Hillary Clinton: 'Most admired, most criticised' woman in US history enters White House race

  • AFP, Washington
  • Updated: Apr 13, 2015 11:41 IST

She is perhaps the most admired, most criticised, most over-analysed woman in US history.

Hillary Clinton has been a public fixture for 37 years, and at 67 she is aiming once again to win over a skeptical America.

Who after all remains unfamiliar with the lives of Hillary and Bill Clinton?

They have not just endured but suffered and thrived in symbiotic tandem under the political spotlight since 1977, the year before Bill's election as governor of Arkansas.


Hillary Clinton (L) being sworn in as the US Secretary of State in this file picture. She is accompanied by husband, Bill Clinton, and daughter Chelsea. (Reuters)

Parts of first lady Clinton's archives have been made public, and candid papers of Hillary confidante Diane Blair, who died in 2000, are available at the University of Arkansas.

Bill Clinton's sexual proclivities were laid out in explicit detail. Hillary herself has recalled the rage she felt against her mentor-husband after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the threat of divorce, the marriage-counselling.

By 1993, People magazine offered a cover-story peek into "The Real Woman Hillary Clinton."

Twenty-two years later, following a US Senate stint and four years as the international face of the
Obama administration -- and her announcement on Sunday that she is again running for president -- she remains omni-present in the public eye.

Middle-class upbringing

Hillary Diane Rodham was born October 26, 1947 and raised in a middle-class household in Chicago suburb Park Ridge.

She adored her mother Dorothy but described her father Hugh Rodham, born from Welsh immigrants, as a stubborn and rigid taskmaster.

He imposed his work ethic on young Hillary, but also his frugality. She still puts uneaten olives back in the jar and is loath to waste anything, she wrote in her 2003 autobiography, "Living History."


Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband former US President Bill Clinton hold up some steaks. (Reuters)

Clinton shared her father's Republican convictions in adolescence, as well as his thunderous laugh.

The family is Methodist, and to this day Hillary Clinton remains in the church.

From age 13, she took odd jobs to help finance her studies. Smart and ambitious, Hillary was admitted in 1965 to Wellesley, an elite women's college near Harvard where she was eventually elected president of her class.

With 1960s America in turmoil, Clinton's academic years opened her eyes to civil rights and gender-quality struggles, and the cultural divide over Vietnam.

After she was accepted in 1969 at the prestigious Yale Law School, she met Bill Clinton, the "Viking" from Arkansas who would change the course of her life.


Hillary Clinton (sitting, second from right) and other members of the national security team, including president Barack Obama (sitting, second from left), receive an update on Operation Neptune Spear in which Osama bin Laden was killed by US Seals. (Reuters)

After a period in Washington in 1974, when a commission hired her to help investigate the Watergate scandal, she gave in and joined Bill in Arkansas.

He was soon elected Arkansas governor and Hillary Rodham joined a prestigious law firm, eventually becoming its first female partner.

25 years a first lady

She soon dropped her maiden name and became Hillary Clinton, first lady of Arkansas and then the nation after her husband's White House election victory in 1992.

Her style contrasted with her predecessors'. She played an active political role, symbolized by the location of her office in the West Wing.


Copies of the book 'Hard Choices' authored by Hillary Clinton. (Reuters)

Her relations with lawmakers and journalists quickly soured. Republicans branded her a radical feminist.

She suffered intense humiliation during her husband's presidential affair with intern Monica Lewinsky in 1998. But her popularity has never been higher than the 67% approval rating she enjoyed in December 1998, according to a Gallup poll at the time.

Solo career

Pressured by friends and associates in Hillaryland, the first lady launched herself into politics, winning an election in 2000 to be the new US senator from New York.

She laid low during the 2004 presidential race, but four years later she entered the fray to challenge fellow senator Barack Obama, who savaged her vote supporting the Iraq war.

Clinton chose to run on her experience, refusing to campaign on gender. But Americans opted instead on the 40-something political neophyte Obama, bringing hope of change after eight years of George W. Bush.

After finding detente with his party rival, Obama appointed Clinton secretary of state.


Former US President Bill Clinton (C) and his daughter Chelsea (L) listen as his wife US presidential candidate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) speaks at a fundraising rally. (Reuters)

Her critics argue she can claim no major diplomatic successes, but her four globe-trotting years in the post cemented her image as a powerful stateswoman.

In 2007, in his definitive Clinton biography, journalist Carl Bernstein cited his subject's dominant characteristic as "passion," exuded in her "enthusiasm, humor, tempestuousness, inner strength," and her "lethal (almost) powers of retribution."

A Machiavellian image, one painted by her many enemies, clings to Clinton, especially in the eyes of voters who remember the turmoil of the 1990s.

Only voters born after 1980 have a majority opinion of her as "honest and trustworthy," according to a CNN poll. Republicans continue to describe her as living in a self-centered bubble.

Fuelling that perception, Clinton said in 2014 that she and Bill were "dead broke" when they left the White House, largely due to her husband's legal fees, even though the couple owned two million-dollar homes.

Both Clintons went on to make several million dollars from speaking fees.


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