March 26, 1992
Correspondent: Jackie Judd
Anchor: Ted Koppel
TED KOPPEL (VO): Meet the new political wife. She has a career, she has
opinions. A partner in every way.
GOV BILL CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And my slogan might well
be, "Buy one, get one free".
KOPPEL (VO): And now, she's become controversial.
HILLARY CLINTON: I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies
and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I
entered before my husband was in public life.
KOPPEL (VO): Tonight, we'll look at what has become one of the hot
issues in the presidential campaign, the candidate's wife, in this case,
ANNOUNCER: This is ABC News Nightline. Reporting from Washington, Ted
KOPPEL: This must be another one of those, "Oh, no, not again" nights on
the Clinton campaign. Tomorrow morning's New York Times carries a front - page
story on an Arkansas ethics and disclosure law. This was a law backed by
Governor Clinton which would have required all public servants to file a report
every time they took an action or made a decision that might affect their
families' personal finances. What is revealed in tomorrow morning's Times is
that Governor Clinton and his advisers reportedly altered the law before it was
put to the vote so that the governor and a number of other public officials
would be exempted. It is hardly what the Clinton campaign needs at this point.
Rarely, in fact, has a campaign been able to sustain such simultaneous
impressions of victory and disaster, and perhaps never in a presidential
campaign has the candidate's wife become such a strong symbol of the campaign's
strength and weakness. More from Nightline correspondent Jackie Judd.
JERRY BROWN, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is funnelling money through
his wife's law firm for state business. That's number one.
JACKIE JUDD, ABC NEWS (VO): When Jerry Brown accused Bill Clinton, his
facts may or may not have been right, but he sure hit a nerve. Overnight,
Hillary Clinton became a campaign issue. And she hit another nerve the next day
when she tried to answer the charge.
HILLARY CLINTON: You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked
cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession,
which I entered before my husband was in public life.
JUDD (VO): Never mind that Clinton went on to say feminism means the
right to choose work, or home, or both; the damage had been done. She'd been
tagged an elitist and an ultra - feminist.
PATRICIA O'BRIEN, AUTHOR: There's an entire new generation of
candidates, so there is therefore an entire new generation of candidates'
wives. And they are not the traditional women people have been used to seeing
on the campaign trail and in the White House, and they have - they come with
different lives, their own lives. They are not necessarily formed by their
husbands' careers, and this is causing all sorts of problems.
JUDD (VO): Hadassah Lieberman, a career woman and wife of Connecticut
Senator Joseph Lieberman, says Hillary Clinton, like most political wives,
faces a no - win situation.
HADASSAH LIEBERMAN: When they say nothing, there's a problem. When they
say something, there's an even greater problem. And it sort of - what it does
is, it reinforces the notion that a political wife should just step into the
background and don't say anything that's controversial.
JUDD (VO): In fact, that's been a successful prescription. Americans are
most comfortable, for example, with first ladies who are gracious, stand - by -
your - man wives, women who also adopt indisputably good causes. Any more than
that, such as when Rosalynn Carter attended some cabinet meetings, makes people
uneasy, and now there's a potential president and first lady who say they're a
GOV BILL CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I always say that my
slogan might well be, "Buy one, get one free".
JUDD (VO): What's ensued is unprecedented scrutiny and criticism of a
political wife's thoughts, deeds and ambitions.
(NBC) CORRESPONDENT: Would she, in effect, be a full partner, a co -
GOV CLINTON: No, she wouldn't be a co - president. We have our
differences of opinion and, in the end, I have to decide.
JUDD (VO): The candidate took more questions about his wife than about
any other single subject during a recent TV appearance. Most incendiary is
Hillary Clinton's view that children should be considered competent. In legal
terms, that means a child could sue a parent. The Wall Street Journal carried a
damning column on the subject. It characterized Hillary Clinton as an "ardent
liberal," and as "the glue that holds together" her husband's political
coalition. Is it fair game to link the candidate with what his wife says and
believes? A Republican strategist says, you bet.
EDDIE MAHE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: She has chosen to take a very
visible, major, policy - related role in the campaign. She has made a point of
not being Ms Hillary Clinton, housewife. "I am out here, I am part of the
equation," quote, "If you elect Bill Clinton, you get me". Well, if we get her,
we deserve to know what she's about and what influence she's going to have.
JUDD (VO): Clinton's other problem, those conflict - of - interest
charges raised by Jerry Brown, is a minefield navigated by many modern
political spouses. Ruth Harkin is a Washington lawyer and wife of Senator and
former presidential candidate Tom Harkin. She says that lurking beneath the
surface of those conflict - of - interest accusations is not only old -
fashioned politics, but old - fashioned sexism.
RUTH HARKIN: There is a presumption, in many cases, that somehow the
wife is not a stand - alone, and that somehow her career has been enriched or
that she has done well because of the position of her husband. And that is a
question that would rarely be asked of a male spouse, or a son, or a nephew, or
- because men are expected to do well in their professions.
JUDD (VO): There's never been a candidate's wife quite like Hillary
Clinton, outspoken, independent, smart, but her strengths have been used to
make Bill Clinton look like a wimp, even by a president who used to be accused
of wimpiness himself.
GOV GEORGE BUSH: And then there's Clinton, a very formidable candidate,
but would Mario Cuomo run as Hillary's vice president?
MS. O'BRIEN: This is one thing I think the American public is afraid of.
They really want a first lady to be an adjunct to the man that they elected,
but they have no control over her, and that, I think, causes a great deal of
JUDD (VO): Fear and loathing. The tabloid New York Post called Hillary
Clinton "a buffoon, an insult to most women".
RUTH MANDEL, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: It's the old kind of feeling about
"uppity" women. Stay in your place. Here's someone who's stepping out of her
place, here's someone who is - you're able to describe with all the old
stereotypes. She's not supposed to be - if she's a woman, she's supposed to
stand at his side, smile, look pretty, be quiet and say that everything he does
JUDD (VO): The betting is, that as the campaign wears on, Hillary
Clinton will rein herself in, will become less of a moving target for her
husband's opponents. Being a modern political wife is fine, so long as that
also means being an asset and not a liability. This is Jackie Judd for
Nightline, in Washington.
KOPPEL: When we come back, we'll be joined by Susan Estrich, a
University of Southern California law professor, who managed the Dukakis
campaign four years ago and who says a wife like Hillary Clinton is a political
asset. And we'll talk with Terry Eastland of the conservative Ethics and Public
Policy Center, who says Mrs Clinton's outspokenness may prove a liability.
KOPPEL: Four years ago, Susan Estrich had to field many a political
curve when she managed the campaign of Michael Dukakis. She says Hillary
Clinton isn't a problem, but a plus, because of her independent nature. Ms
Estrich is in our Los Angeles bureau. And with us in our Washington bureau is
Terry Eastland, a columnist for the conservative American Spectator, who says a
remark by Mrs Clinton, the one about baking cookies, has already presented a
problem for the campaign. A lasting problem, Terry?
TERRY EASTLAND, ETHICS & PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: Well, Ted, I would
just simply say that it seems to me there is a problem for this campaign, in
the sense that it is trying to appeal to lower - income and middle - income
voters in particular, and that kind of statement, it seems to me, gives an
elitist cast to the campaign. So that's an immediate problem that the campaign,
I think, must overcome somehow.
KOPPEL: It was, Susan Estrich - I think even you will agree - an
incautious statement. SUSAN
ESTRICH, USC LAW SCHOOL: I think it was an unfortunate comment, and I
think Mrs Clinton has apologized for it. She was referring to the ceremonial
duties of a first lady. She's apologized for saying it. But as for lower -
income, working - class and middle - class families, I think ultimately what
they're going to decide on in this election is who's going to help them educate
their kids, and provide health care for their parents, and provide jobs for the
future, not who's going to be first lady.
KOPPEL: There is a question, though. When someone plays as prominent a
role in a campaign as Mrs Clinton is playing right now, it demands closer
scrutiny. I mean, there are political wives, political significant others,
let's say, who simply stand back, let all the focus of attention be on the
candidate, who are never subjected to this kind of scrutiny. But when you play
as prominent a role as she's playing, it demands the scrutiny, doesn't it?
MS. ESTRICH: Well, it demands scrutiny, Ted, and I think Mrs Clinton
would welcome the scrutiny. I do have a sense, and I think many women are
feeling it these days, that there may be a little unfairness in the attention
that's been focused on Mrs Clinton, maybe a double standard at work here. You
know, she's entitled to her views, she's made her views clear and it's fair to
scrutinize them, but she's not running for president, Bill Clinton is, and I
think he, not she, should be the focus of most of our scrutiny.
KOPPEL: But she's the one campaigning for him. Let me just make one
other question before I - or make one other point before I go back to Terry
Eastland. Thirty years ago, more than 30 years ago, when Jack Kennedy ran for
president, won the White House, and appointed his brother, Bobby, who was,
after all, his closest adviser, there was - you may not recall it personally,
but I'm here to tell you - there was outrage, there was a furor. Why? Because
there was the sense that a brother, rather like a wife, exercises far more
control over a president, has far more influence with a president, than just
any other adviser would.
MS. ESTRICH: Well, I haven't heard any rumors that Bill Clinton is
planning to appoint Hillary attorney general. If he is, it would certainly be
news to me. But you know, Ted, I wonder, I mean, Barbara Bush, for all we know,
exercises enormous influence over her husband. We have reason to think Nancy
Reagan influenced her husband. I think there's something funny, maybe a reverse
sexism here, in the amount of scrutiny to Mrs Clinton - yes, she has a law
degree, yes, she's an intelligent and articulate woman - but frankly, I think
Barbara Bush is an intelligent and articulate woman. My problem isn't with Mrs
Bush, but with Mr Bush. And I think if we're going to start giving scrutiny, we
ought to do it across the board.
KOPPEL: Fair points, Terry?
MR. EASTLAND: Well, Ted, I think that Hillary Clinton has basically
asked for this kind of scrutiny by some of the things she has said. Let me say
this, though, to be fair with her. I think that if she had been - if we had had
a Dukakis presidency, or even a Mondale presidency, I think Susan Estrich
probably might be a federal judge somewhere in this country today. She has
those kind of qualifications. The difficulty she has, though, goes further than
simply the statement she made that we've been discussing. She also said that
she needs to rethink the rules. As she comes to Washington, if she were to come
here, she would find that this city is simply dazzled, it seems to me, by
scandal. It's interested in it. The media is particularly interested in it. And
the kind of conflicts of interest that the media is interested in frequently
are those that are subjective in character. The appearance standard is a soggy
standard. And I think that's what she's running up against.
KOPPEL: Well, I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say the
appearance standard. What is it that she's doing that appears to be wrong?
MR. EASTLAND: Well, that - well, I would simply say, on the facts so
far, that I don't think she's done anything wrong, but we saw what Governor
Brown did in attacking Bill Clinton. He used those facts to try to suggest that
there was some kind of conflict of interest, and I think the understanding here
is that there is an apparent one, not a real one. This town is especially one
prone to look for apparent appearances of conflicts.
KOPPEL: But the focus was on Governor Clinton, not on her. In other
MR. EASTLAND: That's exact -
KOPPEL: - had the charge been true -
MR. EASTLAND: - right.
KOPPEL: - or if the charge is true, it reflects badly on him, not on
MR. EASTLAND: That's right. This is not a comment on her. It's rather a
comment on him, and the only way that she is relevant to this story is by
virtue of that connection to his office.
KOPPEL: When we come back, and we're going to take a break right now,
I'd like to ask Susan Estrich whether the very fact that this is a woman who is
so smart and apparently independent in some strange way is considered by people
to reflect badly on Governor Clinton himself. We'll continue our discussion in
("USA Today" / CNN Gallup 3/24: If Bill Clinton is elected, should Hillary
Clinton continue to work as a lawyer? Yes, 62%; No, 29%)
KOPPEL: And we're back once again with Terry Eastland and Susan Estrich.
Susan, this is not a "what do you think is right," but I'm asking you to use
your political gut to tell me what you think is going to happen. A few weeks
ago, when the Gennifer Flowers story was hot, that daily image of seeing the
governor and Hillary Clinton together, very strong, very helpful, seeing her as
a strong, independent partner was good. But tell me where you think she's going
to be three or four weeks from now. Are we going to see as much of her?
MS. ESTRICH: I think she's going to be less of a factor, frankly. I
mean, I think the focus right now and in the coming weeks is going to be on who
Bill Clinton really is, what he stands for, what he's committed to, and I think
that's where the focus should be, and it really isn't about Hillary Clinton one
way or the other.
KOPPEL: No, but I'm not asking whether the campaign should be about
Hillary Clinton. Clearly, it shouldn't, but sometimes things happen in
campaigns that shouldn't happen. What I'm asking you is, until now she has been
perceived as largely an asset. You think she's an asset. But what I'm saying to
you, Susan, if you were running that campaign, would you say, "Hillary, might
be a good idea if we didn't see quite as much of you over the next few
MS. ESTRICH: Well, I don't think we're likely to see quite as much of
her, Ted. I mean, I think the focus has to be on Bill Clinton, because he's the
one with work to do with the American people. The polls I see suggest that
she's a pretty popular lady with the American public, and that if Bill
Clinton's got problems, it's not because of his wife, it's character issues and
record issues that he's got to deal with.
KOPPEL: There was - the question I was going to pose a moment ago, and
let me put it to you, Terry Eastland, to what degree are we still such a
retrogressive society that when we see a smart, tough woman up there, we almost
infer that it reflects badly on the guy, that maybe he can't handle it on his
own, maybe she's the one who wears the pants in the family, you know, one of
those old cliches?
MR. EASTLAND: Well, I haven't inferred that from this. I mean, I must
say, it seems to me that both of these individuals are quite talented and
capable people, and I haven't really thought that. Ted, if I may, let me just
add that I do think there's another dimension that will arise in this campaign,
not in the next few weeks, not in the first half before the Democratic
convention, but rather in the fall campaign. I do think that the question of
the kind of legal philosophy, the kind of judicial philosophy views that Bill
Clinton has will become an issue. To some extent, his wife has been quite
outspoken as to her views. A fair question for him is what are his views.
That's not a question likely to be pressed by Governor Brown, but I would
imagine it would be in the campaign in the fall.
KOPPEL: Well, let me ask you about that fall campaign, Susan Estrich.
You have seen this particular Republican machine at work. It chewed your
candidate up pretty well.
MS. ESTRICH: They're pretty good at it.
KOPPEL: Yeah, they are pretty good at it. You think they're going to use
this as an issue, and if so, how?
MS. ESTRICH: Well, I think they'll try to use everything as an issue. I
think George Bush is very weak and they'll throw mud in every direction.
Certainly they tried to use Kitty Dukakis as an issue, so I wouldn't be
surprised to see them try to use Hillary. But, Ted, I think there's a
generational thing at work here. I mean, Bill and Hillary Clinton are the first
of a new generation of candidates, as your piece made clear at the outset, of
working women, of independent women, not that Barbara Bush isn't independent,
but it's a new model, it's a new generation, it's a new age. And while I think
it's going to take some getting used to, I think America's ready for that, and
while we may struggle a bit here and there with just how to deal with some of
the conflict of interest issues and some of the coverage issues, I think one of
the things that's potentially exciting about Clinton's candidacy, if he's the
nominee - as I expect he will be - is that it will be a new generation taking
on an old generation, and I think that's what change is all about.
KOPPEL: Well, let me ask you both a purely political question, then, in
terms of what that generational gap is going to mean, because you're quite
right, Susan, it - there is a generational difference and the polls already
indicate that if you get to older Americans, people above 55, above 60, they
tend to disapprove of Hillary Clinton by a huge majority, whereas younger
people approve of her by an equally large majority. What does that age
breakdown going to mean in terms of the election?
MS. ESTRICH: You want to start with me? Well, you know, older people
vote, but I don't view them as a write - off in any sense. I think it means
that Hillary Clinton's got some work to do, and Bill Clinton's got some work to
do with older voters. But I think ultimately, as the Kennedy election in 1960
proved, the older generation may be ready for the kind of change that the
younger generation, I think, will insist on this time around.
KOPPEL: We're going to take a break. When we come back, Terry Eastland,
I'd like to ask you a question, because we've been focusing only on the Clinton
campaign. Mr Bush clearly has problems with what is called the gender gap. If
the Republicans indeed go after Hillary Clinton, is that likely to rear up and
bite him you know where? We'll be back in a moment.
(US families with dual incomes: 1967, 47%; 1977, 49%; 1987, 57%; 1991, 59%)
KOPPEL: Terry Eastland, going after Hillary Clinton is potentially a two
- edged sword for the Republican Party, isn't it?
MR. EASTLAND: It sure is. I think it would be a mistake for George Bush
to go after her. After all, he is running against Bill Clinton, if Bill Clinton
is the nominee and if George Bush is also. I think that could backfire. I think
what would be fair to raise are the substantive issues that would separate the
candidates, including the issue I just alluded to earlier, judicial philosophy,
legal philosophy, what kind of judges, what kind of Supreme Court justices do
we want. That's a fair issue, it should be discussed on the merits.
KOPPEL: In terms of what her views are, as well as his?
MR. EASTLAND: Well, I think we want to know what his views are. I mean,
it could be a fair question to ask of him, whether he shares her views on this
matter, but I think really the question is what he believes about this.
KOPPEL: Susan, let me go to the story that I reported at the beginning
of this broadcast, The New York Times on this ethics law that was passed in
Arkansas and where reportedly Governor Clinton and some of his advisers were
instrumental in getting themselves removed from the ethics law. The governor, I
am told, or was told during the break, has responded and said it's an old
story, and he denies that he's had anything to do with it. It's sort of the
death of a thousand cuts, isn't it, these stories every few days?
MS. ESTRICH: Well, it's very difficult, obviously. I think it gets in
the way of the Clinton campaign getting out their affirmative message, and I
think, unfortunately, stories like this do hurt. If there's any good to it, I
suppose, it's better to get them out in the spring, believe me, than it is to
take them day after day in August, September and October. And I think that if
Bill Clinton can withstand what he's been through this spring, he's certainly
going to be able to withstand the best that George Bush can hit him with.
KOPPEL: Is it going to be, Terry Eastland, when the Republicans get a
hold of these same issues, is there going to be a little more oomph to the
charges, do you think?
MR. EASTLAND: Well, I think so. I mean, again, Washington ethics is
almost a separate category that you don't understand till you've been here, it
seems. And I can see this president, who has been relatively clean insofar as
any scandals occurring under his watch these past four years, I can see him
trying to make an issue of some of the ethics charges that have been raised
against the governor.
KOPPEL: Although his son, to a certain degree, is vulnerable there.
MS. ESTRICH: Indeed.
KOPPEL: The S&L issue is certainly vulnerable.
MS. ESTRICH: Indeed.
KOPPEL: I mean, there are quite a few.
MS. ESTRICH: Sure are.
KOPPEL: It could be an interesting campaign.
MR. EASTLAND: Well, all these things are relative. I mean, I would say
that Bush has not had the record that we had during the Reagan years. On the
other hand, he's fared better, perhaps, than Congress has in recent years.
KOPPEL: All right. Terry Eastland, Susan Estrich, let me thank you both.
Tomorrow, on 20/20, Leona Helmsley, the self - styled hotel queen who is set to
go to prison for tax evasion, talks with Barbara Walters. That's our report for
tonight. I'm Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good