The Shadow of Her Smile

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MARGARET CARLSONIt was nearing midnight in the solarium, the informal room on thethird floor of the White House. The Mexican food had been clearedaway, and a few dinner guests were hanging out waiting for thePresident to come back from taking a phone call. Just as he wasreturning, the First Lady noticed out of the corner of her eyethat the TV was on, tuned to the David Letterman show. Casually,she leaned over, picked up the remote control and switched theset off before the President could hear a barrage of scandaljokes.It's hard to believe she would need to protect him from the Top10 Reasons Monica Is a Babe. But Hillary's gut response is alwaysto defend the President against incoming fire. What's differentthis past month is her failure to go on the offense. For thefirst time, she hasn't scraped the staff off the floor,quarterbacked the Hail Mary pass or given her own statements. Andwhen she said, just before the worst performance of his life onAug. 17, It's his speech. Let him say what he wants, it wasn'thelpful, nor meant to be.What a time for a work slowdown. The First Lady may not be ableto save the President the way she saved the candidate, but shesurely will hurt him if she doesn't stand by him once again, andnot like some potted plant. Within days after the Lewinskyscandal broke, Hillary was on the Today show shouting herhusband's praises. But for weeks now, there have been onlyperfunctory remarks during icy cameo appearances, bad bodylanguage and her failure to refer to the President with her usualmy husband at a Moscow event.Like so much coming out of the White House, Hillary's anger couldbe one more piece of spin, which makes it hard to interpret herswitch to a hyper-smiley face during a flurry of publicappearances at the end of last week. If Hillary had been fakinganger because that's what any normal person would feel, she didit well. Rather than say anything herself, she issued a chillystatement of forgiveness through an aide. The Administrationseemed eager to disclose that the Martha's Vineyard vacation wasa time for healing. It certainly wasn't a time for fun. Shesulked behind sunglasses, stared straight ahead and answered inmonosyllables. There were no late evenings singing around thepiano with Carly Simon and Beverly Sills, no going out everynight till all hours, no golf. The guest house where thePresident spent most of his time alone was akin to the woodshed.PAGE 1  |  
 
Like most marriages, the Clintons' is a mystery, only more so.How can she stand his repeated betrayals? Does she yearn forpower that much, or does she, in the words of Sara Ehrman, thefriend who reluctantly drove her across the country from apromising legal career in Washington to instant obscuritypracticing law in Arkansas, still love him something awful? TheClintons nearly separated in the late '80s, after the thenGovernor had an affair. But several years ago, a friend noticedthat the marriage was much improved. Hillary liked living abovethe store. He was under a kind of White House arrest, almostalways home for dinner with her and Chelsea.It's just this proximity that fuels the current Capitol parlorgame: What did Hillary know, and when did she know it? Writer andtelevision producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason says it's ludicrousto think that Hillary knew her husband had been involved withLewinsky in her very own house but defended him anyway. Anyonewho thinks Hillary knew what happened before the two of them hadtheir conversation wasn't there that weekend. The second floor ofthe White House was a somber place. Until then, the Presidenthad told Hillary that he had befriended Monica and that she hadtaken his attentions the wrong way. In the face of so many awfulrumors, including one that the Clintons murdered Vince Foster,the Monica accusation was just more gunk from the sewer.The aftermath of the confession was brutal. Hillary spent severaldays in her room, talking only to her mother who was staying at acabin in Pennsylvania, going to church and then meeting, alongwith Chelsea, with Jesse Jackson. One friend says the First Ladywill rally to keep Kenneth Starr from prevailing but won't be outthere waving the flag. That old feeling has really suffered. Shewon't be getting over this for a very long time. Hillary hasalso taken to vigorous workouts. She's so enthused about herstate-of-the-art exercise equipment, says a former aide, thatshe talks about it as if she's hosting an infomercial. Whenyou've lost control of so much around you, you can at least getthin.By Friday, a friend says, Hillary had reconnected thePresident's oxygen tube and rallied to help absorb the incomingfire from Starr. She had resumed the my husband business in herintroductions and adopted a modified Nancy Reagan gaze as shelistened to the President at Friday's prayer breakfast, althougha friend jokes that if the President apologizes one more time,Hillary will kill him. Sensing an opening, aides are pushing herhard to go on TV to shore up the President. But if she reads thereport and has any feelings left at all, the only honest reactionwill be to let him this time twist slowly in the wind.  |  PAGE 2