Jewish World Review June 20, 2003 / 20 Sivan 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

HILLARY — THE BOOK! | The big problem with reviewing an embarrassing book is that it embarrasses the reviewer, too. When an author invades her own privacy, and her family's, she obliges the reader to invade it, too.

Some of us live for the day when all this hype will be over and we can all decently ignore the Clinton soap opera. But something tells me it will never come. Even if both Clintons left politics tomorrow, they'd never leave memoirland, where old scandals never cease being replayed. And like eyewitnesses to a car wreck, each memoirist offers a different version of the same crash.

How sum up this book? A campaign biography for 2008? The confessions of a saint? A treasure trove for opposition researchers and Hillary-bashers? A moneymaker and gigantic bore? Gossipy melodrama plus today's talking points? A tell not-quite-all? A classic of bourgeois lit, a potboiler?

Or just the literary equivalent of the spam that sits there waiting every morning, like a cobra, for you to open your e-mail?

What this book isn't is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Not that anyone who has followed the author's various metamorphoses, from academic caterpillar to laminated moth, would expect it to be.

It was the plain, bespectacled, wild-eyed '60s radical -- her name was Hillary Rodham when she first came to Arkansas -- who fascinated. That girl was honest.

As for what she became, well, there is a simple test of honesty in any memoir by a Clinton: Look in the index for Dale, Billy. Remember that name? He was the victim-in-chief of the Travelgate caper.

Not only does Miss Hillary minimize her role in that affair, she minimizes the affair itself. It was no small thing in the life of Billy Dale, who had worked in the White House travel office since the Kennedy administration. Travelgate cost him his job, his life savings, his good name, two years of legal Hell and, until a jury acquitted him within two hours of hearing the hoked-up charges against him, his peace.

After all that, Hillary Clinton is still smearing the guy, and implying his guilt. After his acquittal. How's that for fair? And this she calls history.

Our author doesn't try to square her version of Travelgate with the soul-cleansing account of it from David Watkins. He was one of the White House aides who had to take the blame for it, and afterward he wrote his boss, Mack McLarty:

"Once this made it onto the First Lady's agenda, Vince Foster became involved, and he and Harry Thomason regularly informed me of her attention to the Travel Office situation -- as well as her insistence that the situation be resolved immediately by replacing the Travel Office staff. . At that meeting you (Mr. McLarty) explained that this was on the First Lady's 'radar screen.' . We both knew that there would be hell to pay if, after our failure in the Secret Service situation earlier, we failed to take swift and decisive action in conformity with the First Lady's wishes."

All of this Hillary Clinton just blows off. She can't even bring herself to mention Billy Dale by name even as she assassinates his character once again. She does note that he tried to reach a plea bargain with the prosecution -- as if that proved his guilt.

That poodle won't hunt. As an experienced attorney herself, Hillary Clinton knows very well why an innocent man would be tempted to reach a plea bargain -- to avoid the harassment of prosecution, the ordeal of a trial and the immense legal costs involved in both.

In the end, Billy Dale went through it all and emerged vindicated. But Hillary Clinton is still out to get him. So when you hear her refer to the politics of personal destruction, you can believe she knows whereof she speaks. And so, alas, does Billy Dale.

As for the book as a whole, it's probably anything you want it to be, much like a Clinton running for public office. The Clintons are our own collective Rorschach test, and our opinion about their testimony, whether under oath or on the printed page, may say more about our own character than the Clintons'.

A book by a Clinton arrives like a guest with a lot of baggage that needs to be both thoroughly fumigated and politely overlooked. The poor host is confronted with the choice of appearing either nosy or indifferent, and in the end settles for just being embarrassed.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He coined the moniker "Slick Willy." Send your comments by clicking here.

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