Hillary Clinton: The Better Half

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

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Diana Walker / Time Life Pictures / Getty

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The first time she showed a real curiosity about psychological pain was right after Foster's suicide in 1993. She picked up books about depression and started to think of the subject as a real disease. Tipper Gore, for one, helped with Hillary's education in this regard, as did some clergymen, says a friend, whom she consulted about the roots of Bill's recklessness. She hoped to convince herself that "it stems from his screwed-up childhood and his own insecurities, that this is not about her."

That idea--that it was never about her--had always been some comfort in the face of Clinton's infidelities. One friend, at least, says Hillary has never thought of Clinton's dalliances as a commentary on their marriage. Never. "It doesn't occur to her that he doesn't love her," she says. She sees his sexual escapades "as a weakness, a vulnerability, the stuff of junior high school. And as a very small part of his life." And that's why, over the years of rumors and revelations, Hillary was not fundamentally insulted by it. "She doesn't feel it's because she's let him down in some way."

But if over the years she had made a sort of don't-ask-don't-tell marital contract, that still did not fully equip her to handle Lewinsky. That he had continued to carry on right in their home, when she was out of town, after church on Easter, once on their anniversary, with at least the complicity of co-workers, was demeaning to her; his choice of paramour, meanwhile, demeaned him. "It wasn't an adult relationship. It was a man thinking he was 14 years old," says a friend.

But the way that dramatic weekend played out also raised some suspicions: Sunday morning dawned, and it was time for church. He held his Bible. She held his hand. It all seemed just a little too tidy, this tableau of grief and rage and reconciliation. With White House operatives leaking that Hillary had known all along, the showdown in the private quarters looked as though it was being carefully stage-managed for the benefit of an audience that was looking to Hillary for its own cues. If that view was surpassingly cynical, it had its own history. Back in January, as Clinton was preparing for his deposition in the Paula Jones case, the cameras had "caught" him and Hillary in a private moment, dancing on the beach in the Virgin Islands. As the year unfolded, casual friends of the Clintons noticed something a little creepy in the occasional offhand remark from the First Couple--as in "Buddy jumped in bed with us this morning"--whose only purpose seemed to be to signal the connubial geography. Privacy, it seemed, could be auctioned off for the right price.

The ultimate public display of private drama came, of course, on Tuesday afternoon, the day after Clinton's testimony and speech, when husband, wife and daughter, hand in hand in hand, did their "it's nobody's business but our own" walk across the endless South Lawn to a helicopter waiting to swoop them off to Martha's Vineyard for family therapy. Hillary wore blue, with dark glasses. Her eyes never met the camera. The President smiled slightly. Had the family temperature at that moment seemed too warm, it would have been dismissed as phony; too cold, and it would have invited the audience to give up on the rogue husband. Hillary, without saying a word, had to get it just right.

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