MAXWELL: Why she decided to stand by Bill

2/10/2008 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times

I cannot count the number of women I have heard call Hillary Rodham Clinton a “damned fool” and “an idiot,” along with other names this newspaper will not print, for staying with her adulterous husband, then-President William Jefferson Clinton, after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
When I try to defend Hillary Clinton, particularly now that she is running for the White House, I have to fight off and otherwise absorb a lot of incredulity and anger. Three women treated me to a profanity-laced scolding, the likes of which I have not experienced since Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island.
Why would I defend Hillary Clinton for standing by her philandering spouse?
I defend her primarily because keeping her relationship with her husband viable is her concern alone. It is none of my damned business. If they had divorced, a failed marriage – which many women seem to prefer – would not have been any of my business either. Hillary Clinton did what she thought was right for her and her family, which includes a daughter named Chelsea.
Of course, wags and sundry pundits and talking heads cast Hillary Clinton in various ugly lights because she hung in there.
Columnist Mike Reagan, eldest son of President Ronald Reagan, portrays her as a willing dupe in a game of mutual personal comfort: “Hillary Clinton is the adulterous husband’s dream wife. …Every adulterer in the country should want Hillary for a wife; he could go out and play around and expect the little woman to take it because he was doing a good job at work and bringing home a paycheck and providing her with what she wanted. He’d have license to commit adultery whenever the opportunity arose as long as he kept his nose to the grindstone and paid her bills on time.”
Chris Matthews, the host ofMSNBC’s Hardball, paints Hillary Clinton as a victim of adultery who knowingly markets pity for power: “I think the Hillary appeal has always been somewhat about her mix of toughness and sympathy for her. Let’s not forget – and I’ll be brutal – the reason she’s a U.S. senator, the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around. That’s how she got to be senator of New York. … She didn’t win there on her merit. … She won because everybody felt, ‘My God, this woman stood up under humiliation,’ right?”
Many women agree with Matthews, arguing that Hillary Clinton is a female Machiavellian who stood by her man to advance her political ambitions. I have heard women, along with a few men, say that Hillary Clinton probably will send her old man packing if she is elected president.
So, why did Hillary Clinton really keep Bill Clinton in the family?
In January, the former first lady told the nation why she kept her husband. Apparently, though, the Hillary Haters were not listening, or they just plain do not care what she says.
The occasion was an interview with television’s Tyra Banks.
Banks: “How did you persevere during the darkest moment in your life?”
Clinton: “Well, because I had tremendous faith, number one. … I really had to dig down deep and think hard about what was right for me, what was right for my family. I never doubted Bill’s love for me, ever – and I never doubted my faith or our commitment to our daughter and our extended family. But I had to decide what I had to do. And I think it’s so important to be able to hear yourself at a moment when it’s hard. … There’s so many times when you really have to listen to yourself.”
Banks: “Were you embarrassed?”
Clinton: “Well sure, all of that, but also – I was just praying so hard and thinking so hard about what’s right to do that I couldn’t let anything else interfere with that. The momentary feelings – you know, you’re mad, you’re really upset, you’re disappointed, all of that goes through your mind – but I found you really shouldn’t make decisions in the heat of those moments. You have to think about them.”
Banks: “Do women come up to you and ask for advice? ‘My husband stepped out on me and I’m going through hell right now, what do I do’ – have they done that?”
Clinton: “Yes. All the time.”
Banks: “What do you say?”
Clinton: “I say, you have to be true to yourself. No one story is the same as any other story. I don’t know your reality. I can’t possibly substitute my judgment for yours. But what I can tell you is you must be true to yourself. You have to do what is right for you. And that may not be what anybody else thinks.”
Instead of seeing Hillary Clinton as a conniving shrew without the benefit of ever having spoken with her, why don’t we take her at her word? She said it best, in fact: Each person is unique. No one knows another person’s reality, especially when the institution of marriage is at issue.