As political marriages go, few have fascinated the American public more than Bill and Hillary Clinton’s 38-year union.
Their bond faced strenuous tests during their journey from the Arkansas governor’s mansion to the White House. With the stress and legal hassles of the Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky and impeachment cases, many voters openly wondered whether the couple would last once they left the White House. In an interview with “BBC Newsnight” in India on Thursday, Bill Clinton revealed that the couple did, in fact, strike a deal—a kind of 52-year pact.
When Hillary ran for president in 2008, Bill began telling people that it was “her time” and he would wait for her direction on what assistance he might offer. He has remained in that supporting role ever since, offering advice, he says, without forcing it, and allowing her to chart their course.
“We were married a very long time when she was always, in effect, deferring to my political career,” Bill Clinton said in the interview. “I told her when she got elected to the Senate from New York that she’d given me 26 years, and so I intended to give her 26 years. Whatever she wanted to do was fine with me. If she wanted to know my opinion, I would tell her, but she had carte blanche to make whatever decisions she wanted, and tell me what I was supposed to do about it.”
“I’ve honored that,” the former president said with a smile. “And now we’ve just passed the halfway mark.… I’ve got to live another 12 years or so. So I guess I’ll have to live to be 80 to be free at last,” he said, stretching his arms out wide.
Clinton insisted that his wife, who has said she will make a decision about a second White House run by next year -- in the meantime, she is crushing her potential opponents in the polls -- has yet to ask for his opinion on whether she should try again for the presidency. She will make that decision on her own, he said, noting that Hillary has had more hands-on political experience in the last 14 years than he has (for the first time in their marriage).
Bill Clinton rejected the notion that his wife felt entitled to the White House. “That’s not true,” he said. “We’ve been in too many races over the last almost 40 years now to believe that any such thing is a sure deal.”
Despite all the trials, the former president described a harmonious marital union during his trip through the Asia-Pacific region to highlight Clinton Foundation projects involving global health, improved access to medicine, climate change and economic development.
“I know a lot of people don’t believe me when I say this, but we’ve had a great life,” he said in the interview. “We love what we’re doing now in this foundation. On the other hand, if you’re president, you have the opportunity to do things that no one else does. But you’ve got to really have a theory of the case. You’ve got to have ideas. You’ve got to have policies. You’ve got to work at it.”
That’s the part Hillary Clinton still seems to be figuring out. And by his accounting, Bill Clinton is happy to wait in the wings to hear what his future will hold.