Hillary's Whole New Book

Hillary Clinton was in her element. On stage at Belfast's ornate Grand Opera House last week, flanked by volunteers and politicians' wives, Clinton celebrated the role of women in the Northern Ireland peace process. In a confident speech reminiscent of another Clinton, she urged her audience to keep pushing for a common-sense end to the ages-old conflict. On her last official overseas trip as First Lady--"a heartfelt and bittersweet time," she said--Clinton fondly recalled not only earlier visits to Belfast, but her travels around the globe. Now she'd come to say farewell and, as she put it, to "end one chapter in my life." But traveling with the president on his victory lap around the British Isles last week, Hillary was opening a whole new book.

As the Clintons prepare to leave the White House, Bill isn't the only one thinking about a legacy. Hillary has racked up a long list of First Lady "firsts": first baby boomer, first professional woman, first to head a major government task force, first to testify before a grand jury. "Hillary Clinton is, in my estimation, the single most accomplished First Lady in American history," says Carl Anthony, a former Nancy Reagan aide and author of "America's First Families." But it's been a bumpy ride. "She might say surviving is her greatest triumph," says a friend. Now her election to the U.S. Senate and a staggering new book deal prove that Clinton has not only survived--she's thriving. So much so that she's already topping the whispering list of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

Despite all her years on the national stage, much about Hillary Clinton remains a mystery--which may explain why Simon & Schuster last week bid an almost unprecedented $8 million to publish her memoirs. But friends caution that while Clinton will touch on the obvious travails of her White House years, she's not likely to dwell on the intricacies of the First Marriage. They cite Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham's dignified-but-not-dishy biography as a model. "I don't think you can look for any juicy details in the book," says one confidante.

A best seller would only enhance her star status. She's already a champion fund-raiser--both for Democrats who love her and for Republicans who love to hate her--and could become an eloquent voice of opposition against the new Bush White House. Hillary has promised to serve out her six-year Senate term, a vow that still could leave her open for a presidential bid in 2008. Still, friends insist she has no such plans. "She's totally stunned by the notion," says one.

But the idea could grow on her. Al Gore once seemed the natural heir of Bill Clinton's legacy. But in a few years, with a solid Senate record on key committees like finance or appropriations, Hillary could be well positioned to challenge the notoriously stiff campaigner who already squandered the advantages of incumbency. (Some of his fans don't think the veep has much to worry about: Mrs. Clinton wasn't exactly a riveting presence on the New York campaign trail. And though she'd come equipped with a huge following, she has an army of detractors as well.)

No matter what her ultimate ambitions, Clinton has learned a thing or two about taking small steps. When Hillary staked out an office in the West Wing and took charge of health-care reform, people thought she was overreaching. "If they had it to do over again, I don't think there would be a West Wing office," says one former administration official. Yet, while Clinton was wounded after the health-care fiasco, she never abandoned her goals, quietly pushing initiatives on children's health, adoption and foreign aid, among others.

After years of changing hairstyles and political strategies, Hillary, it seems, has finally found her groove. It is a central tenet of Hillaryland that every woman gets to make choices of her own--to work, to run for office, to stand by her man. So when Clinton sits down with Laura Bush, friends say she won't be offering any how-to lectures. Clinton is far more consumed with her own new job in the Senate. She's also zeroing in on a house in Washington. She won't be staying at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue anymore, but she won't be far away, either.

Hillary's Whole New Book | News