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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 June, 2003, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
Hillary: President Clinton the Second?
Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton: Iron exterior
As Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoirs thrust her back into the limelight, BBC News Online's Paul Reynolds assesses whether the White House might see a second Clinton era.

One of the key things to note about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is that she always uses the family name of Rodham as well as her married name. She signs her Senate website in this way.

She is making a statement about her independence, rather like President George Bush junior who added the "W" from the family name of Walker to distinguish himself from his father.

But the fact that she still carries the Clinton name as well shows that she values its connections. Americans like to accuse the British of being fussy over titles. Americans are fussy over names, because names carry political symbolism.

Senator Clinton is perhaps also fond of the name Rodham because by all accounts she is very much her father's daughter.

Hillary and Bill Clinton
Hillary values the connections of the Clinton name
Hugh Rodham did not stand for weakness, according to his family. Unusually for the United States and very unusually for freezing Illinois, he turned the heating off at night. Hillary's brother Tony described him as "confrontational." He had been a chief petty officer and drill instructor in the war.

There is a story that when Hillary came back from school with straight A grades, he remarked that it must be an easy school. Her mother Dorothy also took a firm line. When her daughter complained about a bully at school, she replied that there was no room in the house for cowards.

Hillary Rodham Clinton developed the iron exterior which has served her so well in the political and personal storms through which she and her husband have travelled.

'I love him'

But if she is independent, she is also tied to Bill Clinton.

Twice she has shown that she will not leave her husband, whatever he has done.

Hillary Clinton during race for the Senate
The first First Lady to enter the Senate
In 1992, when Gennifer Flowers revealed that she had had an affair with him (which he admitted to only years later and then claiming it was confined to one encounter), she uttered the famous words on the CBS 60 Minutes programme:

"I'm not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him."

She had to apologise, of course, to Tammy Wynette who wrote and sang the song but was not the character in it, but Hillary had made her point.

The second time was in January 1998 when the Monica Lewinsky story broke. She declared in an interview with the NBC Today show that it was all politically inspired by "this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president."

Hillary, Chelsea and Bill Clinton with Buddy the dog; August 1998
Troubled times: At the height of the Lewinsky affair in 1998
She had a difficult moment later that year when her husband admitted to certain contacts with Monica Lewinsky, and nobody will forget the sight of the two of them walking across the White House lawn to the helicopter waiting to take them on holiday.

Their daughter Chelsea walked between them holding their hands. Hillary was angry but she was still there.

She presumably stayed with Bill because she wanted to personally, though it is noticeable that their lives are often spent apart these days.

And presumably, too, she stayed because she felt it strengthened her political hand, as was proved when she went into politics for herself and became the first First Lady to enter the Senate.

Testing the water

The question now is whether she will run for the presidency itself. She will certainly not do so in 2004. George Bush is far too strong and she is only in her first term as a senator.

But 2008 is a possibility if Mr Bush wins a second term as he would be stepping down then under the two-term limit constitutional amendment (which Bill Clinton incidentally now wants changed). There are signs that she is prepared to test the water at least.

Hillary Clinton
Might Hillary Clinton have the US presidency in her sights?
For example, liberal Democrats in New York State have noticed that she is distancing herself from some liberal issues, such as gay rights, just as Bill Clinton did with his strategy of "triangulation", in which he kept himself apart from left and right.

She was careful to be supportive of President Bush over Iraq.

Anne Erickson of the Greater Upstate Law Project told the New York Times: "Is she playing to a national audience? As a Democrat with liberal leanings, I can personally say that it is pretty disappointing... We expected better from her."

She has also teamed up with conservatives in the Senate to introduce legislation. One partner was Senator Graham Lindsey from South Carolina with whom she sponsored a bill to increase National Guard and Reserve pay.

As a member of the House of Representatives at the time, he was one of the most effective of the House members who argued the impeachment case against her husband in front of the Senate.

It never hurts a senator's position to be talked about as a potential president

To which one of her advisers Harold Wolfson commented: "The view of Hillary Clinton as a dyed-in-the-wool leftist is a caricature."

The word from her camp, therefore, is that this is nothing new.

But if she is well placed to consider a run in 2008, there are equally many arguments against it.

The Republicans would make much of the curious position which Bill Clinton would occupy - and what would his title be, assuming that they were still married? First Gentleman? They would accuse him of being president by proxy.

In the meantime, it never hurts a senator's position to be talked about as a potential president.

The BBC's Matt Frei
"Then, we could only guess what was said behind closed bedroom doors - now, we know"

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Whatever happened to Bill Clinton?
21 May 01  |  Americas


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