Vanity Fair Interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
The interview is with Jonathan Alter and is titled Woman of the World:
…Hillary Clinton is now in her ninth straight year as the Gallup poll’s “America’s Most Admired Woman,” but being a great secretary of state requires more than energy, brains, and celebrity. Dean Acheson helped rebuild Europe after World War II. Henry Kissinger, who acted like the secretary of state for Richard Nixon even before he got the job, engineered the opening to China. But does anyone think Colin Powell left State with a better reputation than he had before becoming secretary? Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice broke the gender barrier and were competent enough, but left no historic imprint. The State Department isn’t called “Foggy Bottom” for nothing.
For any secretary of state, the prerequisite for success is a strong relationship with the president. “He’s hard for her to connect with,” admits one of her top people. “It’s hard for her to break through to the more-than-polite level.” That isn’t meant to suggest chilliness or dysfunction. “Is it Bush-Baker?” the aide continues, referring to the relationship between the first President Bush and James Baker, who was so tight with his boss that he felt obliged to resign as secretary of state to run Bush’s ill-fated re-election campaign in 1992. “No. But there’s a lot of mutual respect, and she feels like she’s always got a shot with him.” Imagine how it feels to be a supplicant, looking for her “shot” at impressing the president. It was only four years ago that Hillary said her main opponent in the Democratic primaries was “irresponsible and frankly naïve” when he promised to meet with the leaders of Iran, North Korea, and other rogue regimes without preconditions during his first year in office. She hasn’t forgotten who turned out to be right on that one.
One day I asked Hillary point-blank how she gets along with Obama, with whom she meets a few times a week when neither is on the road. She gave me a predictable answer, that her relationship is “not only very good professionally but very warm personally.” Of course, “warm” is just another term of art in Washington, where the advice to anyone looking for a friend has long been to get a dog. When I ask for examples, she has to pause before recalling a very public moment: a spring day in 2009 when the weather was so good that the president suggested they go outside, where they were photographed chatting at a picnic table on the South Lawn. “It was exactly what I could have hoped for. It was spontaneous and heartfelt, and we had a good time,” she says. Her second example is a full hug she and the president shared in the Situation Room after the health-care bill finally passed.
She accepted the post, in November of 2008, only after President-Elect Obama—in an inspired move over the objections of many on his campaign staff—twisted not just her arm, she informed friends, but her fingers, toes, and every other bone in her body. The president, for his part, is proud of himself for choosing her. He knows that she represents the United States better than anyone but him and is—to the surprise of many Obama veterans—refreshingly low-maintenance. When budget season arrived this year and the departments all faced drastic cuts, Hillary used a Cabinet meeting to offer tips on how to avoid making cuts that would affect vulnerable people—children, the elderly—and look bad politically. (She recalled that Newt Gingrich’s effort to slash the school-lunch program, which put Gingrich on the defensive, was the real turning point in the 1995 budget debate.) Several second-tier Cabinet members thought it one of the most useful White House meetings they had ever attended.
I’ve interviewed Hillary numerous times since she was First Lady of Arkansas, and it’s usually frustrating. She’s terrific off the record: blunt, ironic, and incisive about people, including her husband. When she cuts to the nub of something and laughs infectiously, you can see why her friends consider her such good company. On the record is tougher, especially when she’s in a job where a single misplaced word can turn into an international incident. It’s not that she doesn’t trust at least some reporters; otherwise she wouldn’t risk private candor. But the distrust for the news media as a species—the sense of being burned and burned again—long ago made her wary and sometimes defensive.
That is just an excerpt above, go check out the whole article because it’s long and largely quite positive.
Thanks to CarolynR for tipping us off about this interview.