By Richard Reeves
PARIS -- On Wednesday night we went to see the film Marie Antoinette and laughed along with everyone else as the ladies of the bedchamber sat around the marital bed of the French dauphin, Louis-Auguste, and his new bride and future queen, the teenager from Vienna.
Are they doing it? was the whisper. (Apparently they werent.)
On Thursday morning, I joined the people of the world reading and talking about The New York Times front-page story on Bill and Hillary Clinton, which asked the same question. Google, which showed 252 stories about that question, opened with this line: New! Get the Latest News on Hillary, Bill and Clinton Marriage With Google Alerts.
On the right, I came across this gem from Human Events, the conservative weekly: The Times doesnt state the obvious, that maybe one of the biggest reasons why Bill and Hillary are spending 14 days a month on average together is the fact that they plain just dont like each other.
On the left, The New York Observer observed that Bill, the Clinton who has already been president, once said that he and his wife deserved the same marital privacy and discretion that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt received all those years ago. Clinton, wrote Philip Weiss, was analogizing his marriage to the ultimate marriage of convenience.
I doubt that, and I know from spending time with them that, whatever is real in these episodes of the national soap opera, Bill and Hillary really, really like each other. I am old enough to know that marriage is the most complicated of human interaction. No one ever knows what really goes on in the partnership of hope, memory and ambition till death do us part, even when youre one of the partners.
Even David Broder doesnt know. That same Thursday morning, covering Senator Clinton -- thats Hillary -- at a press conference on energy, The Washington Post columnist wrote of the marriage as the elephant in the room, unmentioned by reporters. (Shouldnt that be the donkey in the room?) The very fact that The Times had sent a reporter out to interview 50 people about the status of the Clintons marriage and placed the story on the top of Page One was a clear signal -- if any was needed -- that the drama of the Clintons personal life would be a hot topic if she runs for president.
Shell run, I think. And I think she has a better than 50-50 shot at winning. I once wrote that I thought Mrs. Clinton, then the first lady, had the political instincts of a stone. I came to that conclusion when she ruined her husbands presidential destiny by personally screwing up what should have been his greatest accomplishment, the establishment of a national health-care system. He lost his shot because he owed his wife -- for personal reasons -- and let her take over that issue, which she sunk in secrecy and incomprehensible fairness formulas.
Well, either the stone softened or I was just wrong. Her 2000 run for the Senate in New York was a piece of high political art, working the state from the outside in, winning over what Ed Koch once called the gingham counties of upstate and western New York before coming, months later, to accept the cheers of her natural constituency in Manhattan.
She has not been a great senator by any means, compromising herself repeatedly to avoid saying that this President Bush is a fool who has thrown away American superpower and thousands of lives to lose a war we never had a chance of winning. But that, sadly, is the way politics is played in Washington. You support our boys even when they are in the wrong place for the wrong reasons -- especially if you are a woman with national ambitions and were born suspect on national security issues.
You can only win the presidency by running, as Mario Cuomo demonstrated more than once. You run in a context created by a soon-to-be former president, in this case Bush. The incumbent has failed in war, failed in peace, and is failing in the hearts of his countrymen. And you are judged as the lesser of two evils. Whatever her marriage is really like, Hillary could be well positioned to win in 2008. She is, after all, smarter than Sen. Bill Frist, MD, a poor argument for a Harvard education, and she is a cautious lady less likely to self-destruct than such edgy high-fliers as Sen. John McCain and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The lady may be a champ.
2006 Universal Press Syndicate