By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008
So this is what life inside the bubble looks like, in tedious, mind-numbing detail.
In the 11,046 pages of Hillary Clinton's White House schedules released yesterday, every minute is scripted, down to when she takes her seat on a bench, when she is presented with a gift (1:35 p.m.) and when she makes a speech accepting it (1:40 p.m.), when she is escorted to an elevator and by whom and on what floor.
But not why. Never the why.
This is the briefest outline of a life, all mechanics and no feeling. If there are any insights here into the presidential candidate's interior life, they are between the typewritten lines and the reader's imagination.
On Jan. 21, 1998, the day several major news outlets first reported a possible liaison between Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky, there was this on the first lady's schedule:
A private one-hour meeting with attorneys Bob Barnett and Cheryl Mills, along with several people from ABC News radio. Traveled by Metroliner to a convocation ceremony at Goucher College, near Baltimore, where FLOTUS made a speech, took part in a VIP reception and conducted a Q&A with students. She received a gift basket sometime between 3:45 and 4:35 p.m., if all went according to schedule. Then she went back to Washington for 25 minutes of [REDACTED], followed by a black-tie dinner with POTUS, complete with receiving line and champagne.
What was really interesting, in the light of history, wasn't on the schedule. It was when Clinton spoke briefly to reporters on her way back from Goucher, telling them she didn't believe her husband had had an affair with an intern, saying, "I have seen how these charges and accusations evaporate and disappear if they're ever given the light of day."
Real life upsets the best efforts of the schedulers.
Almost nothing in the first lady's life is left to chance. The weather forecasts for Washington or wherever she is supposed to be are listed in her schedules, down to the details ("Wind southerly 10-20 knots"). When Hillary Clinton flies to Copenhagen, a notation points out that while local time will be 2:10 a.m., Clinton's "Body clock time" will be 8:10 p.m.
A chat with her husband is not a chat with her husband; it's a "PVT MTG W/THE PRESIDENT" in the Oval Office, and it is duly allotted minutes, and the president's chief of staff, Mack McLarty, is listed as scheduled to attend.
The schedules reveal the scaffolding under a savvy politician's exterior. Here are all the tips and hints that a first lady and her staff use to placate supporters and show respect to colleagues. In February of 1993, Clinton meets with Wally Kunicki, the speaker of the Wisconsin state assembly, for a 10-minute photo op. The event listing includes a note: "Wally Kinicki [sic] was a very early supporter." ("Thank you, Wally," we imagine her saying. "You were such an early supporter.") For one event, the schedule attempts to avoid an awkward incident by noting the pronunciation of then-Rep. Kweisi Mfume's name: "M-foomay."
What must it be like to live inside such a script? It's as close as we mortals can get to being able to predict the future. Walking into a children's hospital, Clinton (or her handlers) would have already known that she would be "escorted to rocking chair by 4 patients who will sit next to her." This is comforting or this is maddening, depending on your point of view. For Clinton, whose poise and preparation are legendary, the bubble might be a lovely place. So cushioned. So controlled.
"You know, I think I'm probably the most transparent person in public life," Clinton said Tuesday, talking about the release of all these pages upon pages from her White House days. She went on to note how many books had been written about her, 60 by her estimate.
As a matter of fact, there's a difference between being transparent and being scrutinized. Clinton is one of the most studied figures in public life, but she's also one of the most opaque. This is why the release of these documents seems like much more of the same. Just paper. We know what she did on any particular day -- we might even know where she stood -- but not what she felt. Not what she said to her husband, the president. Not what she thought about it all.
All mechanics. On Dec. 19, 1998, the day Bill Clinton was impeached by the House, Hillary Clinton's schedule made no mention of the fact that she and her husband would take to the South Lawn to criticize the vote and to vow to stay in office. It noted that she visited the House Democratic Caucus in the morning but not that she told members there that she loved her husband.
The last item on the schedule that day was a black-tie holiday dinner for 500 guests, slated to run from 7:40 to 9:30 p.m. Every detail was spelled out: The Clintons would be announced, the president would make "brief welcoming remarks" and dinner would be served at 7:50.
And then, this note, and perhaps she was glad for the rare instance when the script left a line up to her discretion:
"Upon conclusion of dinner, the President and First Lady have the first dance (optional)."