Living With the Clintons: Bill’s Arkansas bodyguards tell the story the press missed.
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For all his intelligence and diligence, though, the troopers viewed Clinton as something of a klutz in matters of ordinary life. Patterson said he will never forget that he had to show Clinton how to operate a Mr. Coffee machine one Saturday morning — and then had to show him again on Sunday.
To be sure, Clinton rarely had to do anything for himself. During his twelve years as governor, Clinton had a full household staff, including several cooks and a babysitter on the premises paid for by the state, not to mention several inmates from Arkansas penitentiaries who worked gratis as gardeners and handymen on the grounds. (They were also made to provide free labor on the Little Rock home of the Rodhams, Hillary’s parents.) The Clintons owned no property, and the state rented Bill the Lincoln town car in which he was driven.
In private moments with his bodyguards, often on long highway drives through the state, Clinton — with little experience of work outside the public sector — would sometimes reveal his insecurities. “He told me that if he was forced out of politics, he’d have no idea how to make a living,” Perry said.
Clinton was perhaps more out of touch with the average voter than President Bush. One day during the presidential campaign, the troopers witnessed a group of aides briefing the governor on the prices of various common groceries following media reports (later shown to be erroneous) that President Bush did not recognize a price-scanner at a supermarket in Florida. When Clinton was later asked by a viewer on “CBS This Morning” if he knew the price of bread and milk, and he answered correctly, campaign strategist James Carville cited this performance in a New York Times op-ed as an example of Clinton’s ability “to empathize with average people.”
Spending virtually every waking hour with him, the troopers were well positioned to judge both the private and the public man. They marveled at Clinton’s ability to pass himself off as something he was not, viewing it as the key to his political success. Perry thought Clinton’s facility with language allowed him to bridge the gap with the Arkansas voter. “He would always try to come across as old Joe the rag man, working beside you in Pine Bluff building shelves. He could give a great speech to the common people,” said Perry. This false populism manifested itself in other ways, too, they said. Throughout his tenure, Clinton was careful to fly coach-class into and out of Little Rock; but during the rest of his itinerary, he insisted on flying first-class.
At other times, Clinton would enthusiastically talk shop, explaining to the troopers how he — a career politician who chuckled privately that he “never met a tax he didn’t like,” as Perry recalled it — managed to get elected and re-elected in Arkansas. Clinton told Perry that his strategy amounted to little more than old-fashioned interest-group politics: If he could hold the black vote, generally about 18 percent in a state election, his victory would be sealed. “He used to say that that meant his opponent had to get his 51 percent out of 82 percent,” Perry said. “It was pretty smart politics.”
His outsized ego notwithstanding, the troopers found Clinton to be personable and easy to be around. When his adolescent arrogance shone through, he was always quick to apologize to the troopers for his outbursts, which have included throwing an apple at the windshield of his car from the back seat, busting a cellular phone on cement pavement, and clearing the contents of an entire desk onto the floor. “They were the kind of tantrums that you would not tolerate in a child,” said Perry.
One of the worst explosions of temper that Larry Patterson remembered followed Clinton’s ill-fated speech to the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Clinton spoke so long that delegates were shouting at him “Get off, get off” by the end. The speech had been written to last no more than seven minutes, but the Dukakis staff demanded the insertion of various lengthy passages. When Clinton arrived, the lights in the hall were supposed to be dramatically dimmed, as they had been for Ann Richards and Jesse Jackson. Instead, the lights glared, and monitors on either side of the podium mistakenly beamed “Jesse! Jesse!” causing the crowd to chant incongruously.
As Clinton left the podium, Patterson was standing on the platform along with various Democratic dignitaries. He saw Clinton stomp about, denouncing “that little Greek motherf — -er” and promising to “get his ass, because he tried to kill me politically.” A few weeks later, Dukakis called Clinton in Arkansas. Clinton put the telephone down for a moment and summoned Patterson in to hear what he was about to say. “He called him every kind of son of a bitch you can think of. Then he refused to endorse him until a few weeks before the election,” Patterson recounted. Dukakis did not return a call seeking comment.
Dukakis was not the only Democratic competitor who met with Clinton’s scorn. He seemed to delight in sharing his views on various politicians. The troopers said they remember Clinton commenting privately on Cuomo’s alleged “Mafia connections” and joking about how Ted Kennedy “couldn’t get a whore across a bridge.” Perry said that after meeting with Jesse Jackson in October 1991 in Little Rock to get the reverend’s blessing before announcing his presidential candidacy, Clinton told him that Jackson — who is reportedly contemplating a 1996 primary challenge to Clinton — was “a smart man, but I can’t stand that motherf — -er.”
The troopers also saw first-hand that their fiercely competitive boss was not above a dirty trick or two. In the 1990 governor’s race, Clinton asked Larry Patterson to locate a woman who was rumored to have had an illegitimate child by one of Clinton’s primary opponents. “He was always having us research his opponents. If he had a source, he’d ask us to drop a dime on them and report back, even though he knew it was a violation of state law for us to take part in political campaigns,” Patterson said. “On this one occasion, Clinton told me to go to the Holiday Inn at the [Little Rock] airport, find the woman, and offer her money or a job to sign a statement [about the illegitimate child].” Patterson followed Clinton’s instructions to offer the illegal bribe, but the woman declined the offer and never came forward.
The troopers were closer to Bill than to Hillary Clinton, who in their telling comes off as unflatteringly one-dimensional. The troopers chauffeured Clinton on a daily basis and were privy to his every move. Hillary, on the other hand, kept her distance. When she left the residence, she never informed them of her schedule. In fact, when she could, Hillary avoided even speaking to them, preferring to speak through Bill or some other third party, possibly because she disdained their role in facilitating his philandering.
Although Hillary’s circle of friends and advisers included more activist liberals, the troopers saw Hillary — like Bill — as a shrewd and practical operator concerned primarily with personal political advancement. While the troopers saw Clinton playing the candidate, they saw Hillary playing the bad cop, gutsy and decisive, all backbone. They remembered well the now-famous time that Hillary showed up at a news conference of Tom McRae, Clinton’s opponent in the 1990 governor’s race, and interrupted the candidate’s statement with a sustained defense of her husband.
From their direct observations, Patterson and Perry said they believe that Hillary is more obsessed than Bill with his political fortunes. She expressed this concern, as she did most everything, in language that makes the Watergate tapes sound like a Sunday school lesson. “I remember one time when Bill had been quoted in the morning paper saying something she didn’t like,” Patterson said. “I came into the mansion and he was standing at the top of the stairs and she was standing at the bottom screaming. She has a garbage mouth on her, and she was calling him motherf — -er, c — -sucker, and everything else. I went into the kitchen, and the cook, Miss Emma, turned to me and said, ‘The devil’s in that woman.’”
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