Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

First Lady Really ‘Mommie Dearest’

This was supposed to be Earth Mother week.

The first lady is going on tour with her book, “It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.”

“For more than 25 years, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has made children her passion and her cause,” says a Simon & Schuster press release.

Hillary Clinton is accustomed to stepping behind an apple-pie-and-motherhood scrim. During the ‘92 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton’s strategists wrote a secret memo, including advice about how to make Hillary Clinton seem more affectionate and maternal. It suggested staging an event where “Bill and Chelsea surprise Hillary on Mother’s Day” and advised her to talk more about family.

Since the health-care debacle, the first lady has taken to the hearth with a vengeance. She appeared on Martha Stewart’s Christmas special, chatting about wreaths. She wrote her newspaper column about New Year’s resolutions. (“I will try to keep the same hairdo for at least 30 days. … I will try to show more enthusiasm for my husband’s golf game.”)

On the president’s recent trip to London, the first lady’s anodyne demeanor caused one journalist to mourn that she had become “the first Stepford wife.”

Hillary Clinton uses rituals of domesticity to make her desire for “systemic” changes seem less threatening.

Her latest fluffer-nutter makeover was to be capped by the book tour. But the timing turned out to be extremely awkward as revelations about the White House travel office fiasco and the mysteriously disappearing and appearing Whitewater files once more have cast doubt on Hillary Clinton’s probity and put her at the center of what she dismisses to Newsweek magazine as “all the spider webs that are spun.”

A confidential memo written by David Watkins about the travel office gives Hillary Clinton’s maternal image a Joan Crawford twist, portraying the first lady as a scary “Mommie Dearest.”

Watkins said he realized there was a more humane way to handle the situation than firing seven people, sicking the FBI on them, leaking it to the press and pretty much ruining their lives.

He starkly contradicts the version advanced by Hillary Clinton, who had administration lawyer Neil Eggleston tell the General Accounting Office last year that “Mrs. Clinton did not direct that any action be taken by anyone with regard to the travel office. Mrs. Clinton does not know the origin of the decision to remove the White House travel office employees.”

Now comes the Watkins “soul-cleansing,” as he calls his memo. “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. … We both knew there would be hell to pay if … we failed to take swift and decisive action in conformity with the first lady’s wishes.”

An associate of the first lady’s through all of this confirms Watkins’ portrait: “She’s a good screamer. She can cut someone to ribbons and make them feel like an idiot. It was a lot easier to do what she wanted.”

And there’s more: 116 pages of copies of documents from the Rose Law Firm - which have been searched for and subpoenaed for two years - suddenly have turned up in the White House residence, showing that Hillary Clinton had billed for a wide range of legal services on behalf of Madison Guaranty.

At her Whitewater press conference in 1994, the first lady wore pink and professed ignorance about the Madison account: “It was not an area that I practiced in; it was not an area that I really know anything, to speak of, about.”

Watkins said that he had been trying to be as “vague and protective as possible” with investigators. But, apparently, he wrote his scalding memo after he had grown tired of taking the fall for the first lady.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is at the center of a web of fall-takers. People say what they are expected to say and are rewarded with monstrous legal bills. And the more candid associates keep contradicting her.

In coming weeks, the first lady will need Houdinilike skills to dodge the collision of her images. She will be spreading sunshine in bookstores, while in hearing rooms, her former colleagues will speak under oath about her legal activities.

Earth Mother, meet Mommie Dearest.


Top stories in Spokane

Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.