Hillary Clinton

Was Hillary confrontational or just trying to get a job done?

Many people wonder if Hillary Clinton was excessively confrontational as First Lady, or just a woman trying to get a job done in a man’s world, i.e. D.C. politics?

An article from Bloomberg.com asks the same question and uses transcripts from the Miller Center at the University of Virginia to come up with the answer it wanted: yes, Hillary was confrontational.

As an example, the article includes a long excerpt from Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, who recounted the experience of legislative affairs director, Pat Griffin, with First Lady Hillary Clinton:

I’ll never forget, Pat Griffin came out of that meeting and his eyes were that wide and he said, ‘You will not believe what I’ve just been through.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I had been at another staff meeting. He said, ‘I can’t believe it, I can’t believe what I’ve just been through.’ I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘The first lady just tore everybody a new a–hole.’ I said, ‘Really?’ It was that first experience.

I’d say “how awful,” but I think this quote and other excerpts from the transcripts must be put into context. First, remember that Hillary went to the White House from the governor’s mansion in Arkansas. From my own first-hand experience with the anti-Clinton crowd in Arkansas, they were brutal in their attacks on both Hillary and Bill Clinton. Whatever they wanted to say, they said, whether or not there were facts behind the attacks. So I think it is fair to say that Hillary was wary of having the same experience in Washington (which she did).

Second, she was given the task of health care reform, and we all know how difficult that was, both for her and later for President Obama. Certainly there was pressure on her to get the job done successfully. It took a strong, focused leader to do it, and she knew it. To others it might have seemed “confrontational,” but she was relentless in getting others to do their jobs so that she could do hers.

Third, let’s also remember that she was really the first woman to take an active political role as First Lady. She was a woman trying to do what traditionally was a “man’s job.” She broke new ground as a woman in Washington politics. In order for the insiders to take her seriously, she had to be tougher, more focused, and — yes — more confrontational than a man in the same position.

In retrospect, there’s no doubt that she learned from her early experiences as First Lady. She became more adroit and polished as a political force. The Bloomberg article ends with a comment from Alan Blinder, an economist, who served on Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers:

I think she’s much more politically astute now than she was in early 1993. I think she learned. She’s really smart. She learns, and she knows she made mistakes. She’s said it herself. I know she was not as politically astute then as she is now because there were a lot of these—I mentioned a couple of these—these alleged political ideas. How we were going to get the small-business lobby? How we were going to get the old-line industries? They were complete flops.

That’s a fair assessment, I think, of what happened during the Clinton Administration and Hillary’s role. Given the extenuating circumstances that she faced, she did remarkably well as First Lady. And, as we know, moved on to accomplish greater things after the left the White House.

Published by

Frank Marafiote

Frank started the Hillary Clinton Quarterly in 1992 and has been "keeping up with Hillary" for more than 25 years. Recently retired, he worked in advertising and communications and also taught marketing courses several times a year for a local university.

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