I Married My Best Friend: Bill Clinton

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Washington: As he stood at the lectern last night, Bill Clinton was doing more than delivering another convention speech, something he has done every four years spanning four decades. This was a larger moment for the former president, and it was a long time coming. In this one speech, he was essentially making good on a marital and political promissory note by employing the full measure of his rhetorical skills to boost his wife’s history-making week as the first woman to become a major party nominee.

“In the spring of 1971 I met a girl,” Clinton said, and he was off, telling the story of how they had met at Yale and how gobstruck he was by her from the first time he saw her in class, an imposing young woman wearing big glasses and no makeup, with what he called a “strength and self-possession I found magnetic.” This was the beginning, he said, of a lifetime relationship that endured “through good times and bad, joy and heartbreak.”

Hillary, first and foremost was a mother. She became, as she often said, our family’s designated worrier. My daughter has the best mother in the world. I married my best friend. I was still in awe of…how smart and strong and loving and caring she was. We’ve been walking and talking and laughing together ever since. This woman has never been satisfied with the status quo about anything.

The quality of the rhetoric aside, there has never been a speech quite like the one Clinton delivered here in Philadelphia. A husband speaking on behalf of his wife – that has been done before. A former president speaking in support of a prospective president also is nothing new. But the combination of the two is unprecedented. A former president who wants to be first man extolling the virtues of a former first lady who wants to be president. Only the Clintons.

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“Only the Clintons” applies in so many ways. Only the Clintons have been hanging around together at the top of American politics for a full quarter century. Only the Clintons can excite and then exasperate their fellow Democrats with such dizzying predictability. Only the Clintons (or maybe now President Barack Obama) can send the Republicans into paroxysms of rage and the deepest, darkest pools of conspiracy theorizing. Only the Clintons can keep going and going no matter what obstacles others or they themselves throw in their way along their long and winding path.

Her work for the Children’s Defense Fund, their time in Texas for the 1972 McGovern campaign, the first time he met the Rodham family in suburban Chicago, Bears fans all, his efforts to get her to marry him, once, then twice – he went through the story of their lives together as though he was talking to friends in a bar, easy and relaxed, a Cliff’s notes sanitized version of a more complicated story, but a love story nonetheless. Thick and thin, joy and sorrow, yes, but no mention of the events that led to his impeachment or any of the other personal misdeeds that tore at their private relationship and endangered their political lives together.

The first time, she was not ready. The second time he flattered her more, saying that he knew a lot of young people who were interested in politics but that she was better than any of them at actually doing things. And he finally got her to visit him in Arkansas, where she took a teaching position and started the first legal aid clinic in northwest Arkansas. And how he finally drove her by a little house she had admired in Fayetteville and told her he had bought it at a mortgage of $175 a month. “The third time was the charm,” he said. They were married on Oct. 11, 1975. “I married my best friend,” he said. He hoped it was a decision she would never regret.

Clinton and Clinton were 40-something postwar baby boomers when they arrived on the national scene, shaped by the vibrant and rebellious sixties, rising to take power from a generation defined by the Great Depression and World War II. Bill was chowing down on Big Macs. Hillary was experimenting with different color hair bands. Now they are old timers, battered if not beaten by the vicissitudes of time and experience, agents of change transformed into what some consider symbols of the old school. Yet still, despite it all, enjoying one more chance to make history.

The Washington Post

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