The FRONTLINE Interview: Betsy Ebeling
Betsy Ebeling was in the sixth grade when she first met Hillary Rodham at the Eugene Field Elementary School in Park Ridge, Ill. The two were assigned to sit across from each other, and as Ebeling remembers, “Somebody else in the classroom said to me: ‘You know, you’re very lucky. You’re sitting across from Hillary Rodham … she’s captain of the crossing guard.’”
It was the start of a decades-long friendship. In the years since the two met, Ebeling has been present for many pivotal moments of Clinton’s life. In the below interview, Ebeling recalls episodes ranging from the time the two went as teenagers to see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, to her visit to the White House to be with Hillary Clinton as the details of the Monica Lewinsky scandal became public.
This is the transcript of a conversation held with FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on June 9, 2016. It has been edited for clarity and length.
Let’s talk about the very first time you laid eyes on this little girl, Hillary Rodham.
Well, it was in the first day of sixth grade at Eugene Field School in Park Ridge, and I was the new girl in class. I walked into the classroom, and here was the teacher, Mrs. Elizabeth King, and she said, “You’ll take that seat.” … And there she was, across from me. You know, somebody else in the classroom said to me: “You know, you’re very lucky. You’re sitting across from Hillary Rodham.” And I said, “Yeah, she seems very nice.” And she said, “No, she’s captain of the crossing guards.”
So see, I knew then that she was destined for great things, captain of the crossing guards.
What does that mean?
Well, there were two girls who were elected by their peers in sixth grade, which was the highest grade in this school. And you were the patrol people at lunchtime, so when kids were coming in. She was in charge of the patrols. So she got to go around and check that everyone was at her station.
… Home life for her? What was it like?
It was my second home for me. Her mom and dad were great. Her dad was as different from my father as possible. My parents believed you couldn’t spoil children too much, right, and Hugh, Hillary’s dad, believed children earned their way through life. We used to sit at the dinner table, and he would throw out conversations just to get everybody all riled up so that we would learn how to carry on a conversation, how to defend your point of view. We didn’t know he was doing that.
But oh, he was larger than life. I loved him dearly. But he wasn’t my dad. He could be difficult. He could be that. But he was very sweet to me.
We’ve talked to people who say very demanding, almost abusive, Hugh to Dorothy. Did you see that?
No. I mean, I can remember one time she was angry, and she said, “Oh, I’ve had it.” She was going to walk out the door, which means she would come in the back door. But he’d yell, “Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass, Dorothy,” you know. How could you not laugh? He could be, as I said, he was dear to me, but he wasn’t the father that I had to ask for money or to go someplace or do all those things.
My mother had had a very difficult father figure like that, and I really think that my mom and Dorothy and Hillary really bonded because my mother understood Hugh because of her dad.
How hard was it for Hillary that her dad was so demanding?
I think it was more difficult for the boys, for Hughie and Tony, than it was for Hill. Hill always had her mom’s heart, you know. …
Was Dorothy a role model of sorts? Was she encouraging?
Oh, yeah. I didn’t know everything about Dorothy’s childhood. I don’t know that Hillary really knew that until quite a bit later in life. She went and took college courses. You know, she was a housewife, but she was one who very much had her own way of looking at life. And those children were everything to her. They really were.
What was the quality about her? What is the thing, when you think about her, and you think about who she became? Did you ever see anything about her that said, “Oh, this one is going to go a long way”?
She’s been a constant in my life, someone that I, if I really analyze it, could always depend on, because I knew who she was. There’s something very loyal in her about her friends. Both she and Bill have been extremely generous with their friends on this journey that they’ve been on, which is historical, to say the least, and have always made sure that people are included.
But there’s something in Hillary that has always touched me, that I can just count on. Like when I get up in the morning, I can know, “Oh, I can call her or email,” as you probably read our emails. But —
Gee, she has email?
Yeah. A lot of them are mine, too. (Laughs.) She has a real respect for friendship. She really honors it.
What’s an example of that friendship constant that you can remember?
I don’t know. When I think about it, there are so many times. We just always pick up our conversation as though it was just yesterday. She not only came to my mom’s memorial service, she brought staff with her that were really close to me, her own staff. That’s a step beyond, you know. I mean, I thought it was just so wonderful to be able to see all these young people that I really cared about, and they were there.
Were you around for the Don Jones [years]?
I was ex officio member of the Methodist church. But oh, yeah, that was something, when you think about it. …
He [Don Jones] was good-looking. He was young. It was just contrary to everything that we’d ever had in church, any church, right. And he had different ideas. He actually thought that so many of the things that the church was teaching should be put into effect. He was great. He was great to the very last day, I mean with her. He really was a spiritual guide for her.
What do you think he opened up in Hillary and you and the other kids?
… I think Don Jones, in his way, said: “Question everything. Feel everything.” He just had a passion for life. I think that woke up in us, was that all of a sudden, life wasn’t just riding your bike, doing something you did every day. You know, look for the surprises in life; look for the delight in life. Not too many people really spell that out for you when you’re 14 and 15 years old. If anything, you’re told: “Don’t do this. Don’t think that.”
So he was liberating, I suppose.
… Jones takes you guys to Martin Luther King.
Yeah, he did.
Take me there. What was that like?
It was at the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, you know, which was, still is at the Symphony Hall in Chicago. You were dressed up; you wore white gloves. And yeah, you went down; it was a big, big event. To get into one of the school buses and to go down on a Sunday to see this man — I had seen him the year before with my grandfather, in the same setting, because he was living in Chicago, King.
The meaning of the handshake with Martin Luther King for a Goldwater Girl? You had said your grandfather took you to see him the year before, and then you go with Don Jones in a yellow school bus.
… It was one of those moments, I think, that when you look back in your life that you think, wow, that really — as Yogi [Berra] said, “You get to the fork in the road, you take it.” It led us down, I would think, a different path than we might have been headed toward. It did.
In what way?
Well, he, too, was a man of religion, like Don, but with a bigger outlook than I think we had been shown in church before. Church was something you went to on Sunday, and then you had youth-minister things. It was just a part of the rhythm of your life. … But there was something very, very deep inside Martin Luther King that affected us. Whether we could put our finger on it and actually give it a word, I don’t know. But there’s something about I guess what you would call charisma that he had. And the words that came out were so profoundly affecting that you left feeling more fulfilled in many ways, and more empty in many ways, than you had before.
Because you were thinking, wait a minute; there are people out there who aren’t living this very beautifully fabricated life that we had; that you go home every day, and there’s parents there who love you, and brothers and sisters who fight with you, but you have food, you have clothes, you have good schools, all of those things. And to find out that there are children your age in the world who don’t, even in your own city, that don’t have that and never can expect it, have no expectation of that, or maybe even knew that we existed, just as we didn’t know they existed, and to hear someone, an adult, express that is I think not just moving but life-altering.
What did she think she could do to actualize that? You’re 13 or 15 or something. Did you two talk about: “What’s the plan? How can we turn this into action?”
Dorothy, Hillary’s mom, actually through church, because she taught Sunday school, she used to take groups of young people out to the racetrack in Arlington Heights, where I live now, to the back track where all the families lived that were not the jockeys necessarily, but these were the ones, the grooms —
— yeah, and their kids, and have a day camp for them. And I think through that, which some people would call a small gesture, I guess, that really instilled in Hillary that you are your brother’s keeper. … You better the lot of women and children, it betters everyone’s life.
There was no big law firm for her, no. The different path that she took was probably created right around the time that she heard Martin Luther King or Don Jones, very subtly. Nobody said, “You will go out, and you will do these things.” It just became part of her fabric of her life.
Tell me about high school. How was she?
… High school was great. Life was good, you know. We were smart kids. We had good teachers. We were very busy running student council. Our third year in high school, we were at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, actually where my dad went, and the powers that be decided to build another high school in the other part of Park Ridge. It divided the town in half so that half of the class — and there were 1,200 in our junior class. Half stayed at Maine East, and half went to Maine South.
It was pretty upsetting. But in that process, as much as we rebelled against it, here was this brand-new high school that they gave to us, and we got to create the newspaper and the name. I think somewhere along the line it kind of dawned on us, well, we could change what’s always been traditions at Maine East and make them new at Maine South. And that was fun.
I heard about her creation of the assembly.
Oh, the election assembly?
Yeah. She was in charge. What was her title? Organizations chairman on student council.
It sounds like typecasting to me.
Yeah. Well, she had run for president of student council. I ran her campaign, and she didn’t win. So I’m not running this campaign, right?
Why did she lose?
She was a girl. Only boys won. …
How did you guys feel about that?
Probably accepted it … Student council president was always a boy. Student council secretary was always a girl. Class president was always a boy.
There’s a story we continue to try to confirm that she wrote a letter to NASA asking if she could be an astronaut.
Yeah. And you can’t because you’re a girl.
Tell me the story.
She did. She literally wrote to NASA to find out how she could pursue a career as an astronaut, and they wrote back a nice little letter but said, “Sorry, sweetheart, wrong gender.”
Wow. And the response, or the reaction?
She was probably angry but stored it, you know.
… Why Wellesley?
I can’t remember quite if we knew anyone at Wellesley, but they probably courted her.
And the good news about that from people I talked to who went to those schools was that you could be a little riskier. You could try things. You didn’t have the men overseeing.
Yeah, that pressure of having to go to the union and be dressed up and, you know, attract males.
… How did she like it? What were her challenges? What was she doing?
… It was way far away, and it was a little scary. You know, they were Easterners. They were nice, but they were different in the sense that they had had a different upbringing. [She was] just Midwestern compared to that. But she blossomed. She really did.
In what way?
I think she met all kinds of people, new kinds of people, young, old, teachers who really challenged her. It obviously gave her the reason to think that studying law would be something that would continue that blossoming that she was having.
It’s the ‘60s.
Sex, drugs, rock n roll.
… [laughter] Rock n roll. The others I’ll be quiet. But it was, yeah, it was ’68 here in Chicago, remember?
… And she and I told my — our mothers that we were going to the movies. And we drove my family station wagon downtown, parked — I have no idea where we parked. I had never driven downtown. She had been in Alaska working on the salmon line. … My junior year in college, I had gone to University of Madrid. So I came home, she came home just about the same time. And here is this convention going on, right.
So she said, “We have to go see it.” Well we knew there was no — because, you know, what they had filmed and everything that was happening, there was no way our parents were going to let us go down there.
They were right.
Police and otherwise.
… So, of course, we immediately get in the family station wagon. No white gloves this time, right. Drive downtown, and Lordy, we found it, and parked somewhere. I have no idea. And we walked, wended our way over to the park.
Grant Park. And that was the night they were throwing toilets out of the Hilton. I don’t know if you remember.
And the first person we ran into was [a friend who] had gone to high school with us, and had just finished nursing school at U of I. And she was there volunteering patching up heads … and said, “You’ve got to be aware of this and everything that’s going on.” … It was chaotic. It was mayhem. But it was also almost beautiful in its portrayal, of like, opened up this road and said, “This is where you’re going. And this is why.”
What did you say to each other when you were driving back to Park Ridge from that chaos?
…You know, I think we were quiet. It was frightening, in many ways. But it was also one of those times where you just really have to internalize this before — It’s wonderful to find someone you can share these ideas with. But I think you also have to go, “Wait a minute. Where am I on this?”
Where was she on this?
Well, she knew she was going to go back to Wellesley, and she would find people like thinking of, “This war has to end. There are people out here who need to be taken care of.” And that was it.
… She finishes her senior year with a bang.
That speech, Life magazine.
Life magazine, yeah. I can still remember that picture. Someone sent it to me. “Isn’t this your friend?”
Tell me the story.
I remember she had said, “I’m going to be a student speaker at graduation,” and I remember saying, “I’m not.” (Laughs.) And then the next thing I knew, somebody from — I went to a little school in Michigan, Albion College, and somebody from Albion sent me, “Isn’t this your friend?” And there she was. Never really talked about it.
What is the meaning of being in Life magazine when you’re 21 years old?
Well, I mean, you waited every week until Life magazine came out, or Look. I mean, magazines were the rhythm of your life, really, and you read it from cover to cover. So to be in Life magazine was to be acknowledged as someone worthy of a picture and an article.
… So then it’s Yale. She’s one of 22 or 27 women who get into the class of 290 or something. And she meets this fellow. There’s a lot of other good stuff, but she also meets this fellow.
From the state where they sell the biggest watermelons, Bill.
What does that mean?
That’s what he did. He told her. He said: “I’m from Arkansas. They sell the biggest watermelons.” Evidently, that was just supposed to bowl her over.
When she wrote to you or called you and said, “I’ve met this fellow,” she’d obviously met other fellows. But was there something different about this fellow?
Yeah. And that summer, … she came home for the summer and brought Bill. She called, and she said, “I want your mom and dad to meet Bill.” So they came in. We did what we always did when we would come home. We’d sit around the kitchen table, and my mother would cook. We’d play euchre, you know, laugh and talk.
Big, lots of hair, lots of hair, loud, or just kind of sucked some of the oxygen out of the air. In many ways, he was her dad in that demeanor, that “Look at me,” you know. Funny, smart. And as they were leaving, my little mama said to Hill, pulled her aside and said: “Look, don’t lose this one. He makes you laugh, and he will always make you laugh.” She was right. …
She graduates and goes to work at the Watergate Committee.
Did you talk to her or hear from her during that time? Did she think of it as really important work? I know they weren’t supposed to talk about it to anybody.
I just knew that she was doing this special project. That’s pretty much what I knew — and in Washington, yeah.
And in Washington. I can understand everything about this story, as a storyteller, until this moment. There is this fork in the road. One of [its paths] is Washington stardom. But she takes a right on the road, heading to the land of big watermelons.
Yeah, to teach law.
What’s that all about?
It’s very easy. People won’t believe me, but she loved him. She still does. To be with them together is to really understand that. They really, in the language of the ‘60s, really groove on each other. It’s very easy to understand why she went there.
Did she know she was taking a risk?
I think she thought probably it was like an internship. You know, it’s like a summer, “I’ll go for a summer and figure this out.”
Is that right?
I don’t know. I always look back on it. It was just kind of, as you say, a right turn. But it turned out to be the right turn. In the process, she also fell in love with Arkansas and with the people. She worked for a law firm, which I don’t think she ever thought she would do. She was the first, I think, female partner. And they had Chelsea there, so it became home. Her parents moved down there, too. So many things happened that for once I think she just let the control go and let things just happen spontaneously. And I don’t know that they thought they’d go — I mean, he was so young to be governor, right, and then not be governor, and then be governor again.
We used to go every two years for the inaugurations. Who gets inaugurated every two years? But it was just — he was like Andy of Mayberry. When we would go, he’d walk around Little Rock, and people would go: “Hey, Bill! Hey, Gov, how’s it going?” He was so proud of Little Rock and of Arkansas. I think he fell in love with her all over again every time that she fell in love with Arkansas. I think for both of them, it was a surprise at how well it came out.
There’s some controversy about this but not much. She gets some of the blame for his defeat.
Oh, the Rodham.
Right. Did she ever talk to you about it?
I can’t remember. I think at one point she said, “I’m going to become a Clinton now.” And I said, “Well, you know, that’s interesting,” because it was so much of the times then, women going, “I’m not taking his name.” I think she really wanted to honor her dad in that sense that she kept Rodham. She had published and done works under the name Rodham, and it just seemed very natural to her.
But just as she grew to fall in love with Arkansas, she grew very comfortable to be named Clinton. I think it also makes sense, when you have children, that they then have the same name.
… We’ve talked to lots of people who say, “She ends up running his campaigns.”
Congressional one? Oh, the other, yeah.
She’s the brains behind the governor thing. She works with the educational program. Surprise to you that she gets so involved in the policy of the organization?
No, not at all. Not at all. My husband and I would go down for the Arkansas-Texas game. I don’t know how it became some sort of tradition for us. The governor is given seats on the 50-yard line. However, they failed to mention that the Arkansas team, football team stands during the entire game. So all you see are a row of butts.
Backs of heads.
Yeah. But they were doing their education program at that time. They were there trying to do the teacher testing and everything. She had gone off to give a speech, and my husband and Bill and I were walking around Little Rock, … and he said, “You know, Hillary is giving a speech this morning.” I said, “Yeah, I know; she told me.” And he said, “She’s getting pretty good at it.” And I said, “Well, that’s high praise coming from you.”
What was the partnership like? They talk about the co-governorship. Was it a true partnership in that way? It almost sounds like she was better at almost everything than he was.
Oh, I don’t think so, not always. It’s just the intellectual partnership. That was it. I can’t imagine either of them having a spouse with whom they didn’t share their work life. There was no way. Even if she were working and not a housewife, so to speak, staying home and making those cookies, but she would never not have shared what she was doing and learning. That’s a huge part, a huge, huge part of their relationship.
… Then [in 1992] they run, or he runs for president.
What was that like?
Well, I went on the road, and I remember calling a couple weeks before the election and calling home, because my youngest at that time wanted to make sure I was home for Halloween. I called my husband to say, “I’m going to be a little late, but I’m going to be there.” I said, “Tom, I think he’s going to do this; I really think he’s going to win.” And then he did. Talk about surreal.
What made you think so?
I kept hearing these things from people on the campaign trail and reading things. And I thought — I think it was George Bush with his “Read my lips: No new taxes” — really did him in. Bill just filled that void and never looked back.
And you were there that night.
… So you’re watching the returns.
What’s she like during all of that?
Mesmerized, in many ways, figuring out, “Did I have this formula right?” Yeah. She had them. [James] Carville was there, [George] Stephanopoulos. It was —
All of them.
It was magical, you know. I mean, you talk about the term “surreal.” I thought, oh, my God. …
Is she different when that happens? Does it change her in any way, when he becomes president?
Becoming first lady?
I do remember one comment when they were still in Little Rock, when he was running. She said — because she’d had run-ins down there with the press over a lot of things. And she said: “We have been trained well down here. We’ll do well in Washington.” I think she thought she had enough press education that Washington would be nothing different.
Yeah. We were all pretty naive. Remember, he was going to help and serve. And you do run into that wall that’s Congress and lots of other things. But he got a lot done. He still did.
When they’re running, of course, it’s the very first time that the press — first they try to go for him for Gennifer Flowers and stuff. They’re then on 60 Minutes, an amazing moment. Did you watch that?
What did you think?
I was just glad that the light didn’t fall and kill them both.
Would have been a hell of a moment.
Yeah. I thought she was very much herself, you know: mother-tiger mode.
What do you mean?
She was angry, you know. They were after him, but they were after her, too. I think she was going to protect everybody.
You’d seen that before?
Well, I can watch when she comes out on stage, what’s happened before she’s come out on stage. Yeah. She’s really good at — I mean, I don’t know how she keeps up the pace that she does. She’s amazing. She does swear that she’s discovered yoga, and that’s made a difference. Also the hot sauce. I told her, she’s had hot sauce — she’s obsessed with it. And she said, “That’s what makes me healthy.” And I said, “Yes, and it’s also destroyed your taste buds.”
That Sriracha stuff or whatever it’s called? Sriracha?
Oh, everything. She’s always got it in her purse. She’s found it. So when we travel anywhere, I always look to see if there’s local hot sauce that she’ll like.
OK, so immediately after the Gennifer Flowers stuff, it all turns on her, too — Whitewater, the Rose Law Firm, Travelgate. It’s like she’s the focus. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s one thing if it’s the candidate, and it’s one thing if it’s the president; that’s what happens. Why her?
There used to be a code, I think, between the press and the government that families were off limits. Of course they went after Eleanor Roosevelt, right, for a lot of things.
But not like this.
No, not so mean. And it hurt — hurt me. I think, in a kind of perverse way they recognized somebody who could hold her own. We can go after her; she’s fair game; she’s smart; she’s powerful; she’s all of these things. She’s opened herself up to it. And that’s what really made me angry. When she was doing health care, health care was, at that point for her, was the culmination of all these things that she had learned with legal services, with Children’s Defense Fund, things that she’s observed and said, “Need fixing.” And one way of doing it is through health care. Take care of kids.
And they tore her apart over it. But out of it came CHIP, you know, when she did the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which still lasts today. They knock her down, but she gets back up.
When you talked to her during those times, could you tell how hard it was?
She’s pretty good at keeping her game face on sometimes, yeah.
But even with you?
Not always. Sometimes it’s in her voice, you know. Sometimes we have an unspoken agreement not to talk about all that stuff, just so that we have a girl-to-girl conversation that’s —
And a break.
I can imagine. 1993 and ’94 are the worst time I’ve ever seen anybody in the White House have. And for her personally, Hugh was dying. That’s tragic. All of the subpoenas are starting to be issued; health care is falling apart; Bill is in continuous hot water with the Republicans and the Congress; and the press is after everybody.
We lose the House, yeah.
Yeah. They lose the House in ’94. She feels somehow that it’s her fault, and Bill says, “No, it’s not.” And she says, “Well, you know, I think I should have done better on health care.” That’s a tough time for her. Is that the worst time you’ve ever seen for her?
About four years later.
We’re coming to that. But until then, nothing?
Nothing. No. No.
So let’s do Monica [Lewinsky]. Does she call you? Did you know? When you see it on TV that morning, had you already known?
No. It was a very quiet time. So I called Diane Blair, because the three of us used to have our little outings at the White House. We would go, and Hillary would put a hat on and sunglasses, and we’d go out and walk around and have coffee. And we really got along, the three of us.
So I called Diane, and I said, “Have you talked to her?” And she said, “No, have you?” And I said, “No.” So she says, being Diane, she said, “Then we ought to go this weekend.” So I said, “OK.” So we did. And I said: “Can you see Bill looking at who stayed at the White House this weekend? And it’s Diane and Betsy.” Probably not two names that he wanted to [see]. It was really hard.
But we went, and things were so — that’s the very definition of surreal, because she still had a public agenda, events that she had to attend. And we were there. Diane and I didn’t quite know what to do with all this. In the middle of it, [White House Social Secretary] Capricia Marshall — if you haven’t talked to Capricia — called, and she said, “You know, guys, last night was the — I think the Italian state dinner.” My plane had gotten in late, so I didn’t go, but Diane had gone, and Stevie Wonder was at this event.
So she said: “Stevie Wonder said to Hillary last night at the dinner that he had written a song just for her, and that she has to hear it. And she had said to him, ‘Well, send me a tape, and I’d be glad to hear it.’ And he said, ‘No, no, you don’t understand; I won’t leave Washington until you hear me play this for you.’” So Capricia said, “So he’s coming to the White House at 6:00, and she wants you two there to hear this song.” So it was on the second floor, you know, where the piano is.
Capricia said, “I had the piano tuned, so it should be pretty good.” And this was — I can’t remember, but Diane and I were by ourselves up on the third floor. Nobody else was staying. And they were releasing or not releasing some tapes. There was some big development that was going on. I can remember Diane and I in one room turning the TV on to hear this, and a butler coming in behind us, and we both screamed like we were being — “Oh, God. No, we’re not watching TV. We don’t know what’s happening.”
So we go down at the appointed 6:00 downstairs. … and in comes Stevie Wonder, his manager and his son. Stevie Wonder is a big man — tall, big man, right? And his kid’s really big, and he’s got headphones on, and he’s in his own world, [and] his manager, who is a really good-looking man, right, and they come in. She leads him to the piano. We meet everybody. Diane sits, of course, with the good-looking manager over on this one sofa. I sit down, and his son sits down next to me. All of a sudden the kid’s cell phone rings. He answered it. You hear him go, “Hey, nothing,” like, “What are you doing?” “Nothing.” In the White House, right.
So his father gives him a look, even though he knows exactly where this kid is, and the kid gets up. He said, “I ought to go somewhere else to talk.” So Capricia takes him down to the Lincoln Bedroom, and down he goes to have his talk. Meanwhile, in comes Hillary. She said, “No, this didn’t happen,” but it did.
There was a doorway here. The Lincoln Bedroom and the Queens’ Bedroom are on the other side of the wall, down a little bit farther. Piano is here. Then these two chairs or these sofas are at right angles across. She sits in a little chair right next to the door, across from the piano, and Stevie Wonder starts to play this song. He said, “I don’t have all the words, but I have some.” But this beautiful melody, and the one refrain that he does have is, “No one walks on water.” I’m sobbing; Diane’s sobbing, you know. And she doesn’t realize it — the part that she disputes is that she’s now moved her chair across until she’s seated right next to him. He finishes that song, and she thanks him. “It was lovely. Thank you very much. Please stay. My friends are here.” And he said, “I must have known you were going to have your friends here, because I have a song about friends that kept coming through my mind last night.” She said, “I have to go to this event, but please stay and enjoy yourselves.” And off she goes.
Then Stevie Wonder says, “Could you show me where the bathroom is?” And Capricia takes him. Diane and I are there, and Diane — we’re both sobbing at this point. A lot of release, you know. And Diane says, “But I don’t understand what the song has to do with Hillary.” And I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, he kept singing, ‘No one likes Cole Porter.’” I said, “Diane, he said, ‘No one walks on water.’” “Oh, that makes more sense.” (Laughs.) God, I laughed and I cried that night. That was “No one likes Cole Porter.”
Was that the first time you had seen her since you got there?
No. She did turn around as she was leaving, and she said, “I’ll be back for dinner, and you two better not have eaten.” So we ate up in the Solarium, which is where we lived.
How was she?
Controlled, controlled sadness. But moving forward.
Let me just ask you something. How did she put up with it for all those years?
I don’t know, because I really don’t know about all those years.
You don’t want to know.
It’s probably better.
Yeah. Just the one incongruity. I mean, you love him, and he’s a great guy, but he’s a philanderer. She’s a powerful woman who could make it on her own, absolutely.
But I don’t think life was life on her own. They’re part of each other’s DNA in many ways. I think in many ways she understood him, you know. And in a lot of ways, he’s an errant child. But, I mean, it took me a while to forgive him for what he had done to her, but to himself, too.
And he was hardest on himself. But the first one who forgave him, and who led me by the hand to forgive him, was her mother. Dorothy loved Bill Clinton, and he loved her. He couldn’t even give a eulogy at her funeral because it was just too powerful for him. I’ve heard Bill speak, I don’t know, hundreds of times. The very best speech I’ve ever heard him give was the eulogy at her father’s funeral. If you could find that, it would really — it’s very revealing about both of them.
In what way?
Just what the power of love is in your life. Warts and all, you know.
Thank you for telling me those things. I don’t want to invade.
No, I know.
It feels to us, from the people we talked to and looking at the arc of her story, that she goes to work to keep him from being found guilty. He’s impeached, and she throws herself into action, which is pretty typical of who she is, right, that she would go help him.
Right, fix it. But on the day that he is not impeached, when he is found innocent or whatever it is, she is in a meeting, getting ready to run for the Senate in New York.
I know; I was there.
Tell me about it, please.
If you’re talking about the one with Terry McAuliffe.
I was really hoping she’d come home to Chicago. I figured she could run for governor in two years. If you want to do something, do that. But New York was a much bigger stage. And a year later, when it all came together, she was really right. New York was a great place for her, great place.
I remember the morning after she was elected, Tom and I were there, and of course everything was going on with Gore and Bush, right. But she went — she walked down. We were in that hotel right over Grand Central Station, I think was where we were.
The Hyatt, the Park Hyatt.
Hyatt, yeah, yeah.
Donald Trump’s hotel.
Oh, God. (Laughs.) Foreshadowing? Yeah.
… Yeah. Was she running for president then?
I don’t think so.
This was going to be it?
Well, I don’t know about that, but she really loved being a senator. She was damn good at it. You could talk to all those Republican senators who had impeached Bill. I went to have lunch with her one day in the Senate Dining Room, and she was introducing me to some people. I can’t remember which Republican it was, but he pulled me aside, and he said, “You know, she’s the hardest working person I’ve ever worked with.” Respect.
She’s very patient with people. Let them come; she will listen to them, which she did. She’ll work hard. Talk about going across the aisle — she really did.
She hit reset.
When she runs in ’08, it’s that glass ceiling speech at the end of it.
June. I have a little disc here that goes “18 million cracks in the ceiling” that she gave me, yeah.
That was an amazing moment, yeah?
Yeah, it was, absolutely. It’s a part that I don’t think people realize the magnanimous side of her. Is she practical? Yes. Does the Democratic Party matter to her? Very much. Very much. Would she have preferred winning? Oh, absolutely. But she saw, this is what needs to be done; this is how you get things done. So I thought it was amazing, her speech, yeah. …
Did you think that was it? Or did you know better?
I hoped, I thought, I can’t be 69 and doing this. But no, I really, really thought she’d probably — I thought people would want her to do it; let’s put it that way.
Yeah. And here we are.
But I mean in between, when President Obama called and asked her to be secretary of state, I remember thinking, wow, this is really something.
Did she talk to you about why she said yes? I was surprised that she had said yes.
So was she. …
Why did she say yes?
I believe her when she said because he asked her, and that it was for her country, as schmaltzy as that may sound. I think that’s really a lot of her life. She is a public servant, and this was another way to serve. And I think she missed the Senate.
And now your friend is the Democratic nominee.
I know. The one and only.
What’s that like for you? What’s that like for her?
You know, I didn’t go Tuesday night, so I missed the swell of the whole crowd, that whole feeling. But I certainly had 12 million texts and emails. The only word I could think of: breathtaking. It literally took my breath away. This is more real than anything has been. And you know, she’s right for the job. And God, the job is right for her. Talk about things aligning, finally. …