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Making Hillary Clinton An Issue
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, Hillary Clinton.

ANNOUNCER: This is ABC News Nightline. Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel.

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 package deal.

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 - president?

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 fear.

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 is fine.

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 words -

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 her.

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 a moment.

("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 weeks"?

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 night.

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