http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/5995 ... ouple.html
Bill and Hillary Clinton: America's power couple
Both Clintons are suddenly back on the world stage - but this time the third person in their marriage isn't an intern, it's a president. From New York, Philip Sherwell dissects the ultimate in power couples.
Published: 7:00AM BST 09 Aug 2009
It was vintage Bill Clinton. The former US president had been lying low and licking his wounds after being slammed for some intemperate outbursts during his wife's failed run for the White House. But that semi-seclusion ended in headline-grabbing fashion last week as he burst back on to the world stage with a foray to North Korea to collect two jailed US journalists sentenced to 12 years hard labour in a communist gulag.
The homecoming was, quite literally, made in Hollywood. A Tinseltown public relations firm with a roster of A-list clients organised the ceremony at the Bob Hope airport in Los Angeles, while movie mogul Steve Bing, a long-time Clinton friend and donor, provided the private jet and footed the $200,000 bill for the mission.
Yet just 24 hours later, the former president was back at his day job with his philanthropic foundation in New York, announcing a deal with major drug companies to reduce treatment costs for patients in the Third World with HIV/Aids. Meanwhile, the other half of America's most enduring political power couple – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – was beginning a seven-nation sweep through Africa on a tour that news-wise was put in the shadows by her husband's own roving diplomacy.
The Bill Clinton I witnessed in action during the press conference was back to his most eloquent and charming as he joked with his audience while demonstrating a grasp of policy detail. His demeanour was a far cry from the angry red-faced figure whose minders ended up keeping him away from the press during Hillary's presidential bid because his "purple fits" were so damaging; for instance, when he appeared to diminish the achievement of her rival, Barack Obama, in winning a primary in South Carolina, a state with a large black vote.
It was a reminder of the genial Clinton who would drive his clock-watching aides crazy as he gripped every hand and answered every question. I once experienced that habit up close at a reception in Manhattan. I told Mr Clinton that I had been sitting next to Barbra Streisand, who had suggested America should rewrite the Constitution to allow him another shot at the presidency. With his staff urging him to leave, I expected a polite but cursory response. Instead, he launched into a lengthy story about how the singer-actress had befriended his mother, inviting her to Las Vegas when she was ill.
Last week, some media pundits, notably Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, concluded that with his North Korea trip he was again hogging the limelight at the expense of his wife, who famously stood by her man when his womanising ways were exposed during their tenure in the White House. But others said that the two-for-one package that the Clintons famously promised America when he was running for president in 1992 – words that came back to haunt them – has finally been delivered.
And nobody will be happier to see his lustre restored than Mrs Clinton, says Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, an online news and current affairs magazine (http://www.thedailybeast.com
) and a long-time observer of the couple.
"A lot of hurt has passed under the bridge for Hillary over his affairs, but this is a very strong marriage, now more so than ever," says Ms Brown, who is working on a new book called The Clinton Chronicles. "I really don't think she cares whether she's overshadowed at this stage in her life or not. She's been First Lady and run for president and is beyond rivalry over the limelight. He's had a very tough year and some of the worst press of his life and it was very upsetting for him, so she will be delighted he's getting this credit.
"I think they have an amazing relationship and people constantly underestimate the strength and depth of the bond," says the former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor, who knows something about power couples herself as the wife of fellow British expatriate media heavyweight, Sir Harold Evans.
The Clintons still evoke a visceral reaction, of love and loathing, among swathes of the American population. "There is a perpetual fascination with them," says Ms Brown. "It's partly down to the combustability of the marriage – people don't understand it, they're puzzled by it, the dynamics are endlessly intriguing. And it's also their unpredictability. Look how hard she's working as Secretary of State after that bruising campaign. And you don't feel Bill is finished. Neither of them needs to be doing so much now, they have nothing left to prove."
Indeed, friends of Mr Clinton have said he is frustrated that President Obama has not called on him to help before. "He feels he still has lots to offer and that when Obama called him last year, he was just ticking the box," says Ms Brown.
So on the domestic front, the greatest significance of Mr Clinton's trip to Pyongyang may be as an important bridge-building moment between the current and last Democratic presidents. For while Mr Obama developed respect and admiration for Mrs Clinton as their titanic primary struggle dragged on, there was no love lost between his camp and her husband. Mr Clinton, for his part, was furious that his wife's opponents played the race card against him after he appeared to diminish Mr Obama early in the campaign.
Their relationship has remained remote, to say the least. But Carl Bernstein, the veteran journalist who broke the Watergate scandal story with Bob Woodward, tells The Sunday Telegraph that he believes both the Clintons and Mr Obama have now emerged as "winners".
"The tabloid interpretation of someone putting someone else in the shade is completely off the mark," he says. "These were three very serious people dealing with a very serious situation concerning the lives of two American citizens and a rogue nuclear power. Bill Clinton has strengths of which any president would want to avail himself, and this episode showed again how adroit he is. I cannot imagine anybody better suited for this mission."
Mr Bernstein, whose biography of Mrs Clinton, A Woman in Charge, was published last year, shares Tina Brown's take on the strength of her relationship with her husband – despite the rocky times, particularly when his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was revealed. "You have to remember that they are each other's closest adviser. Each regards the other as the brightest star in his or her universe and despite all that's happened, nothing has changed that basic view over the years."
In fact, what was perhaps most striking, as last year's epic election battle ran and ran, was that it was Mr Clinton, rather than the candidate herself, who took defeat the hardest in public and who harboured the greatest resentment.
For Dr Mirjana Blokar, a leading New York psychiatrist and expert in narcissism, that would come as no surprise. "Hillary is clearly very focused, very disciplined and very controlling and Bill is none of those. He has clear narcissistic traits. He's larger than life, charming, very bright but very facile with words."
And he will have flourished in the spotlight that the North Korea "rescue mission" brought him. "Narcissistic people feed off adulation," Dr Blokar continues. "They want to be adored all the time. He is enjoying that again now."
Still, Andrea Peyser, a commentator for the New York Post tabloid, historically no cheerleader for the Clintons, was scathing in her description of the homecoming as "a magical stunt that would turn all eyes admiringly" on the ex-president.
"I hate being manipulated. And this thing reeked of heart-strings pulling," she wrote last week. "The whole shebang was nakedly scripted and staged as a device to help rehabilitate the image of former President Bill Clinton, a guy who's largely been written off as irrelevant."
For all the speculation about the dynamics of the Obama-Clinton relationship in the wake of the Pyongyang trip, Mr Clinton was selected for this mission not by the president, nor indeed by his wife in her role as the country's top diplomat. It turns out that Kim Jong-il, the secretive Stalinist state's "Dear Leader" who is recovering from a suspected stroke, is among the ranks of the former president's international admirers. Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two television journalists captured in March after crossing the border from China, were told by officials in Pyongyang in June that North Korea wanted Mr Clinton to visit as an intermediary to secure their release.
There then began extremely secretive contacts between officials from the US and North Korea, which do not have diplomatic relations, to secure guarantees from those in Pyongyang that the journalists would be pardoned and freed if Mr Clinton made the trip. It was arranged even as Mrs Clinton and the North Koreans traded some distinctly undiplomatic barbs. She accused Pyongyang of behaving like "small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention". North Korea responded with a statement saying: "Sometimes she looks like a primary-school girl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."
Despite that spat, her husband departed on an operation that only became public when he landed in Pyongyang. Mr Obama insisted it was a private "humanitarian mission" but it has since emerged that Mr Clinton was drawn into discussions about the North's illicit nuclear programme in his talks with Mr Kim. The famously garrulous former president has been tight-lipped about the substance of his trip, saying first he had to sit-down with the President and the Secretary of State – his wife – to be debriefed.
And as the great saga of Bill and Hillary once again holds America in thrall, there may be another Clintonian turn to the summer. The Boston, New York and Washington press, despite denials from the family, have featured persistent reports for the last three months that the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, 29, will marry her long-time boyfriend Marc Mezvinsky, 31, on the island retreat of Martha's Vineyard in late-August.
According to The Washington Post, Miss Clinton has been seen looking at wedding invitations, Mr Mezvinsky was spotted shopping for rings, and a DC couple let slip that they had been invited to the ceremony. The island home of Clinton Hollywood chums Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen is the frequently mentioned setting.
There is a final enticing twist to the speculation. President Obama will also be on the island at the end of the month, on holiday with his wife Michelle and their daughters. If there's a wedding, the pundits will doubtless find more fodder for analysing the state of relations between the first families of Democratic politics as they practically rub shoulders in liberal America's favourite summer getaway.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and husband, former President Bill Clinton