In Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal, the distinguished historian William H. Chafe boldly argues that the trajectory of the Clintons' political lives can be understood only through the prism of their personal relationship. Each experienced a difficult childhood. Bill had an abusive stepfather, and his mother was in denial about the family's pathology. He believed that his success as a public servant would redeem the family. Hillary grew up with an autocratic father and a self-sacrificing mother whose most important lesson for her daughter was the necessity of family togetherness. As an adolescent, Hillary's encounter with her youth minister helped set her moral compass on issues of race and social justice.
From the day they first met at Yale Law School, Bill and Hillary were inseparable, even though their relationship was inherently volatile. The personal dynamic between them would go on to determine their political fates. Hillary was instrumental in Bill's triumphs as Arkansas's governor and saved his presidential candidacy in 1992 by standing with him during the Gennifer Flowers sex scandal. He responded by delegating to her powers that no other First Lady had ever exercised. Always tempestuous, their relationship had as many lows as it did highs, from near divorce to stunning electoral and political successes.
Chafe's many insights—into subjects such as health care, Kenneth Starr, welfare reform, and the extent to which the Lewinsky scandal finally freed Hillary to become a politician in her own right and return to the consensus reformer she had been in college and law school—add texture and depth to our understanding of the Clintons' experience together. The latest book from one of our preeminent historians, Bill and Hillary is the definitive account of the Clintons' relationship and its far-reaching impact on American political life.
Duke history professor Chafe (The Rise and Fall of the American Century) delivers a superior portrait of how the dynamic between Bill and Hillary Clinton affected their achievements in public life. Both fiercely ambitious superachievers from dysfunctional families, their personalities were complementary (he charming and brilliant, she disciplined and demanding), and they married; despite her knowledge of Bill's philandering, both "love and calculation" (that she could achieve her own goals by marrying him) underlay her decision. They worked together; Bill's laid-back charm made him reluctant to twist arms, so he often deferred to the far more assertive Hillary. This caused controversy when he was Arkansas governor and threatened disaster when he became president in 1992. Hillary's political missteps doomed a universal health program and, in Chafe's view, contributed to the 1994 Republican midterm landslide. After she took up issues outside the administration, the president rebounded politically. Combining reform with fiscal conservatism, he left office with superb approval ratings, a flourishing economy, and a balanced budget despite crippling ethical and sexual scandals, an impeachment trial, and terrible press relations. A sympathetic if often regretful account of a stormy, occasionally self-destructive political partnership. 8 pages of b&w illus.