Hillary Clinton: The Better Half

During her husband's greatest crisis, Hillary has come into her own

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On election night, as the President downloaded results in chief of staff John Podesta's office, a television commentator caught Clinton's attention with the observation that Hillary had won the day for the Democrats. "That's right," he announced to the crowd around him. Hillary's morning-after assessment: "We could have done better."

EPILOGUE

There is a faraway sense in virtually everything Hillary does now, a hint that she is already on her way to something else. It is hard to believe there is anything accidental about the fact that her schedule of late has kept her away from the White House and Washington, where her husband was devoting an unseemly amount of his time to golf. Her visit to New York City earlier this month, something the White House would usually book as a day trip, stretched over three long days and two late nights, all packed with events nourishing her ego and her image and her agenda. Hillary gamely crooned a funny, off-key duet with Rosie O'Donnell. She lighted the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree with Garth Brooks under a full moon, and lingered later than anyone expected at a movie premiere.

It is easy to imagine her having a far better ex-presidency than her husband will. Those who know her dismiss the notion that she might run for the Senate, from Illinois or New York. If anything, it would seem a comedown and would tie her to a capital she has come to hate. A more likely possibility, they say, is that she might head a child-advocacy organization, or run a think tank, maybe connected with his presidential library, or continue the overseas work she has come to love so much, perhaps as U.N. ambassador or head of a major international organization. She also expects to write at least two books: one a memoir, the other on health care.

For now, there is a battle to be fought and a family to heal. During their Middle East trip, at the gravesite of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Hillary yanked her arm from her husband's grasp. The New York Post called it an "icy graveyard brush-off." And yet as Air Force One prepared to take off from Ben Gurion Airport early Tuesday evening, returning to Washington and the impeachment ordeal, Congressman Sander Levin encountered the First Lady as he made his way back to his cabin. She talked for 15 minutes about the history that her husband had made during that trip, how inspired she had been by his speech to Israeli youth, how awed at the importance of his address to the Palestine National Council and how unfair a judgment the House was about to make of his presidency. "You know, he's my President too," she told Levin.

It was more an endorsement than an embrace--but still, Levin found himself wishing the whole country could hear her talk like this. As the House vote neared on Friday, Hillary spoke out for the first time since January. She called for reconciliation. She counted blessings. She invoked the needs of those less fortunate. It was a Christmas card, to us and to him, preprinted but a keepsake nonetheless. Hillary had brought her husband and the country this far, and there was little chance she would let go now.

--With reporting by Jay Branegan and Margaret Carlson/Washington and Priscilla Painton/New York

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