal lapse" and branded Lewinsky a "narcissistic loony toon".

Some Republicans have made a tactical decision not to let the 1990s rest.

Senator Rand Paul, a possible 2016 hopeful, has brought up Bill Clinton's indiscretions in several recent interviews, lashing his "predatory" behaviour.

Paul appears to be making a play for the Clinton-hating Republican Party base and evangelical voters who he would need in a nominating race.

But should he convert a long-shot chance into the Republican nomination, he may find women voters - already a tough demographic for Republicans - blanch at him for reviving Clinton's public embarrassment.

Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus, meanwhile, said "everything is on the table" should Clinton win the Democratic nomination. "We're going to have a truckload of opposition research," he said. "Some things may be old and some things may be new."

But does raking up the scandals of the 1990s - which seem a lifetime ago in today's Twitter-driven world - make sense?

"Clearly Republicans think it is a viable strategy," said Costas Panagopoulos, who teaches the next generation of American campaign managers at Fordham University in New York, who was sceptical.

"I am not convinced it will work. Hillary Clinton has been around long enough for people to know what they like about her, and what they do not like."

Complicating the Republican bid to negatively define Clinton's character ahead of 2016 is her four-year tenure at the State Department, in which she built executive skills she lacked when losing to Obama in 2008.

Though her resume is thin on big picture achievements, she was credited with key roles in the operation to kill Osama bin Laden, the Libya war and in the Iran sanctions programme that is widely hailed for bringing Tehran to the negotiating table over its disputed nuclear programme.

"Nothing was better for the political career of Hillary Clinton than being secretary of state," said Professor Bonnie Dow, a specialist in gender and politics at Vanderbilt University.

Will any of it matter?

A key question is will the Democratic nomination even be worth having, should Obama's stumbling second term and a sluggish recovery boost Republican prospects?



A survey of academics has found that Eleanor Roosevelt was America's best first lady. Michelle Obama ranks fifth.

Hillary Clinton dropped from fourth to sixth since the last Siena College/C-SPAN survey in 2008.

Abigail Adams kept her second place standing, and Jacqueline Kennedy retained third place. Dolley Madison was fourth.

Clinton is seen as the former first lady with the most presidential potential.

The poll is based on interviews with 242 historians, political scientists and other scholars.

The Siena College survey has been conducted five times since 1982. Roosevelt has come out on top each time.


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