Hillary Clinton’s strong religious beliefs “shaped her politics, shaped her life,” says Judith Warner, author of a new biography about the First Lady.
In an interview with HCQ, Warner said that the most surprising thing she learned in writing Hillary Clinton: The Inside Story: Revised and Updated is the profound influence scripture has had on Mrs. Clinton.
“For example, she thought the scripture through in developing her own views about issues such as abortion and the death penalty,” Warner said. Moreover, the First Lady continues to keep in close contact with John Jones, her Methodist youth minister in Park Ridge, Illinois. Rev. Jones, who was interviewed for Warner’s book, at one point referred to Hillary as “a lay theologian.”
“Very few people are aware of this,” Warner told us, “but Hillary carries around with her a book of scripture.” Her religious beliefs serve as her personal “support system,” Warner said, adding that they gave Hillary “the inner strength she needed when faced with difficult questions about her marital problems during the campaign.”
In many respects, the Warner portrait of Hillary Clinton as a deeply-religious woman runs smack against the “Hillary the Heathen” image created at the Republican convention in August. It would have seemed likely for her, or someone else in the campaign, to counter the Republican view.
“She didn’t refute anything they said because she didn’t want to dignify it with comments,” Warner said. “If you respond to that kind of accusation, you risk perpetuating it.”
Concerning those stories about Bill Clinton’s alleged affairs, Warner said that it is her own “gut feeling” that the stories “simply are not true.” Noting that Little Rock is the kind of place where “every one knows every one else’s business,” she said that most people in the Arkansas capital are very protective of the Clintons. “No one is ever going to find out more about this issue than the Clintons want them to,” she said
Like most political observers and commentators, Warner expects Hillary to work “very, very closely with Bill” and to have “an enormous impact on policy.” On the other hand, Warner cautions, Hillary needs to exercise her power carefully. “It’s not having power that upsets people,” she said, “it’s how it is used. For most Americans, ‘pillow talk’ is OK, but something more overt can be a problem.”
While many people consider her more liberal than Bill Clinton, “Hillary was never any kind of radical,” Warner said. “She’s not left of center, but more of a mainstream liberal.” Hillary Clinton has always seen herself as an advocate, not a politician, Warner said, and most likely does not have political aspirations of her own. “There was a point in 1990, however, when some people tried to push her to run for governor of Arkansas. And I’m told that she did briefly consider the idea,” Warner said.
Readers of Warner’s book will also learn that as a high school student Hillary “got involved in every school committee.” Although the future First Lady was studious and ambitious, she was not at all “a bookworm.” According to Warner, Hillary’s Methodist youth group was an important part of her life, and — like most teenagers — she liked “hanging around her friends’ houses.”
Later, at Wellesley College, in a move that hardly seems like the Hillary we know today, she became president of the Young Republicans Club. Coming from a conservative, well-to-do suburb of Chicago like Park Ridge, her identification with such a group is not so far-fetched. “World events in the late 1960s eventually had a large impact on her,” Warner said, “and she began to adopt the political views she’s known for now.”
Change has been visibly a part of Hillary Clinton’s life in other ways as well, most notably the fashion make-overs that have received so much media attention.
“I think her greatest wish in the world is that all this fashion stuff just goes away,” Warner told us. “She profoundly doesn’t care about fashion.” Warner did say that while Hillary’s 1982 make-over may have been “premeditated to a degree,” the later changes in hair-styles and clothing are just typical of a woman “experimenting with different looks.”
Other tidbits we learn from Hillary Clinton: the Inside Story include the First Lady’s talent at doing impersonations, that she is a voracious reader (mostly non-fiction and histories), that she loves ice-skating and heading off to the mall with her daughter, Chelsea, and, as reported by friends, that she “likes to be silly.”
Judith Warner’s biography of Hillary Clinton was published in paperback by New American Library and was available at bookstores and newsstands on Inauguration Day, January 20. Prior to writing the First Lady’s biography, Judith Warner worked at Ms. magazine. Hillary Clinton: The Inside Story: Revised and Updated is available on Amazon.com.