Clinton refuses to hide behind excuse of abuse

President notes he knew he was loved as a child, even in toughest times

August 05, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton said yesterday that while his Arkansas childhood might not have been "a bed of roses," he was "well-loved" -- even through "the really tough moments." He took issue with his wife's assertion this week that he had suffered "abuse" as a young boy that might help explain his marital infidelities.

Two days after Hillary Rodham Clinton's interview with Talk magazine was published, the president broke his silence on the subject, saying that in no way was his wife excusing his infidelities by blaming his troubled childhood.

"I don't believe that anybody could fairly read the article and think that she was making any excuses for me," Clinton told reporters in the Rose Garden. "I haven't made any excuses for what was inexcusable, and neither has she, believe me."

Readers of the first lady's interview, the president said, should draw two conclusions: that she is "an extraordinary person with a passionate commitment to public service" and that "we love each other very, very much."

First lady in New York

Yesterday, on a visit to Jamestown, N.Y., Hillary Clinton sounded much like the president, saying that she had not been making excuses for his actions.

"Everybody is responsible for their behavior, and I am a very strong proponent and believer in personal responsibility," she said. "So I hope that people will take that message away from this."

The first lady caused a stir in Washington by suggesting in the magazine interview that her husband "was so young, barely four, when he was scarred by abuse."

"There was a terrible conflict between his mother and his grandmother," the first lady continued. "A psychologist once told me that for a boy being in the middle of a conflict between two women is the worst possible situation."

Addressing questions

Advisers and friends of the first lady said her assertions were calculated: She was trying to address questions about her marriage before she embarks on an all-but-certain bid for a Senate seat from New York.

White House aides have spent much of the week downplaying her vague assertions about "abuse," insisting that she was referring merely to the oft-told tales of Clinton's sometimes violent, sometimes drunken stepfather. The president stuck to that theme yesterday, saying, "Everybody knows that's looked into it I didn't have a bed of roses as a kid."

But he put the best face on his childhood.

"The most important thing is that every child needs to know growing up that he or she is the most important person in the world to someone, and I knew that," Clinton said. "And I have no complaints."

Talk magazine interview

In fact, the interview appears to go beyond the stories involving his stepfather. The interviewer, Lucinda Franks, wrote that she asked the first lady about "the atmosphere of alcohol, violence and chaos" surrounding Clinton as a child. His wife leaned forward and said softly, "That's only the half of it," before describing a child "scarred by abuse."

The president sought yesterday to put the issue behind him, saying he had said all that needed to be said. After some reflection, he said, he had concluded that his boyhood "had its really tough moments, but I always knew that I was well-loved. And I think that's important for all of our children."

Pub Date: 8/05/99

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