Catalyst for change
HILLARY CLINTON: The Inside Story By Judith Warner (Signet, $63) AFTER 18 months on the presidential campaign trail, it is hard to imagine that there could be anything left to write about Hillary Clinton, the new First Lady of the United States. As Judith Warner demonstrates in this biography, released to coincide withBill Clinton's presidential inauguration, in factual terms there isn't.
Hillary is revealed, as documented ad nauseam in the media, as the bright young thing who dreamed of being an astronaut and instead became the First Lady. After NASA rejected her application to join the space programme (made at age 14) on the grounds ofher sex, she graduated cum laude from her Illinois high school, Wellesley College and Yale Law School and married a boy from the South whom everyone thinks is not as smart as she is.
Fortunately, Ms Warner has chosen to look deeper and examine the effect of Hillary, referred to in the introduction as ''the most important woman in the world'', on the US.
She argues that the partnership of Bill Clinton, a struggling Southerner and a democrat, and middle-class, Methodist-reared, Mid-Western over-achiever Hillary is now seen as the ultimate in successful post-war pairings with both people accepted as havinga role to play.
But she also highlights how Hillary, in her quest for success, has made compromises that many women would not be prepared to make.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was the eldest in the family of two boys and a girl, who spent her childhood and teenage years in four-bedroomed two-storey comfort in Park Ridge, a satellite town of urban Chicago.
Her father Hugh was the classic Republican small businessman who had gone to college on a sports scholarship and then set up his own textile business. Her mother, was the perfect 50s housewife. Dorothy Rodham stayed at home with Hillary and her two younger brothers Hugh Jr and Tony but she was no ordinary mum.
Mrs Rodham, whose own education stopped after high school, had determined soon after Hillary was born in 1947 that her daughter would not suffer the ignominy of being overtaken in conversation or opportunity by people who were better-educated or more confident.
Hillary was challenged to achieve. If her grades were good, they could always be better. She thrived in the atmosphere and unwittingly took a path in life that paralleled the development of the post-war generation. These people went to college, trained as professionals, earned big money, yet still had children and managed to maintain a marriage.
Much of the book explores this theme, examining how Hillary has managed her life, and whether she is really as good as she seems.
Ironically, many of Hillary's strengths were developed and nurtured in her middle-class Republican early life. She was reared to be confident, supportive, positive and to adapt to change.
Thus when necessary she has taken awkward decisions. She adopted smarter clothes, smiled tightly at her husband's side when he all but conceded he had been unfaithful on international television and changed her look.
It is easy to see how the author has ended up so squarely in Hillary's camp. Bill is bright, she suggests, but it is in combination with Hillary that he will bring significant political and social change.
''Hillary Clinton may lead the country away from imagining itself in ideal terms and embracing itself as it is,'' a social commentator says in the book. ''There are lots of couples like the Clintons. But it's unprecedented for us to have a couple like that as highly visible and accessible as an image.
And as another commentator notes: ''By being who they are and doing what they do, Hillary and Bill Clinton will give people permission to think and act in ways already comfortable to them but not heretofore publicly sanctioned by our dominant cultural images.'' An interesting book which raises fascinating questions about Hillary Clinton's future as a catalyst to social change.