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Hillary Day at the Nixon Library | The Nation

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Hillary Day at the Nixon Library

"Hillary's fear of humiliation, her fear of secrets being revealed, absolutely permeates her life," Carl Bernstein told a packed auditorium at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, earlier this week.

Bernstein is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter on Watergate, and author of a new book on Hillary, A Woman in Charge. His appearance in Yorba Linda was a historic moment of sorts, as he himself noted: if he had said in 1999, when he started doing research on Hillary, "that I would be invited to speak at the Nixon Library, and that I'd be talking about Hillary as possibly the next president of the United States, I'd be accused of smoking something--and inhaling."

The event marked the transformation of the Nixon Library from a private institution run by Nixon loyalists to a public one run by the National Archives, under the direction of historian Tim Naftali. Bernstein spoke to a full house--300 people--including many students from nearby colleges getting extra credit for showing up.

Hillary's life with Bill, Bernstein said, was one of "remarkable sacrifices and embarrassments," because "she undertook the job of containing and covering up the effects of his sexual compulsions."

At lunch before his talk, Bernstein emphasized Hillary's continuing obsession with secrecy. He told me he did not think Hillary would repeal Bush's Executive Order on Classification, the most restrictive ever, which has outraged advocates of freedom of information in Congress and the media. Bush's order gives the president or any former president the right to withhold the former president's papers from the public. At the time it was issued--shortly after 9-11--it seemed intended to conceal from the public information about the presidency of Bush senior, many of whose staffers held high positions in the White House of Bush junior.

But the Bush executive order on classification would have a special appeal for Hillary as president, Bernstein said. "Do you think she wants to open the papers of Bill's presidency, which include all the material on her role?" Asked about the legislation introduced by Congressman Henry Waxman to repeal Bush's classification order, Bernstein was skeptical it would pass in the next congress: "Do you think Democrats in Congress would demand repeal in the face of Hillary's opposition?"

"Nixon's history is settled," Bernstein told the audience at the Nixon Library. "What is not yet settled is the history of the Clintons--their use and abuse of power." That's important because, if Hillary wins, "we're talking about a restoration."

Her obsession with humiliation and secrecy can be traced back to her "hellish childhood," Bernstein said, in a family where her father "verbally humiliated and abused her mother." The question asked by people at the time, according to Bernstein, was, "Why did her mother stay with this man?" He couldn't help noting that the same question would be asked about her.

While Hillary's concern with secrecy remains a constant today, Bernstein said, she has changed in other ways since her days as First Lady. In the White House she had "a take-no-prisoner combativeness, an anger that was consuming." It had disastrous effects: the 1994 victory of New Gingrich and the Republicans, which transferred control of the House away from the Democrats for the first time since the New Deal, he said, "was a result of the failures of Hillary Clinton."

But in the Senate "she became self-confident in a way she had never been since she met Bill." Her old combativeness "is gone." As for the senators who voted to convict her husband in his impeachment trial, Bernstein said, "she joined their prayer group."

Finally, does Carl Bernstein think Hillary going to win the presidency? He replied, "The night the Supreme Court voted to make Bush president, I said on TV I thought he would be a compassionate conservative, reach out to Democrats, and govern from the center. So don't turn to me for predictions about politics."

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