Read an excerpt from A Woman in Charge A Woman in Charge
is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein's illuminating account of Hillary Rodham Clinton, revealing the complex of motivations and machinations behind her extraordinary life and career. Drawing on over 200 interviews with Clinton associates (both colleagues and adversaries), as well as major pieces written by and about the former First Lady, Bernstein has constructed an indelible portrait of perhaps the most polarizing figure in American politics, from her midwestern roots to her own presidential ambitions; but don't take our word for it--read an excerpt from the first chapter and decide for yourself.
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Chapter One: Formation I adored [my father] when I was a little girl. I would eagerly watch for him from a window and run down the street to meet him on his way home after work. With his encouragement and coaching, I played baseball, football and basketball. I tried to bring home good grades to win his approval.
Hillary Rodhams childhood was not the suburban idyll suggested by the shaded front porch and gently sloping lawn of what was once the family home at 235 Wisner Street in Park Ridge, Illinois. In this leafy environment of postwar promise and prosperity, the Rodhams were distinctly a family of odd ducks, isolated from their neighbors by the difficult character of her father, Hugh Rodham, a sour, unfulfilled man whose children suffered his relentless, demeaning sarcasm and misanthropic inclination, endured his embarrassing parsimony, and silently accepted his humiliation and verbal abuse of their mother.
Yet as harsh, provocative, and abusive as Rodham was, he and his wife, the former Dorothy Howell, imparted to their children a pervasive sense of family and love for one another that in Hillarys case is of singular importance. When Bill Clinton and Hillary honeymooned in Acapulco in 1975, her parents and her two brothers, Hughie (Hugh Jr.) and Tony, stayed in the same hotel as the bride and groom.
Dorothy and Hugh Rodham, despite the debilitating pathology and undertow of tension in their marriage (discerned readily by visitors to their home), were assertive parents who, at mid-century, intended to convey to their children an inheritance secured by old-fashioned values and verities. They believed (and preached, in their different traditions) that with discipline, hard work, encouragement (often delivered in an unconventional manner), and enough education at home, school, and church, a child could pursue almost any dream. In the case of their only daughter, Hillary Diane, born October 26, 1947, this would pay enormous dividends, sending her into the world beyond Park Ridge with a steadiness and sense of purpose that eluded her two younger brothers. But it came at a price: Hugh imposed a patriarchal unpleasantness and ritual authoritarianism on his household, mitigated only by the distinctly modern notion that Hillary would not be limited in opportunity or skills by the fact that she was a girl.
Hugh Rodham, the son of Welsh immigrants, was sullen, tight-fisted, contrarian, and given to exaggeration about his own accomplishments. Appearances of a sort were important to him: he always drove a new Lincoln or Cadillac. But he wouldnt hesitate to spit tobacco juice through an open window. He chewed his cud habitually, voted a straight Republican ticket, and was infuriatingly slow to praise his children. "He was rougher than a corncob and gruff as could be," an acquaintance once said. Nurturance and praise were left largely to his wife, whose intelligence and abilities he mocked and whose gentler nature he often trampled. "Dont let the doorknob hit you in the ass on your way out," he frequently said at the dinner table when shed get angry and threaten to leave. She never left, but some friends and relatives were perplexed at Dorothys decision to stay married when her husbands abuse seemed so unbearable.
"She would never say, Thats it. Ive had it," said Betsy Ebeling,* Hillarys closest childhood friend, who witnessed many contentious scenes at the Rodham dinner table. Sometimes the doorknob remark would break the tension and everybody would laugh. But not always. By the time Hillary had reached her teens, her father seemed defined by his mean edgeshe had almost no recognizable enthusiasms or pretense to lightness as he descended into continuous bullying, ill-humor, complaint, and dejection.
Which Hillary Clinton will prevail in this sprawling, muddled biography? Is she a "messianic" idealist or a ruthless pragmatist given to negative ad campaigns and vilifying opponents? A liberal feminist firebrand or a closet traditionalist and Washington prayer-group fixture? A Lady Macbeth, a First Soul-mate, or a stand-by-your-man marital martyr? Bernstein (All the President's Men) gives us all these Hillary's, foggily uniting them by reference to her "extraordinary capability for change and evolutionary development." (Then again, the Senate candidate who "told voters largely what they wanted to hear" seems much the same species as the Wellesley student-body president who "was more interested in...achieving victory than in taking a philosophical position.") Bernstein's ill-balanced treatment puts "the Journey"-Hillary's mystic term for her politico-conjugal relationship with Bill Clinton-at the center of the story, particularly her dominant, sometimes disastrous role in Bill's scandal-plagued administration. Ever the investigative reporter, the author serves up chapters of eye-glazing Whitewater arcana and probes Hillary's emotional turmoil as she defends Bill from bimbo eruptions, but flits through her entire post-impeachment career as a high-profile senator and leader of the Democratic party in a scant 19 pages. Bernstein provides a densely detailed road-map of Hillary's life, but we get little sense of where the Journey has taken her. Photos.
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