Cover image for Hillary's choice
Hillary's choice
Sheehy, Gail.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 389 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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E887.C55 S47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E887.C55 S47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E887.C55 S47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E887.C55 S47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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This is the story of a woman and a marriage, both so famous the world over, we think we know everything there is to know. ButHillary's Choicerenders America's First Lady fully human for the first time.          Gail Sheehy uncovers the lifelong imprint of Hillary's drillmaster father and the frustrated mother who taught her to bottle up her emotions and who took subversive pleasure in teaching her only daughter how to fight like a man. We listen in as Hillary describes, in letters to a college pen pal, her dreams of becoming a star and her depression when trying to choose an identity. And we meet her first love, the handsome Georgetown man who melted her midwestern puritanism but lost her to the more ambitious Bill Clinton.          We see the arc of Hillary's life through her headstrong choices: as a Yale Law School graduate who chooses to marry an Arkansas boy, thinking she will get him elected to Con-gress and take him back to Washington; as a professional wife who chooses to abandon her own career dream so she can raise a "boy" to be a president; as a woman betrayed once too often who finally confronts her husband and makes the deal that will determine their future.          Sheehy has been observing Hillary Clinton for seven years, talking to her informally and writing about her inVanity Fair. The biographical portrait that emerges is a tour de force of hard reporting shaped by the intimate contour of the author's unique insights.            The story of the Clinton presidency has always been the story of the Clinton marriage. Delving deep into a relationship that is both supportive and destructive, Sheehy answers the constantly asked question "Why does she stay with him?" How has Hillary preserved her spirit through repeated cycles of Clinton's seduction, betrayal, and repentance? Sheehy peels back the layers of public masks and private denials, showing through one vivid scene after another how Hillary became addicted to Bill, and how desperately Bill depended on Hillary to teach him how to fight and to bring him back again and again from the political dead. Power and shame shift violently from Hillary to Bill and back again as Sheehy deconstructs their embattled co-presidency.          Hillary's Choicereveals much more:  the one serious threat to the Clinton marriage, when Bill fell in love with a woman unlike any of his others; Hillary's symbiotic relationship with political guru Dick Morris; the real reason Clinton couldn't help Hillary pass health care reform; the source of Hillary's crippling hostility toward the press; how Hillary escaped the snare of Ken Starr; how she endured, and capitalized on, the miseries of the Monica year; why she polarizes women; and why she chose to seek her own political voice.          Hillary's Choicebrings this tempestuous tale up to date, following Hillary's rebirth as a newly confident woman in her "Flaming Fifties" who is ready to take control of her life. The Clintons' startling role reversal in middle life maintains the suspense: Will Hillary succeed as a retail politician with Bill in the wings as her strategist? Will their marriage survive his postpresidential blues and her possible rejection by her new neighbors in New York?          Gail Sheehy's saturation reporting and candid interviews with hundreds of people--many of them fresh sources with int

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Although as First Lady it is impossible to protect one's privacy, much about Hillary Rodham Clinton's life is not really well known. Sheehy, renowned author of Passages and a political journalist for Vanity Fair, presents an objective portrait of this intelligent and tenacious woman. Not surprisingly, Clinton was a successful student although her parents offered little support. During law school, she found an intellectual equal in Bill Clinton and became determined to make him president. Through interviews with those close to Clinton, Sheehy portrays her as shrewd and passionate about the things she loves and values. Although promoted as an intimate biography of the senatorial candidate, Sheehy's book fails to delve into her true feelings and reactions and instead succumbs to defining Clinton through her husband's antics. In addition, Clinton's role as mother is only briefly examined. Despite these flaws, Sheehy's competent writing, which makes the book feel more like a novel, and the eternal appeal of information about Presidents and their families will make this popular in most public libraries.--Susan McCaffrey, Haslett H.S., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Chapter 1 Anyone who has known Hillary Clinton, née Rodham, since her budding days remarks on her iron willpower, her desperate ambition to get the best grades, take on the boys, win the competition whatever it may be. What is the source of this inner core of steel? Hillary was born an adult, according to her mother, Dorothy Rodham. While that is surely an exaggeration, Dorothy's daughter never seemed to lack discipline or drive. Once she settled on a track, she stuck to it like the wheels of an express train. Her favorite lines from the Dr. Seuss books, she has said, read like an internalized motto: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose." It was the best of times, 1950, in the best of countries, America victorious, when two offspring of Welsh immigrants moved their little family out of the city of Chicago to the suburb where the white people lived, Park Ridge. It was the right place to bring up their daughter, their pride, their Hillary. She was three years old, and the first of her two brothers was on the way. Hugh Rodham, her driven father, wanted the finest house he could afford, although he was too scarred by the Depression to take out a mortgage. Even if he had to work fourteen hours a day--and he did--he was determined to live on Elm Street in a fine two-story stone house and keep a Cadillac parked conspicuously in his driveway. His daughter would have her own bedroom with a sundeck. Hillary did not want to grow up. In her shoes, who would? Her world was as rarefied and protective as the elm trees that canopied the streets of her neighborhood. It was nice to look out in spring at those good gray guardians: solid, old stock, rising straight up before spreading their fanlike leaves. By summer, a million of those little green fans lapped at the warm air up and down streets of staid English Tudor-style homes. Only gentle shafts of sunlight were admitted to dapple the grass. Hillary would spend hours dancing and spinning in the sun. She saw herself as the only person in the whole world and imagined that if she whirled around, everyone else would vanish. But the best part was pretending that the sunlight was intended for her, beamed down by God, and that there were "heavenly movie cameras watching my every move." She always saw herself as a star. The Rodhams' world was a suburban incubator of upward mobility, flush with GI Bill checks that bought up the land and paid the taxes for first-class public schools. The original buildings of this English-style village were 150 years old, and some still stood proudly, their white stucco fronts top-hatted with stiffly pointed gables. This quaint base was carefully overlaid by the neat, conformist homes of a middle-class community that would serve as a bedroom for workadaddies who commuted the forty-five minutes to Chicago. "Back then, moms stayed home" is the wistful recollection of Hillary's old history teacher Paul Carlson, who was born and bred and remains insulated in Park Ridge. "Dads could make enough money to support the family. Mothers did what mothers are supposed to do, provide a gentle climate for the children and the husbands." The mothers shopped and gave coffee klatches and had lunch ready when their kids biked home from school and waited for the crunch of gravel to signal the homecoming of the head of household. The mothers of Park Ridge were always waiting for life to happen. It was a dry town, literally as well as symbolically: no liquor and no dissenting views to heat things up. All white, almost all white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, its mostly English and German population belonged to the New Class of postwar Americans who invented the suburban dream. Republicanism was as solidly planted in Park Ridge as the American elms. When someone wanted to vote Democrat, there would be a flurry of activity trying to find a ballot for the oddball. The Arcadian portrait of her girlhood invariably offered by Hillary and her designated friends glosses over important social realities. In status-conscious Park Ridge, most of the fathers wore business suits and were considered professionals. Hugh Rodham commuted to Chicago, the same as his neighbors, and drove home at dusk, the same as his neighbors, but he was not a professional. None of Hillary's playmates or classmates knew exactly what Mr. Rodham did for a living. "I just assumed he was a professional," most will tell you. In fact, Mr. Rodham was a tradesman. His wife had barely finished high school. Their desperate ambition to better themselves was injected repeatedly into their children. It had been ever thus with the Rodhams, a scrappy clan of Welshmen and their long-suffering wives. Hugh's grandmother Isabella, alone with her eight children, had endured the horrors of a steerage-class crossing from Wales in 1882, to begin life anew in Scranton, Pennsylvania, joining a husband who worked in the blackened pits of the "anthracite capital of the world." The immigrant coal miner had told his sons, "It doesn't always have to be like this. You can be whatever you want to be." Their son Hugh went to work in a Scranton lace mill at the age of thirteen and stayed for the next half century, becoming a pillar of Republican respectability and the father of three sons. His namesake, Hillary's father, Hugh Ellsworth Rodham, managed to go through Penn State University on a football scholarship, studying physical education. But he graduated in the Depression and went to work in the mines, later joining his father at the Scranton Lace Company. Big and burly and bursting with ambition, Hugh Jr. escaped the dreary mining town and literally rode the rails, jumping on and off passing freight trains until he got himself to Chicago and found a better job selling curtains at the Columbia Lace Company. Hillary tellingly describes her father as "a self-sufficient, tough-minded, small businessman." Indeed, he did eventually become his own boss and the sole employee of a little business. He made draperies for hotels and banks and offices. He took the orders, bought the material, cut and stenciled and sewed the curtains, delivered and hung them. Hugh Rodham was a one-man band. (Except when he put his sons to work helping him on a Saturday.) The Rodhams emphasized self-reliance: no hands, no help, except perhaps from God or Goldwater. Pop-Pop, as the children called the authoritarian drillmaster at the head of the family, neither offered nor asked for nurturing. Matters of the heart were a fickle distraction in the Rodham household. Life was seen as combat. Hillary's father prided himself on having trained young recruits for combat during World War II. Mr. Rodham did serve as a chief petty officer in the navy, although he himself never saw combat or left the States. Notwithstanding, he gave a good imitation of General Patton in raising his children. "Well, Hillary," he would demand, "how are you going to dig yourself out of this one?" In her first book Hillary depicts a deeply religious family: "We talked with God, walked with God, ate, studied and argued with God. Each night we knelt by our beds to pray." Her father did come from a long line of Methodists, but he let his wife and daughter do most of the churchgoing to the First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge. The patrician manners and mores of the New Class were not something to which Hugh Rodham aspired. He swore. He chewed tobacco. He was gruff and intolerant and also famously tightfisted: he shut off the heat in the house every night and turned a deaf ear to his children's complaints that they woke up freezing in the morning. Toughen up was the message. In the Rodham code any emotional display signaled weakness. "Maybe that's why she's such an accepting person," Dorothy has said of her daughter. "She had to put up with him." [From Chapter 14] One of Hillary's favorite homilies seemed to her more applicable than ever that year: As I was standing in the street as quiet as could be, A great big ugly man came up and tied his horse to me. The man was, of course, Kenneth Starr. The "I" was the way Hillary saw herself: working behind the scenes on issues and principles and selflessly helping her husband to regain the reins of a presidency run amok. Why, then, was this zealot chasing her down and trying to tie his subpoena to her? It was an infuriating distraction from her efforts to use the power of her husband's office to change things for the better for Americans and for women and children around the world. One day in April, Hillary was the headliner at the Mother of the Year awards. A few days later, a paternal Bill Clinton had to reassure a shocked nation after a homegrown act of terrorism--the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in which 158 people were killed. Only a few days after that, the father figure of the country and the mother of the year faced their first deposition with Kenneth Starr. An eight-foot table had been moved into the President's study for the unique occasion. Clinton went first. He took a seat at the south end of the table. Already in place was a lineup of three prosecutors and a court reporter. At the opposite end Kenneth Starr faced the President. He wanted to take this deposition himself. Overeager to the point of carelessness, he was three or four questions into the deposition when he noticed the President's attorneys, Jane Sherburne and Abner Mikva, smirking. One of Starr's deputies passed him a note. The top prosecutor had forgotten to swear in the witness. The contrast between Bill and Hillary's personalities was strikingly on display. The President, who believes that if he can connect with somebody he can always persuade him, couldn't have been more polite and helpful. He tried to put Starr at ease. After the formalities, he chatted with Starr and his deputies about the Oklahoma City bombing and then guided them around his office, showing off his favorite artifacts. "He's voluble, lighthearted, he's covering them with charm," describes Sherburne. After Abner Mikva left, the President turned to Sherburne and said, "Will you show them the Lincoln Bedroom?" Jane followed the President's orders. Steeling herself, she toured Starr and his entourage around the Oval Office and the historic bedrooms. Next, Hillary walked in. Sat down. No chitchat. No "Can I get you a glass of water?" Just "Let's go." She didn't try to treat Starr like a friend or win him over. "She was just furious this man was in her house," recalls Sherburne. "She gave direct answers, said no more than she had to, got up, and left." When Hillary later learned that the Starr party had been given a tour of her house, she made it abundantly clear that she would have preferred they had left and been done with it. The next time Starr turned up for another interrogation session in the White House, this time with a different set of deputies, he asked Sherburne, "Would you mind giving them the same tour?" "Not on your life," said Sherburne. "No way. I'm taking you to the door, and you're getting out. We won't be doing any tours today." Starr said, "You're making me feel like a skunk at the garden party." Sherburne said, "That's a pretty good description," and ushered him out. Continuing to follow in Eleanor's footsteps, Hillary decided to write a book and to launch a weekly newspaper column, presenting a warmer, more personal side of the woman perceived at best as a policy wonk, if not as the "yuppie wife from Hell" or the "Wicked Witch of the West Wing." But the week before her print debut, the conservative Republican senator from New York, Alfonse D'Amato, launched his own Banking Committee hearings on Whitewater. With yet another "great big ugly man" in her life, Hillary's first columns carried an edge of anger and frustration: "The truth is, it is hard for me to recognize the Hillary Clinton that other people see." Her column seldom took up the important political or policy issues of the day, as had those of her model, Eleanor Roosevelt, whose "My Day" column had evolved from a campaign-year diary in 1936 into a sounding board for Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Eleanor wrote her column not only to ease the sting of criticism but sometimes to openly oppose her husband's policies. In July, Hillary had to turn her attention away from her column and from writing a book, which was about caring for children of the world, and fend off the latest Republican assault. D'Amato's committee was hammering her chief of staff, Maggie Williams, subjecting her to lie detector tests and saddling her with huge legal bills, which she, as a private citizen, would have to shoulder herself. On her first day of testimony, the tough young African-American aide broke down in tears. Hillary trusted very few people by now, and she didn't trust Sherburne yet; it was only six months into their association. With the brio that astounds most people and shuts them up, Hillary stated her view on how to handle the D'Amato hearings. She wanted to take D'Amato on. He was a perfect target on which to vent some of her pent-up anger. She seemed to be almost salivating over the prospect of a spitting contest. Somebody had to take the risk. Few dared. Finally Sherburne took a deep breath and came back at Hillary--firmly. "You can't show your face before D'Amato's committee," she insisted. "Your appearance would be a sensation. Why give D'Amato that much attention? His hearings are going to fail, eventually. We'll be successful at showing it's all part of a political exercise, and he'll be the one who ends up looking bad." The formidable First Lady looked startled. "Hillary wasn't accustomed to having people push back; it takes one to know one--people don't feel like they can come back and challenge me either," acknowledges the blunt lady litigator. "Hillary lacks self-awareness of this trait and how it affects people. When she says, 'Fix it!' or 'If there's a problem, fire 'em!,' she doesn't appreciate how she can make people jump. (Her impact) is a combination of her own personal style and the fact she's First Lady of the United States." Hillary responded quickly to Sherburne's argument. "That makes sense, fine," she said. "That's how I learned how forceful she can be and how people respond to that force," says Sherburne. "They don't realize she is open to listening to another point of view." But soon afterward, the decision blew up in Hillary's face. Breaking her habit, she read Newsweek the first week of August and found herself characterized in a column by Joe Klein as the "Daisy Buchanan of the Baby Boom Political Elite." Klein invoked the Roaring Twenties femme fatale from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby to make the point that Hillary was throwing her chief of staff to the wolves. He wrote, "Why hasn't she come forward and said, 'Stop torturing my staff. This isn't about them. I'll testify. I'll make all documents available. I'll sit there and answer your stupid, salacious questions until Inauguration Day, if need be.' " Hillary was shaken by the column. When she called Sherburne, it was not to castigate her, it was to find an escape from the hideous mirror that was distorting her. How could anybody see in her a resemblance to that woman in the white dresses who sipped mint juleps while displaying a lethal indifference to the lives being smashed on her account? Hillary insisted she would have to testify: "Every bone in my body tells me that's what I should do." "We're not at a point yet where it makes sense for you to do that," Sherburne said. The Clintons' personal lawyer, David Kendall, was also very much against it. "How's Maggie?" Hillary inquired softly. "We both know Maggie is tough. Maggie is not looking to you to come and save her." Hillary returned to the depiction of herself as an insouciant Daisy Buchanan. She wasn't crying but was close to it. She said it was worse than a perception problem; it was about living with herself. If she stood by nonchalantly while one of her most loyal comrades in arms went down, she would be--she couldn't even spell it out. It sounded to Sherburne as if sobs were being throttled in her throat before they could escape. "I'm not someone who just lets people suffer without offering any help," Hillary blurted out. "I help people." What stuck in her throat was perhaps the deep contradiction she had first noticed in college: Was she really the catcher in the rye who saved children before they went over the cliff, or was she secretly a hater of mankind? She had always felt an obligation to help people--people in the aggregate, people with their millions of particular stories collected and bundled into a depersonalized mass, where they could be treated with a policy. But she didn't warm to many people personally. The streak of misanthropy was still in her. Now she was being accused of abandoning even those she loved, like Maggie. "I'm not just someone who uses up people!" she wailed. Sherburne tried to be as clear as the boundless summer sky. "Hard as this is, it is political, it isn't personal," she said. "Look at the attacks on you as a nasty game. That's the only way to insulate the center of your soul." Hillary quieted down. She always felt more comfortable residing outside the privacy zone. Sherburne reassured her, "We're going to stay close to this situation. Don't worry. We're on it." If Hillary wished that Bill Clinton would do more to defend her, she never expressed it to Sherburne. "It's inconceivable she would have wanted the President to turn his attention away from running America," says Sherburne. "She was a lightning rod, to get at him. She understood that all along, intellectually. There came a point where she recognized that emotionally as well." Meanwhile, Clinton was dealing with the whole Whitewater mess by ignoring it and distracting himself. On August 9, only a week after the Newsweek piece that had laid Hillary low, the President was moving perfunctorily down the rope line of White House guests, enduring introductions forgotten on the spot before escaping on his helicopter, when a dark-haired beauty thrust herself into his sight line. She was wearing a light green suit that looked deliciously shrunk over her ample curves. The President gave the girl "the full Bill Clinton," undressing her with his eyes. It's the way he flirts with women--and not only with her, as the intern was to discover. But that day, on their first encounter, she was completely taken in: "When it came time to shake my hand, the smile disappeared, the rest of the crowd disappeared and we shared an intense but brief sexual exchange." Later on, when their sexual fantasies were being played out with abandon in his office, the President is supposed to have told Monica Lewinsky that he remembered that first moment vividly and said, "I knew that one day I would kiss you."30 Excerpted from Hillary's Choice by Gail Sheehy All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
1. Into the Flamesp. 3
Cleaning Out Closetsp. 9
The Dress Rehearsalp. 11
The Need to Know and the Fear of Knowingp. 13
Let the War Beginp. 15
The Family That Denies Togetherp. 16
2. Sleeping Through the Revolutionp. 19
Keeping the Bubble in the Centerp. 23
Finding Ways to Be Noticedp. 25
Better Dead than Red in Park Ridgep. 30
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fallp. 32
Waking Upp. 34
The Budding Politicianp. 37
3. "I Wonder Who Is Me?"p. 39
What Is Happiness?p. 40
Fighting the Inner Dictatorp. 43
The Wonk Groupp. 45
Choosing an Identityp. 46
"My February Depression"p. 53
The "Radicalization" of Hillary Rodhamp. 54
The Killing of the Kingp. 57
A Ring by Spring?p. 59
4. First Lovep. 62
The Revolution Is Us!p. 65
Getting Seriousp. 69
Weekends in the Countryp. 71
5. Prude Meets Passionp. 75
Movement Girlp. 77
Losing Controlp. 82
Running with Billp. 84
Moving In--With Doubtsp. 85
Southern Exposurep. 87
A Coupie of Favorsp. 88
Crazy Dreams?p. 90
6. The Hot Springs Kidp. 92
Will-o'-the-Wispp. 96
Constructing an Airtight Boxp. 98
The Invention of Bill Clintonp. 100
First Praisep. 104
Everything's Slickp. 107
Hillary's Leap of Faithp. 109
The College Girleriendp. 110
War Roomp. 114
7. Arkansas Diamonds and Denimp. 117
How Hillary Won Bill and Bill Won Hillaryp. 119
The Hill Womanp. 125
Superwomanp. 129
Chelsea Morningp. 132
Taking Care of "Baby"p. 134
8. The Rodham Regency in Arkansasp. 139
Teaching Bill to Fight Backp. 142
A Calculated Metamorphosisp. 144
Something in Commonp. 147
Retaliation in the Bushesp. 149
Hillary Goes Arkansasp. 151
Runnin' and Gunnin'p. 154
Hillary's Blind Spotp. 157
9. Money Businessp. 159
Calling E. F. Huttonp. 161
The Odd Couplep. 162
A Thorn at the Rosep. 164
Hillary's Armorp. 168
King of the Mountainp. 170
Betsey's Black Bookp. 174
10. Divorce or Rededication?p. 180
A Woman Different from All the Othersp. 182
Hillary's Addictionp. 185
The Re-seduction of Bill Clintonp. 189
Back in the Gamep. 191
Hillary's Brilliant Choicep. 193
11. Two for the Price of Onep. 197
The Enablersp. 198
Insulating Herself from Hurtp. 200
Just My Billp. 203
Fighting Gennifer with Jenniferp. 204
The Lockdownp. 205
Running Matesp. 208
The Real Honeymoonp. 214
Victoryp. 218
12. Things Fall Apartp. 220
The Ascendancep. 224
The First Six Hundred Daysp. 226
With Friends Like These ...p. 230
Losing the Last Protectorp. 236
13. Down Hillp. 240
Hard Choicesp. 244
God, Why Me?p. 247
Bottom of the Hillp. 251
14. Tuning In to Eleanorp. 254
Saving Bill--Againp. 256
The Eleanor Channelp. 261
Skunk at the Garden Partyp. 266
Going Flat Outp. 271
15. First Woman of the Worldp. 275
"That Lovely Memo"p. 278
Keeping the Closet Lockedp. 281
All Alone at the Topp. 283
Gliding Across Countryp. 287
Open Necksp. 289
Ignoring Middle Agep. 291
16. Everything There Is to Knowp. 294
Friendly Flingsp. 298
Splittingp. 301
Hillary's Warp. 304
The Summer of Her Discontentp. 307
Chelsea Eveningp. 309
How Could He?p. 312
Holiday from Hellp. 313
The Unrepentantp. 316
The Deep Freezep. 318
Humiliation Abroadp. 320
Now Is the Time for Turningp. 322
17. The Rebirth of Hillary Rodhamp. 327
Opening Upp. 329
Why Not New York?p. 333
Let Him Waitp. 335
Negative Spacep. 337
The Race for Redemptionp. 340
Out of the Gatep. 342
Hillary's Hidden Hand in Kosovop. 344
The Couple Crossoverp. 346
Queen Hillary Hits the Streetsp. 350
The Road Not Yet Traveledp. 352
Notesp. 355
Indexp. 379