June 20, 2005,
The Clintons will always make headlines for both their larger-than-life aspects and the simple facts of presidential history (and future presidential history?). The prospect of the former First Lady and current junior-but-star senator Hillary Clinton running for and (sit down) possibly becoming president has in part meant a little bit of a publishing bonanza of Hillary books. Among the most talked about if not the most talked about is one coming out this Tuesday: The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President by Edward Klein, published by Penguin's conservative imprint, Sentinel.
About "the most fascinating woman in America" as Klein puts it in an interview with National Review Online, The Truth About Hillary Clinton has already been in the news with lurid headlines. Is it sex, lies and footnotes, this time without the necessity factor details uncovered about Bill Clinton's sexual behavior as it related to abuse of power during a federal criminal investigation?
NRO editor Kathryn Lopez asked Edward Klein former New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief about this and more. In an exclusive interview the first of The Truth About Hillary Clinton, Klein explains and defends his book, and gives his read on where Hillary Clinton has been and where she is going.
National Review Online: In a sentence, what is "the truth about Hillary"?
Edward Klein:Hillary is not a victim (not of sexism, not of her husband, and certainly not of this book); sheís not a moderate (despite her effort to re-brand herself in the Senate). Even my sources on the left admit sheís positioning herself as a victim and moderate in order to win the White House.
NRO: Matt Drudge has highlighted the "rape" claim in your book. Which, to be upfront here, I thought was a terrible story to be highlighting, about a child and her parents. Why on earth would you put such a terrible story in your book? that looks to be flimsily sourced at that. But even if it wasnít why tell it?
Klein: Let's set the record straight here. Actually, I don't make that claim in the book. I included the story about their 1979 trip to Bermuda because Hillary herself brings it up and spins it in her own book as an example of their supposedly romantic marriage. The point of the story is that my source, who was with the Clintons in Bermuda and quoted Billís boastful remarks to me, was stunned when Bill phoned him a few months later and told him he just learned of Hillary's pregnancy by reading about it in the newspaper! Those who read the book will see this is hardly a ďrape storyĒ rather it's yet another example of a bizarre political union where a pregnancy is leaked to the largest newspaper in the state and treated as political gain rather than shared privately as a couple.
NRO: You do relay Bill Clinton claiming he was going off to rape his wife, however and then a morning-after report that suggests that might, in fact, have happened. Surely you see how that would become the "rape chapter" of the book and maybe the most obvious headline from the book? Might it have been more trouble than it was worth simply to relay that the Clintons have a "bizarre" relationship? Surely there are more polite examples.
Klein: Here's why it's not a rape claim: I donít imply the source was in the room with the Clintons, for all my source knows they could have had a massive fight and then reconciled. My source doesnít speculate, I donít speculate. This whole story, "the rape story" as itís being called by others, speaks more to how the Clintons communicate, their bizarre relationship. And, of course, the whole point of the story is how she leaked her pregnancy to the press didn't talk about it with her husband first.
NRO: Do you think more is being made out of some of the "dirt" the more salacious gossipy stuff in your book than should be?
Klein: The Truth About Hillary is a comprehensive biography, encompassing both her personal and political life. Vanity Fair chose to excerpt a part of the book about political life, while other news sources have chosen to focus on the personal. My book is much broader than any representation that has appeared in the media so far.
NRO: How many times do you use the word "lesbian" in your book? Why point out she had friends who were lesbians? Do we need to go there?
Klein: Hillaryís politics were shaped by the culture of radical feminism and lesbianism at Wellesley College in the 1960s. This is paramount in exploring the political life of Hillary Clinton.
How could someone write a comprehensive biography of Hillary Clinton without investigating the rumors that have long circulated about her? I've gone further than any other journalist in exploring the question of her sexuality, which is often the first thing people wonder about her: Is she misrepresenting herself as a doting wife to Bill Clinton? How can she stand his chronic infidelity?
As for the number of times the word appears in the book, I don't know. But I'm sure there are some in the Clinton campaign counting right now.
NRO: One more sex thing. You write: "Hillary Clinton only had herself to blame for the talk about her sex life." Can there ever really be a good reason for this, never mind in her case?
Klein: The Clintons themselves made sex an integral part of our national political discourse at the turn of the century. Thereís no way of getting around sex when it comes to the Clintons.
NRO: Are you nervous putting out a product that seems to be based on a lot of anonymous sources?
Klein: Were Woodward and Bernstein?
Look, no reporter likes to use anonymous sources. But most people are afraid of invoking the wrath of Hillary Clinton, and so they will talk about her only on condition of anonymity.
I interviewed nearly 100 people who know Hillary, including classmates from high school, college, and law school; Democratic activists and party officials; White House support staff, speechwriters, and military aides; Cabinet officers, senators and congressmen; and other intimates of the Clintons.
I have had more than 40 years of experience as a serious journalist dealing with sources, both Left and Right, on and off the record. And while writing The Truth About Hillary, I scrupulously checked all my sources for fairness and accuracy.
NRO: You've got good liberal credentials. Is this book the end of that?
Klein: I have never had an ideological ax to grind. Iím a registered independent a reporter who goes where the truth leads me. And I intend to stay that way and let the chips fall where they may.
NRO: Do you believe, as Hillary expressed around impeachment time, that there was a "vast-right-wing conspiracy" out to do her husband in?
Klein: The only conspiracy that existed during impeachment time was Bill and Hillaryís attempt to hide the truth.
NRO: Are you now part of some "Republican scream machine"? What was your intention in writing the book?
Klein: Iím a journalist who writes about fascinating people. I spent many years writing about the Kennedys. But the Clintons have eclipsed them in national interest. Right now, Hillary is the most fascinating woman in America.
I donít know if all Republicans will like this book, but I call them as I see them.
NRO: Did you vote for Bill Clinton?
NRO: You're a New Yorker. Did you vote for Hillary for senator? Would you vote for Hillary for president?
Klein: No and no.
I think Elizabeth Moynihan, Senator Moynihanís wife, had it right when she told me that Hillary is ďduplicitous.Ē Hillary acts as though she is chosen by God, and that gives her the right to use any means to justify her ends.
If she becomes president, itís going to be deja Clinton all over again. And as far as Iím concerned, weíve already had the Clinton presidency for its full constitutional eight years.
NRO: Is Sidney Blumenthal still "Hillary's brain"?
Klein: I donít know, but heís still her pit bull attack dog. Blumenthal was the first person to attack my book as soon as Vanity Fairís excerpt appeared.
NRO: A Sentinel spokesman said recently that The Truth about Hillary could be Hillary's Swift Boat Vets. Do you intend that or expect that?
Klein: I intended my book to take a good hard look at Hillaryís true character, and if the book is being compared to the Swift Boat Vetsí book on that account, then I am proud of the comparison.
NRO: Was the health-care disaster really "the most humiliating defeat of her life"? The impeachment saga wasnít?
Klein: The health-care disaster knocked Hillary out of the box and out of a position of day-to-day power in the White House for nearly four years. It was the biggest defeat in her history.
The impeachment saga was manipulated by Hillary to turn herself into a sympathetic victim, and led directly to her Senate victory. In that sense, the impeachment saga was actually a plus for Hillary.
NRO: Hillary wanted to be an astronaut, you report, but her mother encouraged her to set a more reasonable goal: a seat on the Supreme Court. Could that still be a reasonable goal? Student of Bob Bork how ironic that would be. And painful for some of us!
Klein: Hillary has bigger fish to fry. She wants eight more years in the White House.
Should she fail in that ambitious effort, she might ďsettleĒ for a seat on the Supreme Court as long as it was the seat of chief justice.
NRO: Hillary has tried to position herself as a moderate. Is she? How much of the "radical" Wellesley girl is still in her?
Klein: Hillary has been a woman of the ultra-Left ever since she entered Wellesley College 40 years ago this year. Sheís been consistently anti-military (despite her recent votes), pro-nationalized health care, and pro-abortion without parental consent.
You can take the girl out of Wellesley, but you canít take Wellesley out of the girl.
NRO: Hillary's story about how she and Bill met is "blatantly untrue"? How do you know?
Klein: Because like so many of Hillaryís stories, her version (that she walked across the Yale Law School Library and introduced herself to Bill), this story is an example of Hillary making herself more important than she actually is.
NRO: Pat Moynihan's family says your legendary-senator-hated-Hillary story is bogus. What say you?
Klein: I have known Elizabeth Moynihan for 30 years; we first met in New Delhi when Pat Moynihan was ambassador to India.
I spoke with Liz Moynihan and told her I was writing a book about Hillary. Liz agreed to be interviewed by me on the record regarding the Moynihansí meetings and relationship with Hillary.
I have a record of this interview.
NRO: Why should anyone trust or believe your portrait of Hillary Clinton?
Klein: Because it is written by a journalist with impeccable credentials (Newsweek, the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Parade), who has no political agenda.
My previous book, The Kennedy Curse, was also the object of disparagement and vilification and it has since become clear that everything I wrote was true.
You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you sure can judge a book by the authorís track record, and my record is impeccable.
NRO: Why should a fair-minded voter read your book before 2008?
Klein: Because Hillaryís 2006 campaign for reelection to the Senate is a dry run for her 2008 campaign for the White House, and the time has come for her opponents to size her up and devise a strategy to stop her.
NRO: Is there any chance she won't run for president, knowing what you know (or claim to know) about her?
Klein: Barring an act of God, Hillary will seek her partyís nomination in 2008 for the presidency.
NRO: If she runs, will she have a "woman problem" like she did when she ran for Senate?
Klein: She already has a woman problem. Many women donít like Hillary. They donít think she has earned her place in the sun.
Hillary will try to counter that problem two ways: First, by showing how hard she has worked as a senator, and second, by portraying herself as a victim of sexism.
She will try to keep Bill Clinton in the background.
But donít let her fool you. A vote for Hillary will be a vote for Bill Clinton. As far as the Clintons are concerned, itís still two for the price of one.
NRO: Could she have beaten Rudy for senator? Could she beat him for president?
Klein: Rudy could have beaten Hillary for senator, and he could trounce her for president.
NRO: How is HRC like Nixon?
Klein: Like Nixon, Hillary is paranoid and has an enemies list.
Like Nixon, Hillary has used FBI files against her enemies.
Like Nixon, Hillary believes that the ends justify the means.
Like Nixon, Hillary has a penchant for doing illegal things.
NRO: Would Hillary have had a political future if Kerry won?
Klein: Maybe on the Supreme Court.
NRO: What's the most interesting thing you learned about Hillary while working on your book? The most disturbing?
Klein: That even today, Hillary is aware that Bill Clinton is carrying on sexual affairs with other women, and she doesnít do anything about it.
NRO: Is The Truth About Hillary on bookshelves or under brown paper, behind the cash register?
Klein: The Truth About Hillary will be prominently displayed up front in every major bookstore in America, with its cover proudly facing forward.