Bill Clinton on His Marriage, and the Roosevelts’

The best comment on yesterday’s arresting Times piece about the Clinton marriage is from Bill Clinton himself and came two years ago on Fresh Air, in an interview about his book, My Life.

Terry Gross is a fabulous interviewer—and also, it must be said, highly sympathetic to the Clintons. In her interview of the former President, she made him feel comfortable enough to offer that his marriage is best compared to that of the Roosevelts. Alas, there is no transcript on-line, and I can’t find any pickup of the statement. But what Clinton said in essence (yes as I remember it; I may have the nuance wrong; I had pulled over on a highway shoulder to listen) is that in terms of big, separate political lives, he and his wife are like FDR and Eleanor. In their age, he said, the Roosevelts were accorded privacy and discretion. He and his wife should get the same.

It was a fascinating statement that touches directly on the Times piece (and again demonstrates Clinton’s grasp of political history). Clinton was analogizing his marriage to the ultimate marriage of convenience. There’s nothing wrong with such a marriage; though my sense from several visits to the FDR Library and the Roosevelts’ former residences is that it was not a very happy marriage. But then who would want to judge others’ choices on that basis. (There’s tons of ways for people to stay in unhappy marriages.) I suppose the real issue is whether it’s realistic to ask for the zone of privacy that FDR and Eleanor got in their day; and there it does seem that Clinton is wrong. FDR’s physical debilitation took place in that private zone; that would never happen today.

Many years ago Hillary Clinton made the exciting and bold statement on 60 Minutes that if people didn’t like their marriage, fine, Don’t vote for Bill. I certainly won’t vote against Hillary for her marriage (Iraq!), but the two may have to use their (very large) imaginations to help the public learn how to think about their arrangement. FDR and Eleanor is helpful. Bill Clinton on His Marriage, and the Roosevelts’