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Jewish World Review Dec. 21, 1999/ 12 Teves, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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The president as First Lady -- THE CLINTONS' MARRIAGE-IN-TROUBLE is hardest on the rest of us. The kiss-and-makeup episodes affect our national security and nearly everything else in the life of the nation.

This is no frivolous observation. No White House marriage has been more exposed with its deceits, arguments and love-ins than that of the president and his missus. They've stuck together through thick and thin, literally and figuratively, and the rest of us have been caught in the thick of it. The independent wife who insisted she wouldn't be the little lady who stands by her man stood by him through extraordinary humiliation. Until now.

Whether Mrs. Clinton's move to a new house in New York is a trial separation or merely a good career move, it's nevertheless a problem. The issue isn't whether she conducts traditional first lady hostess obligations, the question is how her husband follows up on her campaign issues.

The latest round is a public resolution of their differences over the "don't ask, don't tell'' policy for homosexuals in the military. The first lady says it's bad. Then the commander-in-chief, who previously said it was good, changes his mind and says he thinks it's bad, too. (So does his vice president.)

That creates an odd atmosphere for debate. The issue is not about the president's personal sincerity, but the way it plays out differently on a personal plane. The issue is further muddled when Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, whose wife is not running for anything, says the Clinton administration has no plans to change policy.

In the public psychological portrait of the Clinton marriage, the president is a bad boy who must find a way to regain his wife's trust. Ordinarily, a contrite husband might shower his wife with gifts -- jewelry and furs, or at least dinner out and a movie -- to get back into his wife's good graces. Few husbands have such bargaining chips as a president of the United States with a wife heading into a tough senate race.

How far will the president go to please his wife? Newt Gingrich says he might give back the Louisiana Purchase if she finds the French vote crucial. The Puerto Rican vote was worth freedom for a clutch of terrorists.

The National Enquirer, which has been accurate on a lot of things in the ongoing Clinton scandals, reports that the president screamed at the first lady in a recent row: "I'm not going to be your first lady.'' True or not, it reflects what the American public expects a president to say -- nobody wants a president to morph into a first lady.

But as his days in office dwindle down to a precious few, is it so hard to believe that a sensitive Bill Clinton might even enjoy such a role reversal? He could go from feeling the pain of others to feeling his own. It certainly fits the portrait of husband as "comeback kid.''

After Bill Clinton lost his first bid for reelection for governor of Arkansas, Hillary threw off her feminist ways and finally gave up her maiden name. That was a big sacrifice. Today the president is called upon to make the big sacrifice and to turn himself into pliable husband. Could he become Bill Rodham?

Hillary's poll numbers soared when her husband humiliated her. Feminists seethed that she would stay with him, regarding it as a betrayal of all women, but they understood why she might -- to maintain power. She might surge again in feminist precincts if she is perceived as the dominatrix. She doesn't want an expensive chinchilla coat, but he can deliver the homosexuals. She doesn't want diamonds and pearls, but can he deliver feminists, Jews and Puerto Ricans.

Hillary has described her Bill as a child wounded psychologically for having had to please two women, his mama and his grandma, at the same time. Now he only has to please one.

The stakes are high. A victory for Hillary will consolidate the feminist cultural ascendancy and complete the feminization of the Democratic Party. What Hillary expects from Bill is no more than she gave him. She said she did it for love:

"You know people have a lot of daily problems in relationships. Everybody has some dysfunction in their families. They have to deal with it. You don't just walk away if you love someone -- you help the person.'' Now it's Bill's turn to be the enabler.


12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate