Hillary: 'She's part of it'

November 19, 1992

Hillary Clinton, the nation's next First Lady, will get her firs tour of the White House today and chances are she will not be mentally measuring the drapes. This formidable woman of the Nineties has her mind on policy. A successful attorney, a member of big corporation boards, a crusader for the needs of children, a trusted adviser to her husband, she may well be the most powerful president's wife since Eleanor Roosevelt -- perhaps ever.

But for "the Bobby Kennedy law" -- the statute denying appointive positions to the family of the president in retribution for John F. Kennedy's selection of brother Robert as attorney general -- Hillary Clinton right now would be an outstanding candidate for White House chief of staff. That such a move would be controversial is an understatement. But at least it would have confirmed publicly what may well be the case privately. No one in the Clinton White House, with the putative exception of the president himself, promises to have more impact on the country in the coming four years.

First Ladies, even the most withdrawn or non-political of them, are always under scrutiny. Some rebuff it; others attract it. Just since election day, Mrs. Clinton has been credited with putting James Carville in charge of her husband's campaign, blocking Mickey Kantor from heading the transition team and insisting on a day-after-victory statement to reassure foreign governments and world markets. When Democratic congressional leaders went down to Little Rock, they found themselves sitting around a table with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Warren Christopher -- and Hillary Clinton. No big deal, the president-elect later commented. "We just sort of sit down here around this table every day and talk. She's part of it. . . It's pretty much how I've always done things."

It was in another incarnation -- this time as a member and long-time leader of the Children's Defense Fund -- that Hillary Clinton was to speak last night at a special Washington function. And her husband? Just a member of the audience.

Few political wives have had to endure the kind of campaign that brought Hillary Clinton into the limelight. She had to go through the embarrassing ordeal of defending her husband against infidelity charges. She had to listen to herself being vilified as a radical, anti-family feminist at the Republican National Convention. She even had to change her hair style, stop mocking those who might want her to stay home and bake cookies and otherwise play the role of the adoring and supportive wife.

Now, we are counting on her to assume her more natural role as a gifted, concerned woman who is about to play a major part in the public affairs of her times. This will be a welcome and important feature of the Clinton presidency. Perhaps this country is not yet ready for a woman president. Consider Hillary Clinton's advent as good preparation for that eventuality.

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