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Jewish World Review August 16, 2000 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5760

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

A tale of two wives -- THIS ELECTION SEASON comparisons will inevitably be made between the wives of the two main presidential candidates, Laura Bush and Tipper Gore. But far more telling is the comparison between the sitting first lady and her potential successor from across the aisle.

The contrast here is great, overlooked and may speak volumes about how women and marriage are valued in 21st century America.

It's simply this: While Laura Bush is a wife who helped to civilize and encourage her husband to a higher moral standard, Hillary Rodham is a wife who enabled and encouraged her husband's debauchery. Perhaps that's because, according to all accounts, the former has never cared much about power, while the latter wanted it desperately from the time she could spell.

Forget the stylistic and political differences between the two women. Just consider how each has dealt with her husband's "weaknesses."

When George W. Bush was having trouble "growing up" long after he was grown-up, particularly when he was struggling with drinking, it was Laura Bush who more than anyone affected him for the better. The New York Times quotes a friend from George W.'s Yale days, who said simply, "Laura changed him." George W. told friends, according to the Times, that Laura forced him to choose: It was her and their family, or the bottle. He chose his family. And in the process he did grow up. He matured. He started pursuing a responsible professional and personal course. Laura Bush had begun the process of civilizing her man, calling him to aspire to better and more noble things, something honorable wives have been doing since the beginning of time.

Hillary could not possibly do the same because she, a woman hailed as an icon by many feminists, was committed to personal and political power at all costs, long the overriding goal of the Sisterhood. Bill's problem of course was not alcohol but repeated adultery, at least one case of harassment, and even an allegation of rape.

Hillary was well aware of her husband's extra-marital appetite. But each time these horrendous incidents became public she chose the most cynical path. Whatever may have been said in private, Hillary encouraged her husband's debauchery by going on the public relations attack and working to manipulate the press; by helping to rip apart the reputations of the women and others involved; by viciously painting as liars, as nothing more than a "vast right-wing conspiracy," those who were telling the truth; by working to smear independent counsel Ken Starr.

After years of such behavior it's clear this was no virtuous woman just "standing by her man," a concept she once ridiculed. So why did she conspire with Bill Clinton? Why did she agree to make a public mockery of her marriage vows?


Hillary Rodham was a woman willing to aid and abet her husband's dissolution, even if she hated it, because as a true product of the worst of feminism she was that desperate to hang on to power. If instead she had put her family first, she might have also said long ago abut the other women, "them or me" - and meant it. Would it have changed Bill's Clinton's behavior? We'll never know.

Perversely, Hillary Rodham may have at some level relished it when her husband "got into trouble." Because as biographers have contended, that's when she was most triumphant - in those instances when she had the power to make or break Bill Clinton.

The Sisterhood must be proud.

George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are, of course, fully responsible for their own actions and moral choices. But it's also true that since time immemorial, civilized women have served as a civilizing influence on men, particularly their husbands.

Sure, many modern-day feminists have done just this in their own marriages (just as many women outside the Sisterhood have not) but they probably wouldn't admit it because as a principle, it drives feminists crazy. Nor is this to suggest that honorable women can't aspire to power and influence. It's just that at its core feminism has said this should be a woman's greatest goal, and we've seen that philosophy in all its ugly fruition in this White House.

All this means that ultimately, no matter what happens at the polls on election day, Laura Bush will be a winner - and Hillary Rodham won't be.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Scripps Howard News Service