First Ladies

Hillary Clinton and Barbara Walters square off.

The blondes have fun

Hillary Rodham Clinton has a merry, full-throated laugh, one that erupts when she anticipates obvious questions. She got ample opportunity to show it off on Sunday night with Barbara Walters, who likes those portentous windups.

“2004,” Walters says.

“The presidency,” Walters says.

“Suppose—” Walters says.

Here, early in the show, Clinton’s game face broke, and two dozen smile lines creased her rosy makeup. Come on. She just couldn’t take this seriously, and she suddenly seemed to have only been humoring the corny format of Hillary Clinton’s Journey: Public, Private, Personal (ABC)—though it was decidedly her own show, a long but charming ad for her new memoir Living History.

Clinton was still chuckling as Walters hammered home her question: Is Hillary going to run next year?

She’s not.

Hillary Clinton’s Journey, though it aired on ABC “with Barbara Walters,” was not billed as an episode of 20/20 or any other ABC series; rather, the introduction called it an hour of Clinton “in her own words,” from which I infer that Clinton kept significant control over the final broadcast. Indeed, Clinton was shown to advantage, laughing off her discarded “big old glasses” and her “headband days,” and then leveling persuasively with Walters about how mad she’s been at her cheating husband.

They made an appealing pair, the twin veterans, both of whom have consorted with kings, brooked decades of satire, and apparently never missed a day of work. In one corner, wily Walters with her wheat-pink hair, fluffed on top, in her cloud of benevolent lighting. In the other, Sen. Clinton, also made up and lighted by the caring crew at ABC, turned in attractive semiprofile to minimize the clowny shape of her face. The ambitions and concessions of both women were visible in the high styling; they are two brainy brunettes who long ago transformed themselves into two patrician blondes. “You were really besotted,” Walters surmised of Clinton, as they discussed her courtship by Bill Clinton.

Besotted—it’s an old-fashioned word. But I plead guilty to it.”

Excitingly, Clinton came across as libidinous, even pagan, returning again and again to the heat generated by her handsome husband, whom she once thought resembled a Viking. “He had this big bushy brownish-reddish hair. … [I was attracted to him] from the very beginning. … He’s like a force of nature. He’s overwhelming,” she said. She praised his slow hand, with its long tapering fingers. It’s impossible to imagine Barbara Bush or even Nancy Reagan swooning this way.

Hillary recounted exchanging glances with Bill at law school, and then tracking him down to follow through. This initial encounter—he’s looking at me, he’s hot, he likes me—sounded uncannily like other women’s accounts of meeting Clinton. Can the pheromone scientists solve this once and for all? What is it about him?

Reader, she married him. And she moved to Arkansas, and she became his first lady, and they fought, and she made her own run at power. The photo archive shown on Hillary Clinton’s Journey included some presentational shots from childhood (Hillary on skates, Hillary in arabesque) along with my favorite, the senator in her Janis Joplin mode, with self-cut hair and hexagonal glasses, ready to introduce the world to—as her Wellesley graduation speech went in 1969—”more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living.”

I assumed she’d given up all that, long ago. But her revealing-enough memoir seems poised for big sales. Her lust for her husband seems grand enough to sustain her marriage. And it’s possible that, with Monica sidelined on reality TV and Bill in turnaround, Hillary may yet have the last merry laugh. There was an unmistakable glint in her eye when she weighed in on the vital importance of term limits. “I’m really a supporter of two terms,” she told Walters, “to make sure that we don’t have anyone who gets too powerful.”