Video: Clinton on 'Today'

By contributor
updated 6/23/2004 12:56:08 PM ET 2004-06-23T16:56:08

Washingtonians lined up around the block at midnight the other night outside my local bookstore, Politics & Prose, to be the first to buy a copy of Bill Clinton's "My Life." A store manager told me the only other work to engender such Midnight Madness is J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series. After reading "My Life," I think the comparison goes far beyond the sales frenzy. Clinton is the Potter of presidents — at least in his own mind.   
As he tells it, the rite-of-passage fable is similar: A gifted foundling, possessed of magical but unruly powers, is pursued by an evil force he cannot escape because it is within him, and teams up with a smarty-pants young woman who insists on running with the boys. Harry has the piggish, cruel Dursleys to deal with; Clinton, an alcoholic stepfather. Harry's powers are at war within him; Clinton writes of his inner "parallel lives," and how "dark it was down there" in the secret one. Harry is haunted by Voldemort, who tries to kill him but instead empowers him while in Clinton's tale, the Evil One is Ken Starr and his "vast right-wing conspiracy," inhabiting the host of the courts and the FBI, who try to impeach him but instead make him a hero-victim for the ages.

And then there's Hillary
And then, of course, there is Hillary/Hermione: brainy, nervy, a real leader of men, first encountered in the echoing, Gothic corridors of Hogwarts/Yale.

I seriously doubt whether Clinton intended to echo Rowling, and Harry Potter fans — if they are Clinton haters — will find the comparison silly if not insulting. But the similarity is revealing: Clinton sees himself as a precocious fellow who struggled to harness his talents in an endless adolescent process of becoming. He says he's not really sure he's grown up, or ever will.

Whether we Baby Boomers like it or not, Clinton is our living emblem. We're not the Greatest Generation, we're the most Self-Involved.

Hillary, on the other hand, is the grownup — at least as portrayed in "My Life." Whatever else he has done for or to her, Clinton did her a favor in this book: He essentially cleared the decks for the presidential campaign she will run someday.

Video: Clinton on 'Today' Most of the American people have long since formed their judgment of Bill Clinton. They either forgive him his faults, or not. But they aren't sure about some aspects of Hillary's story: What did she really know and when about her husband's "parallel life?" What did she do when she found everything out? How could she have stuck with him after all the humiliation she evidently suffered? Was she in any way to blame for the man he was, or wasn't?

Nothing was her fault
Well, in Bill's telling, nothing was Hillary's fault, and she was a completely innocent victim and helpful, almost saintly partner. And she was appropriately angry when told the truth about Monica Lewinsky — so much so that the president of the United States was kicked out of his own bed, and reduced to sleeping for months on the couch. In the end, rather than divorce him, she agreed to enter family counseling with him, a process he says saved their marriage.

In "My Life," Clinton makes whatever limited final confessions he is going to make about his "parallel life." He admits that his liaisons with Monica began in the fall of 1995 — when she still was an intern, not yet a full-time employee. He confirms that he had at least a fling with Gennifer Flowers, and obliquely admits that there were other "other women." We can safely assume that he'll never say more on these topics, and point to the book as the final word when asked in the future.

So now everyone has told their story: Bill, Hill, his late mother and living brother, Roger. If and when Hillary runs for president, she will be free to look forward, not backward. The Clinton family saga will have a sequel. After all, there are two more Harry Potter books yet to come.

Howard Fineman is Newsweek’s chief political correspondent and an NBC News analyst.

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