By Thane Peterson
Will John Kerry ask Hillary Clinton to be his running mate? If not and Kerry loses, will Hillary run for President in 2008? And if Kerry wins this November (with or without Hillary on the ticket), will she run in 2012? Dick Morris, political consultant and New York Post columnist, speculates on all those possibilities in his new best-seller, Rewriting History (Regan Books, $24.95).
Morris' book could easily be dismissed as, well, just another political screed hatched during an election year to gain attention -- which on one level it certainly is. Most of its 265 pages of text are a rehash of various Clinton-era scandals, from Whitewater and Travelgate to the Monica Lewinsky affair. Through Morris' telling (he worked closely with the Clinton White House), the former First Lady often comes off in an unflattering light.
What grabbed me is a surprise ending that few reviewers have bothered to mention (leading me to believe that few of them actually finished the book). After harshly criticizing her for most of the book, Morris virtually endorses the New York senator's candidacy for Vice-President or President (providing, of course, that she renounces her past sins and attempts to repair the flaws Morris discerns in her character).
"Our current political landscape badly needs Hillary's perspective, her passionate idealism," Morris writes. "Her willingness to fight for the underdog and her compass for issues are rare indeed in our male-dominated, profit-obsessed society."
Morris' thesis: With approval ratings for George W. Bush falling, Hillary could well be the strongest candidate for national office on the political scene today. True, she comes with more political baggage than just about any other major contender for the White House. But Morris argues that demographic trends -- notably the rapid growth in the heavily Democratic black and Hispanic populations -- could make her a virtual shoo-in for President in the 2008 or 2012 elections, providing she can calm the fear and loathing conservatives hold for her. Already, she could well be Kerry's strongest choice for veep, he contends.
Morris has known Hillary for years, having advised Bill Clinton on campaigns dating back to his early career in Arkansas. But he also has made a mini cottage industry out of attacking Hillary Clinton in his books and columns. I get the feeling Morris wrote this latest book in hopes of positioning himself to be an influential Hillary expert for upcoming Presidential campaigns.
Rewriting History is basically a rebuttal of the blander portrait Hillary paints of herself in her own memoir, Living History, which came out last year and remains near the top of the paperback bestseller lists (Scribner, $16). Morris contends that the memoir is part of a campaign by Hillary to "rebrand" herself, whitewashing her past in some respects.
Morris can be merciless: He portrays Hillary as a scheming, money-hungry, leftist ideologue, prone to ethical corner-cutting and surrounded by friends and relatives of questionable judgment and character. She stayed married to Bill through all his many infidelities, Morris argues, because she hopes to live in the White House again -- as President rather than First Lady.
If all this seems a tad over the top from a guy who was once embroiled in his own sex scandal (a call girl in 1996 revealed lurid details of Morris' sexploits with her on his visits to Washington to counsel Clinton), it is. But Morris' resurrection of Hillary's alleged financial peccadillos is surprisingly interesting in the retelling.
I've long considered Whitewater, Travelgate, etc., to be minor incidents pumped up by Clinton-haters. But when you add up all the questionable financial dealings by the Clintons and their relatives, as Morris does, the entirety of the picture presents a pretty disturbing story. Especially damning are the gifts the Clintons solicited and the pardons Bill Clinton granted in late 2000 (in exchange for campaign donations and political favors, Morris contends) at the end of his Presidency. As Morris notes, these unseemly incidents can't just be dismissed as youthful mistakes.
The main question about Hillary in most people's minds, however, doesn't arise from past scandals. It's why she has stuck with Bill all these years. Morris claims Hillary still needs Bill's political acumen and ties to wealthy campaign donors, but that's sexist bunk. She has her own political base now, and donors and will flock to her just as surely as they flocked to Bill.
The way I see it, getting rid of Bill would be a clean break from the scandals of the past. It would reassure professional women who have doubts about her because she stuck with him. Moreover, John Kerry surely would be more inclined to have Hillary on the ticket if he knew the scandal-prone Bill wasn't part of the package.
Then again, maybe dumping Bill just isn't possible for Hillary. Maybe she's exactly what she says she is: A woman in love with a charming pol with a roving eye. If so, I suspect love for her husband may be Hillary's biggest political liability at this point -- one she might just have to live with.
Peterson is a contributing editor at BusinessWeek Online. Follow his weekly Moveable Feast column, only on BusinessWeek Online
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht