As the world turns, Hillary Clinton takes the spotlight.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is not only changing the face of American politics, her influence is quickly being felt on the world stage as well. From Europe to Asia, Mrs. Clinton has achieved star status. In recent months, she’s appeared on the covers of both Germany’s Stern Magazine and Spain’s El Pais, each with the same headline — “Hillary Clinton: The Most Powerful Woman in the World.”

Just as the American press is growing accustomed to a non-traditional First Lady, the world press is shining the spotlight on Mrs. Clinton’s role as a policy maker and advisor to the president.

“For the very first time, women are telling us they’re more interested in what the first lady is doing, rather than what she’s wearing,” says Massimo Borgnis, Senior Editor of the Italian magazine, Gente. “No first lady, including Jackie Kennedy, has gotten more press coverage here,” he says. “These are not your typical stories about White House parties and the Washington social scene. The focus is definitely on the issues and her political impact. In fact, Italians prefer reading about Hillary Clinton than Bill Clinton.”

Borgnis says that while women in his country describe Hillary Clinton as a “refreshing change” from traditional American first ladies, Italian men are not as enthusiastic. “They’re not completely comfortable with her,” he explains. “Men are staying at the window, so to speak, looking out to see what she does. They’re curious, but also a little suspicious of how powerful she is.”

Nuria Ribo, a Television of Spain reporter who is also working on a book about Mrs. Clinton, believes that Spaniards are more interested in America’s first lady than in their own. “Hillary Clinton is a phenomenon in our country,” she says. “Women’s groups see her as an example, an icon.” Even though Spanish women legally have the same rights as men, “in everyday life that’s not true,” she contends. “Hillary Clinton is a turning point for us. Before her, every other first lady was just the president’s wife. We really didn’t care that much about Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan.”

According to Ribo, opinion articles in the Spanish press about Mrs. Clinton are “very positive and applaud her role.” Her country’s fascination with the first lady actually began during the presidential campaign, she says. “There’s the impression among Spaniards that Hillary saved the campaign, though we were surprised at how Americans reacted to her initially. We always thought of America as a place where women were treated the same as men. A lot of Americans didn’t like her at first because she was so outspoken.”

She says that publicity during the campaign about the Clinton’s marital problems also caught many Spaniards by surprise. “In our country we just don’t care about those things,” she explains. She points out that Alfonso Guerra, who served as vice president of Spain for seven years, was married but also publicly courted a girl-friend who eventually bore his son. The media, according to Ribo, barely mentioned it. “We wash our clothes inside,” she says.

England is perhaps the one country in Europe that knows something about strong, politically powerful women. In fact, Hillary Clinton is frequently compared to former English prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

“People here are less shocked by a woman in a position of executive power,” says Ben Macintyre, New York Bureau Chief for the London Times. According to Macintyre, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the English are totally infatuated with Mrs. Clinton.

“There’s a disquiet in England about her being an unelected official,” he explains. “If she does a bad job, she can’t be sacked. We do worry somewhat about her influence.”

Compared to other American first ladies, Mrs. Clinton comes across as “pretty strident.” Macintyre says. “We got used to seeing the grandmotherly Barbara Bush.” As for similarities to Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady that Mrs. Clinton most admires, he contends that “Hillary Clinton ain’t no Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt had a defter touch. Mrs. Clinton is more of a ‘put it in your face’ type.”

Sharon Krum, who frequently writes for The Australian, notes that Mrs. Clinton has practically vanished from traditional Australian women’s magazines, which used to write detailed articles about Nancy Reagan’s dresses and china. Instead, Mrs. Clinton is often found in the political pages of newspapers, alongside her husband.

“There’s some sense here of Hillary being like Maggie Thatcher,” she says. “People also wonder if she’s dominating her husband.” Explaining that the women’s movement in Australia is “five to ten years behind the U.S.,” she believes that many Australian men are “very happy Hillary is in the U.S. and not here.”

Krum nevertheless expects Mrs. Clinton to have an impact on Australian politics. “She’s being talked about by women who are thinking of going into politics, and by political wives who would like to enlarge their profiles and not just be their husband’s hand-bag,” she says.

In Japan, where women frequently play a subservient role to men, media stories about Hillary Clinton only underscore the vast differences between American and Japanese cultures. “Women here are treated differently than in the States. Most don’t equate themselves with what Mrs. Clinton is doing,” explains Madoka Murakami, a correspondent for TV-Asahi. While few in number, Japanese women who are interested in politics and women’s rights believe Hillary Clinton is “very inspiring,” Murakami says. “She’ll help bring some dreams closer to reality.”

Kenzo Hashimoto, a producer for TV-Ashai, notes that some Japanese have questioned Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in political issues. “They point out that she’s never been elected and ask, ‘how can she do that?’ when they see her visiting Congress. It bothers some people.”

In a strange turn of events, it appears that Japan will soon have its own version of Hillary Clinton. Masako Owada, a 29 year old career woman who was educated at Harvard, is engaged to Japan’s prince and heir to the Imperial throne. The fact that Owada has had a successful career in Japan’s foreign ministry, is intelligent, well-educated, and is taller than her fiance has created something of a controversy in this traditionally-minded country. At one point it was uncertain if the Imperial House would even approve the marriage.

Hillary Clinton has evidently helped sway some Japanese to accept the would-be princess. One Tokyo magazine recently ran a feature story comparing Ms. Owada to Mrs. Clinton. “Some people see Hillary Clinton as an example of what the new princess’ role might be,” says Madoka Murakami. “They point to Mrs. Clinton and say ‘what’s wrong with that?’ Maybe it’s time to change the old establishment ways,” suggests Murakami.

Somehow, we suspect that Hillary Clinton would agree.

National Enquirer: How we made up our story about Hillary.

One of the funnier episodes I had during the early days of the Hillary Clinton Quarterly was a story I did about the National Enquirer. They had just published a tawdry front page story about “Hillary’s Intimate Secrets.” I decided to turn the tables and interview the interviewers. — FM

“Mommy, why does the National Enquirer make up such awful stories about you?”

Hillary Clinton’s little daughter, Chelsea, sobbed those words just days before Christmas, 1992 — and stunned the First Lady into facing a shattering truth: the National Enquirer will say just about anything to make a buck.

Not that the titillating contents of its December 8, 1992, story purportedly revealing “the First Lady’s intimate secrets” surprised me. But my inquiring mind was just a little bit curious about how they put their story together.

And here’s what I found out:

That’s right, Virginia. I found out nothing. Or just about nothing.

One reporter at the National Enquirer who worked on the story did speak to me, probably because he didn’t know why I was calling. I asked David Wright why their story, which ran about 2,000 words, had nearly 1,500 words of direct and indirect quotes from people identified anonymously as “a family friend,” “a close source,” “a family insider,” “a source in the Governor’s Mansion,” etc. Who were these people? Why wouldn’t they speak on the record? Did the National Enquirer really talk to anyone, or did they just make up the entire story?

David told me, “I can’t speak about that.”

Was the story meant to be provocative? I wondered. Stupid question, stupid answer. Said David: “It was just a matter of letting the chips fall where they may.”

I then asked specifically about the quote in which Bill Clinton is yelling at Hillary and calls her “a bitch.” Where did that one come from?

“I don’t know,” said David. “I didn’t work on that part of the story.”

“Who did?”

“I think that was Dan McDonald,” David informed me. “He’s not here right now, but I’ll let him know you want to talk to him.”

If that wasn’t the kiss of death, what was? Stoically, I called Dan’s office four times, left messages, harangued his secretary. Of course, Dan never called back.

In the meantime, I spoke to Patty Criner, the only source actually named in the story. I can tell you this: Mrs. Criner was polite, helpful, and is truly a long-time friend of Hillary’s. She did not care to comment on the story. And I don’t blame her. Once burned, twice shy.

My investigative efforts were not a total loss, however. I discovered the National Enquirer formula for escaping accountability for its stories. First, send out a pack of reporters. Four is the absolute minimum. Interview anyone who will talk to you. Gas station attendants. Waitresses. The local hardware store clerk. In the story, call them all “insiders.” What your sources don’t tell you, make up. When someone asks how a particular part of the story came into being, just say “I didn’t work on that part of the story — it was one of the other reporters.”

And there was one other important discovery.

One of Dan McDonald’s friends told me in a confidential interview that when Dan was a little boy his puppy, Fluffy, died quite suddenly. “Dan’s parents blamed poor Dan,” said the friend. “It was devastating to him. Ever since then he’s felt a compelling need to ruin other people’s lives. Basically, Dan trusts no one. Especially other reporters. And he never returns phone calls.”

Evolution, not revolution, at Hillary’s White House.

She hasn’t even changed her mailing address to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and already she’s on the cover of Newsweek, suffering the inevitable comparisons to Eleanor Roosevelt, being ceremoniously hailed by political observers like John McLaughlin as the second most powerful person in Washington.

Hillary’s White House staff might do well to remember that political figures, like frozen pizzas and Reeboks, are products — packaged and marketed for public consumption. As any marketer will tell you, the kiss of death for any product is to over-promise. The goal is to meet, if not exceed, the customer’s expectations. Deliver less value than the customer expects, and you’ll quickly find yourself in trouble.

The expectations for this politically- savvy- competent- capable- intelligent- baby-boomer- career- woman- wife- mother- advocate- feminist are extraordinarily high. Fortunately for Hillary, she gets to be First Lady for four years regardless of her performance. It’s fair to say, however, that if she lives up to expectations, she will go down in history as the most influential First Lady ever to command the East Wing of the White House.

But before anyone starts designing Hillary Clinton postage stamps and silver dollars, a little historical perspective might be worthwhile.

Hillary Clinton will not be the first First Lady to influence key presidential appointments. She will not be the first to sit in on Cabinet meetings. She will not be the first to speak out on policy issues. She will not be the youngest, or the smartest, or the first First Lady to be compared to Lady Macbeth. Nor will she be the first to chair a presidential commission, support a woman’s right to abortion, be identified as a feminist, or act as an advocate for the poor, the down-trodden, or the culturally disadvantaged.

How quickly we’ve forgotten, but among recent First Ladies, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, and Barbara Bush were all supporters at one time or another of the Equal Rights Amendment. Betty Ford was such an active and enthusiastic supporter of ERA that picketers protested her involvement in front of the White House. Earlier in the 1960s, Lady Bird Johnson, who was also the national chair of the Head Start program, was credited with trying to get a clause inserted into the Civil Rights Act ensuring equality for women.

First Ladies Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush were all pro-choice (though Barbara Bush toned down her support after George’s pro-life conversion). Even Nancy Reagan’s position on abortion changed and assumed a more pro-choice perspective. “No more coat hangers,” she had said.

Are Bill and Hillary Clinton our first “Presidential Partners?” Hardly. No president and First Lady worked more closely together than Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. As a member of what Jody Powell called a “team,” Rosalynn rewrote Jimmy’s speeches, advised him on policy issues, and even completed his sentences for him. And, yes, it was Rosalynn Carter who caused such a controversy when she sat in on Cabinet meetings.

Then there’s Nancy Reagan. She wielded more influence and power over all aspects of the presidency than any other First Lady in recent memory. From helping to get Don Regan, Al Haig, Lyn Nofziger, and James Watt (and others) fired, to setting the president’s schedule and shaping his media image, Nancy Reagan was, as one news commentator put it, “a respected and feared political operative.” The president even conceded that it was Nancy who got him to soften his “Evil Empire” rhetoric about Communism and to become “the peace president.” At one point, this wife of one our most conservative presidents appeared on the cover of Ms. magazine and was defended by the former president of NOW for her political activism.

While Hillary Clinton has stated her intention to make children’s issues her focus as First Lady, every recent First Lady has been identified with her own special project: for Jackie Kennedy it was the arts, for Lady Bird Johnson, beautifying America, for Pat Nixon, volunteerism, for Betty Ford, the ERA, for Rosalynn Carter, mental illness, for Nancy Reagan, drug abuse, and for Barbara Bush, literacy.

For those with longer memories, Eleanor Roosevelt’s impact as an “activist” First Lady will always be the standard by which other First Ladies are judged. Go back even further and find Edith Wilson, who single-handedly ran the executive branch while her husband, Woodrow, recovered from a stroke. During that period, Mrs. Wilson interviewed and recommended candidates for Cabinet positions, negotiated with Congressional leaders on the president’s behalf concerning the controversial League of Nations treaty, and ultimately was praised in the media as “a capable ‘President’.”

Rather than representing a totally new kind of First Lady, Hillary Clinton can more accurately be called the “new, improved” version.

Unlike recent First Ladies, her participation as a policy adviser and political operative is not being hidden from the public. No more coy First Lady talk about “leaving the politics to my husband.” Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have made a point of publicly highlighting her involvement. Also unlike recent First Ladies, Hillary Clinton comes to Washington with her own well-established credentials both as an attorney and political activist.

Part of the excitement about her, no doubt, is nothing more than the jubilation of people who have not had someone in the White House representing their interests and values for the last twelve years. Add to that group all the egocentric baby-boomers who now control the nation’s bank accounts and the media, and it is understandable why yuppie Hillary is automatically accorded star status.

But what stands out most about Hillary Clinton is her versatility. She’s like one of those amazing gadgets that can do just about anything you want it to, from slicing carrots to washing the car. She is an activist, a successful attorney, a feminist, a loyal wife, a nurturing mother, an intelligent woman who understands both politics and policy. She’s the perfect First Lady “package.”

Just as the role of women in American society — and the choices open to them — have evolved, so has the role of First Lady. Hillary Clinton is the direct beneficiary and quintessential embodiment of those changes. As other First Ladies have paved the way for Hillary, she is also likely to create new options for women in America’s political future. Perhaps one of those options is a “Mrs. President” – without the quotes.