Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

She is the favourite to be the Democratic party’s nominee for president. Winning the nomination would put Hillary Rodham Clinton within reach of the White House. She could be America’s first female president.

But is the US ready for a female president? Is Hillary up to the job? What is the agreement between Hillary and Bill? What else could she bring to the White House?

Carl Bernstein, who, as a reporter for The Washington Post along with Bob Woodward, broke the story of the Watergate break-in and consequently helped bring about the resignation of US president Richard Nixon, has written a biography of the New York senator.

For A Woman in Charge, he has interviewed 200 of Mrs Clinton’s colleagues, friends and enemies, charting her political acumen and her blind spots. Her marriage is also addressed, including the emotional and political chaos of the Lewinsky affair.

Here Mr Bernstein answers your questions about Hillary Clinton and the presidential race.

Further reading

Her Turn?

A converser with God and America

In depth: US presidential election 2008

Could Hillary Rodham have pursued a political career successfully if she had not been married to Bill Clinton?
Rod Carr, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Carl Bernstein: My handlers are indicating my answers may be somewhat long-winded for a British newspaper, which of course, is a hilarious notion, so I will cheerfully consider their position.

One of the more interesting themes of my research is that, contrary to popular perception, Hillary Clinton never seriously considered a life in electoral politics, despite the urging of others, and in many regards, seemed more than happy to leave that part of the division of labour to Bill, perhaps the most masterful and natural politician of our age.

That equation changed after his impeachment and the Lewinsky ugliness, after which she saw her own desire to be elected to the Senate as a matter of redemption: hers, the legacy of the Clinton presidency’s, and her husband’s reputation as president.

Given the mess the republicans are in, due to the disastrous Bush presidency, it is likely that whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be president. If Hillary and Obama are the likely contenders, the more pertinent question is: Is the US ready for a black president? And thus, isn’t Hillary the only choice?
Shreekant Koradia, India

Carl Bernstein: America, I believe, is ready, and in certain circumstances evolved enough in its politics to elect either a woman or a black president; obviously the question is who would those ”electable” women and African-Americans be?

Colin Powell, I believe, might well have been able to win the presidency in the last years of the 20th century, though his identification with the war in Iraq through his presentation to the United Nations would now make that probably impossible; Hillary Clinton stands at the threshold of possibly being the next president, and is the front-runner as of now for her party’s nomination; if she is the nominee, her candidacy, especially given the relative popularity and affection for Bill Clinton, and the fact that he would so obviously be her closest advisor and even a ”co-president” of a second Clinton presidency, might make her more – not less – electable. Isn’t Hillary the only choice?

As per your question. Or alternative to Obama. Certainly Republicans would dispute that, and there are a lot of them who vote, and independents who have leaned toward voting for Republican presidential candidates in the past 25 years. The electoral possibilities might be further confused by a third party candidacy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, who I know is now seriously considering whether he will run.

Similarly, if there appears to be no clear will to nominate either Obama or Hillary Clinton, and they slug things out with the additional participation of Senator John Edwards, to the point where there is no clear consensus among Democrats for one or the other, then it becomes more possible that Al Gore might seek to enter the race as an alternative.

Do you think Hillary will bring the same kind of tough image that America currently has under Bush presidency?
William Kho

Carl Bernstein: I think your description of a ”kind of tough image” misstates the actual facts in terms of the Bush presidency: a more common, and more widely held image, I believe, is one of arrogance, mendacity, incompetence, and secrecy bordering or crossing into the extra-constitutional.

I seriously doubt that incompetence would mark a Hillary Clinton presidency; one of the troubling aspects of her record, which I dwell on at considerable length in A Woman In Charge, is her frequent trimming of the truth, even in telling her own story in her partially ghost-written ”autobiography”. George Stephanopolous, a key deputy of the Clinton presidency, described the tendency as her ”Jesuitical lying”, and it has been a conspicuous element of her public life.

Hillary Clinton, as I discovered in seven-plus years of research, has led a camouflaged life, in many important regards, including her telling of her own story and her tendency to reject candour as a means of dealing with important questions during her years as first lady. With some understandable reason, she distrusts the press and has tried to control tenaciously information about her own actions and, in the White House years, the Clinton administration’s.

If this control leaned towards real disclosure or truthfulness, that would be a different matter. The tendency to trim the truth, of course, is not something foreign to politicians. But Hillary Clinton (and Bill Clinton, too) have asked to be judged as unconventional politicians, committed to openness and transparency in government, in contrast to their predecessors and now their successors; yet Hillary Clinton has demonstrated a consistent unwillingness to move in that direction.

Part of the satisfaction of researching and writing a biography of this remarkable woman is to discover that the real person, and her life, is far more interesting, dramatic, compelling, and in many ways, sympathetic than the warmed-over and airbrushed version of events that she seems to believe serve her. They ill-served her in the White House and, to the extent that they are now even more obviously at odds with the real record, as demonstrated by the accounts of her closest friends and associates in A Woman In Charge, she might do well to cling less tenaciously to elements of her story that have so obviously been discredited.

Hillary Clinton is the wife of former president Bill Clinton. The current president is beating historical records in executive incompetence with consistent record low ratings, happens to be the son of a former president. Don’t you think that American voters will see a parallel and, to a damaging extent, reject Hillary Clinton simply on the basis of avoiding another sorry tale of nepotism?
Daniel Karlsson, Madrid

Carl Bernstein: Your question is one of the most intriguing and underestimated factors of the coming presidential election. ”Dynasty”. If Hillary Clinton were to win the presidency, and be re-elected in 2012, by the end of her tenure the US would have had 28 consecutive years of Bushes and Clintons trading off the Oval Office. (Imagine if Jeb Bush were then to run and succeed her!) Surely there are capable politicians with other last names in America who see themselves (and voters who see them) as equally or more deserving than a succession of Bushes and Clintons.

I highly recommend a column on this question written by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. None of which is to say that Hillary Clinton might or might not make a good president. Certainly there is something more than ”another sorry tale of nepotism” involved here; the question is how much more, perhaps.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

Comments have not been enabled for this article.