Clio And The Clintons

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And so I saw what Dr. King was doing as something that went beyond politics. I mean, it shouldn’t be Republican or Democrat or conservative or liberal; it was just the right thing to do. I felt much of that because of my strong feelings about Lincoln and my family’s feelings about what being a Republican really meant.

But in 1964 I was a very strong supporter of Barry Goldwater, because I liked what I saw as his true conservatism. I really did come from a background that was highly suspicious of government and very supportive of the individual and individual responsibility, and Goldwater seemed to stand for that. And I got to meet him. I went to a rally and enjoyed just being introduced to him.

But I also remember in 1965 being as impressed as I think I’ve ever been by a presidential speech, when President Johnson gave his speech on the Voting Rights Act. From that time on I supported a lot of the goals of the Johnson administration domestically, even though I became very concerned about the Vietnam War and very much opposed to it.

So there was a lot going on then that came from many different directions, which is why I always resist political labeling—because I think we are all much more complex in our political thoughts than the easy categories describe.

Let me ask you, are there any particular objects or paintings or rooms in the White House that have come to mean something special or important to both of you?

MRS. CLINTON : Oh, there are so many. One of the best parts about living here is feeling that every day you encounter another piece of American history. When we first came, we searched every nook and cranny to find memorabilia and portraits and other things to put on display, and we learned a lot about how the house had been used in the past and how it had been modified over time to fill its many functions. It is a museum; it is the house of the head of state; it is a public building; and it is a residence. There are so many aspects.

We have a lot of artwork that was formerly in storage now on display in the White House, and we are in the process of making sure we have somewhere depicted every President and First Lady who ever lived here, so that we have some kind of memory of their presence.

THE PRESIDENT : I like the picture of Lincoln that’s in the Treaty Room, with his military advisers planning the peace, not long before he was killed. He’s on a ship, with an admiral and General Grant and General Sherman, and there’s a rainbow in the background.

Lincoln had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do to heal the country after the war, and when he died and Johnson came in and was weakened, and Reconstruction took a far more draconian turn, I’ve often thought that was a sort of unexplored tragedy in American history. I think it hardened attitudes in the South and made it more difficult to work through the issues of race, and it also ratified the economic backwardness of the place for a long time. And a lot of that is still being played out today, sadly enough, in Southern politics— still being played out. Anyway, that picture’s very good.

There’s a picture in here in my dining room that I brought down from the Lincoln Bedroom so I could see it every day. It’s called Waiting for the Hour , and it shows slaves sitting in a dark room five minutes before midnight before the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation, which arguably is the most important document ever signed in the White House. Just seeing that every day reminds me of the enormous importance of the Presidency and trying to get it right at whatever point in history you happen to serve. Those two pictures mean a lot to me.

“We are ... making sure that we have somewhere depicted every President ... who ever lived here.”
 

I was wondering, Mrs. Clinton, if there were Presidents and First Ladies that you emulated or took hope from.

Oh, there are so many of them. And there are aspects of the personalities of many, as well as their accomplishments, that I find very important and supportive. I became a great admirer of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, much to the dismay of my father. And I’ve become a great admirer of both Trumans. We are particularly pleased to have had Margaret Truman Daniel visit us, which I found a great joy. I am a great admirer of the Kennedys; my friendship with Jackie Kennedy Onassis was one of the most extraordinary opportunities of my life. I am a great admirer of President Johnson’s domestic accomplishments. And I think Mrs. Johnson is one of the most effective women who ever lived here.

I admire greatly Betty Ford’s personal bravery and outspokenness on women’s issues—particularly on the ERA and breast cancer—when it was not at all easy. I think President and Mrs. Carter both made great contributions on a lot of the difficult issues that confronted the country. And I think Mrs. Carter’s work on behalf of mental health and President Carter’s continuing example after he left the White House are a great legacy.

I really appreciated the struggles that confronted Nan- cy Reagan when she was attempting to define herself and not be defined. And I always enjoyed being around both President and Mrs. Bush, whom we had some acquaintance with because of my husband’s time as governor. I’ve always found them very easy to talk to and very gracious and hospitable.