Blair Papers offer window into Hillary Clinton
Bill Clinton in 1979 with Hillary Clinton (L) and Diane Blair (R)
February 11th, 2014
04:36 PM ET
9 years ago

Blair Papers offer window into Hillary Clinton

(CNN) –  Monica Lewinsky was the headline from newly accessed writings of a Hillary Clinton confidant, but a closer look at Diane Blair’s private notes reveal other personal struggles and frustrations.

These include how the former first lady coped with severe back pain from wearing heels and her belief that no one in her husband’s early White House, as Blair’s notes indicate, was “tough and mean enough.”

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With Clinton’s world now tightly controlled ahead of another possible presidential run, such reflections open yet another anecdotal window into her years at the White House through most of the 1990s and give the public views of her thoughts on politics and leadership.

Blair, a former political science professor who worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns, died in 2000. Her husband donated more than a hundred boxes of documents to the University of Arkansas that were not made public until 2010.

Read the documents

Based on the contents of 16 of those boxes, which focus on the Clintons, Blair was a prolific note-taker and kept clippings on much of the Clintons’ political life. The contents vary from notes Blair jotted down about her conversations with the Clintons to countless pages of talking points from Bill Clinton's two presidential campaigns.

Outside of confirmation from Mrs. Clinton, there is  no way to independently confirm the accuracy of Blair's specific recollections and direct quotations. A spokesman for Clinton did not respond to CNN inquiries.

Here are a few interesting nuggets we've read so far:

Not interested in "backstage manipulation" or “phony makeovers”

Blair notes that in a conversation around Thanksgiving of 1996, Hillary Clinton talked about her frustration with the press and what they thought should be her role as first lady.

"She thinks press complete hypocrites,” Blair writes, adding that Clinton said the media prefers the more dramatic “backstage manipulation” of former first ladies, naming Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Bess Truman, and Rosalynn Carter as examples.

“It's the honesty of their partnership that's driving (the press) nuts and making her a target,” Blair writes. “On her death bed, wants to be able to say she was true to herself and is not going to do phony makeovers to please others."

In the same conversation, Clinton concluded that no matter what she does, it’s “going to piss off some people, so (she’ll) just continue to be herself,” Blair writes.

“I'm not stupid; I know I should do more to suck up to the press, I know it confuses people when I change my hairdos,” Blair quotes Clinton as saying. “I know I should pretend not to have any opinions–but I'm just not going to. I'm used to winning and I intend to win on my own terms. I know how to compromise, I have compromised, I gave up my name, got contact lenses, but I'm not going to try to pretend to be somebody that I'm not.”

Freed from high heels

In late December 1998, around the time the House impeached Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton spoke with Blair about some acute back problems she’s been having—“a dislocated sacroiliac, caused or precipitated by wearing high heels.”

Blair writes that Hillary Clinton tried to keep it quiet but worried about the public perception of “hiding out.”

“Really she didn’t want people to know her vanity,” Blair writes. “She looked great in these shoes, wore them, threw out her back, exercised, got better – and then wore the shoes again, and this time the pain was theworse ever.’”

Blair goes on to recount a story that Clinton later wrote about in her 2003 memoir, “Living History.”

One of the White House physicians who examined me called in a physical therapist from the Navy. After the Navy therapist examined me, he asked, “Ma’am, have you been wearing high heels a lot lately?"
“Ma’am,” he said, “you shouldn’t wear high heels again.” 
“Well, yes, never.” He looked at me curiously, and asked, “With all due respect, ma’am, why would you want to?”

In Blair’s telling of the episode, Blair writes that Hillary Clinton referred to that physical therapist as “darling.” It appears she heeded his advice, as she’s become known for wearing low pumps.

Clinton’s view of the press: big egos and no brains

Around May of 1993, less than six months into Bill Clinton’s first term, Hillary Clinton was lamenting to Blair about the press during the White House travel office controversy, in which seven employees were let go.

“(Hillary) says press has big ego's and no braisn (sic) and they're just going to have to work them better; that her staff has figured it out and would be glad to teach BC's staff (but still tension between them),” Blair writes.

It was one of many instances that Clinton expressed frustration with the press.

For example, Clinton told Blair the media had a hard time not understanding the difference between she and her husband when it came to recuperating.

When Hillary was exhausted, Blair writes, she just wanted to relax and read. But Bill Clinton “relaxes” by “touring, shaking hands, meeting new people.” Bill Clinton has long been known as a people person, someone who thrives off of retail-politicking.

But when Hillary Clinton didn’t care to be out in public, Blair writes, the former first lady said the press speculated she was "brooding, nursing her psychic wounds."

Hillary also couldn’t stand Washington, at first

In 1993, Blair writes about a visit Hillary Clinton had with Sharon Rockefeller, wife of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat.  They had a lengthy “discussion of superficiality of (the) DC scene” and described most senators as “diseased from egomania.”’

Blair notes that Clinton was “dumfounded by people who look her in eye and lie to her.”

That same year, Clinton was well underway in pushing health care reform. Blair writes that in June, Hillary held a meeting and kicked it off by stressing its secrecy.

“By next morning it was on front page of NYT, then Wall St. Jrnl – now all meeting scancelled (sic) except for her…Ira and Bill,” Blair writes.

The conversations also show how frustrated Hillary Clinton was with a lack of passion among White House staff to pursue health care reform.  In July, 1993, Blair says Clinton was “still in despair that nobody in WH tough and mean enough.”

By the end of the year, Blair writes that Clinton is “tired of all those whiney women, and she needs (Bill Clinton) on health care.”

“I told her I'd been bonding w. creeps; she said that was the story of her whole past year,” Blair continues. By March of 1994, Blair writes that Hillary found certain White House staffers had “exceeded their capacity” and were “just not good enough.”

That policy frustration extended to her husband

Also in 1994, Clinton told Blair that Bill was not being aggressive enough in the White House.

“(Hillary) furious at (Bill) running himself and the (presidency),” Blair writes. “She keeps trying to shape things up, knows what’s wrong, but he can’t fire people, exert discipline, punish leakers – throws tantrums (sic), but when (he) does nothing, (it) lowers their respect.”

Blair goes on to say that Hillary told her Bill never had a “strategy for Whitewater, troopers, Paula. Self-inflicted wounds. Inability to organize, make tough choices, drives her nuts.”

The Lewinsky affair

While Hillary Clinton described Monica Lewinsky as a "narcissistic loony toon," according to the Blair papers, she also discussed in detail why she decided to forgive her husband for having an affair. The candid comments come in an excerpt from Blair on September 9, 1998, –after Bill Clinton had admitted in a grand jury testimony that he had cheated, but before he was impeached.

"HRC insists, no matter what people say, it was gross inappropriate behavior but it was consensual (was not a power relationship) and was not sex within any real meaning…of the term," Blair writes.

In the same conversation, Blair notes that Hillary is “in it for the long haul.”

“(Partly) because she’s stubborn; partly her upbringing; partly her pride—but, mostly because she knows who she is and what her values and priorities are and she’s straight with those—she really is okay,” Blair writes.

Just days after Bill Clinton's impeachment by the House in December, Blair writes that Hillary Clinton called her, and they had a lengthy conversation about the issue.

"She sounded very up, almost jolly," writes Blair. "Told me how she and Bill and Chelsea had been to church, to a Chinese restaurant, to a Shakespeare play, greeted everywhere with wild applause and cheers."

Like in her 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton struggled with likability among voters in 1992

Blair’s papers included a memo addressed to the Clinton campaign from campaign pollsters Celinda Lake and Stan Greenberg. After doing focus groups, they found that voters needed to meet the “real Hillary Clinton” and have a “distorted, limited and overly political impression of her.”

The pollsters wrote that people were familiar with her tough, corporate lawyer side, but needed to meet “Hillary Clinton, the mother, the activist, the daughter of middle-class parents, the romantic…”

While focus groups agreed she was smart, some voters found her "too strong" and "too outspoken," according to the memo. One voter said, "She knows what she wants and she'll do anything to get it." They appreciated, however, her "straightforward" nature, saying it wasn't "shifty."

But one woman voter said she felt like Hillary Clinton put women down with her infamous remark on the campaign trail in 1992, when she said “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession."

"She put women down,” one voter said, according to the memo. “There is nothing wrong with being an ordinary housewife. It does not mean you are barefoot and pregnant."

At the Democratic convention a couple months later, however, the pollsters noted her favorability ratings were going up.

"Her mean favorability stood at 41.7 degrees before Gore, but rose steadily to 50 degrees and a net positive by Wednesday night," he wrote. "Moreover, there was an utterly new reaction to Hillary in the dial groups... At the convention Thursday night that all changed: the line held steady or moved up."

CNN’s Dan Merica and Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

Filed under: Hillary Clinton
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Holly

    I saw this article as more complimentary to Hillary than most of you seemed to. It spoke of her strength in dealing with pain, her determination to be herself, her honesty, her commitment to her marriage, her lack of patience with slackers and stupidity, and her intollerance of people who lied to her. So what are the Dems on here complaining about?

    February 12, 2014 05:21 am at 5:21 am |
  2. Jerry

    It's funny (phony) how my fellow Democrats try to "gloss over" Hillary Clinton's short comings. This woman, just like 0-Bama is not fit to be dogcatcher.

    América, PLEASE don't help 0-Bama continue to destroy our beloved country by electing Hillary president.

    February 12, 2014 06:39 am at 6:39 am |

    Don't you just love how media hacks, like Andrea Mitchell, are getting all concerned about questioning, in detail, Hillary's background, temperament, history, fitness, accomplishments (read lack of), be President? In their minds she has been crowned already, by them, and the public has no right to scrutinize her. Just do as we say and vote for Hillary. Never mind such things as S Rice saying Hillary was too stressed to face the nation and reporters after Benghazi. If she couldn't do that then, how is she going to handle the stress of being President?
    And can somebody tell me one, just one, significant accomplishment Hillary achieved as SOS or US Senator? Do we really need another 4 years of incompetence and lack of leadership?
    Speaking of leadership, why has Hillary been sitting on the sidelines and not offering any solutions for the problems the country is facing? Do real leaders sit on the sidelines while their country struggles, or do they offer leadership where and whenever they can? If she thinks she is a leader, then why is she sitting on her hands? Let's see your proposals Hillary? Do you have any, or are you going to give us a campaign of trite slogans and lies like Obama did?

    February 12, 2014 07:06 am at 7:06 am |

    Hey Hillary supporters, while you are busy crowning Hillary can you answer a few questions!!!? What is Hillary's position on dealing with the economy? What is her position on taxes? What is her position on Afghanistan? Does she want to keep our troops there for another 8 years, like Obama is proposing to Kharzi? What is her position on stopping Iran from building/acquiring nukes and delivery systems? Why was she unable to get Iran to agree to a deal in the 4 years she spent trying to get them to comply? What is her position on dealing with Syria? Is she in favor of or against the keystone pipeline? The State Department, she was in charge of, has issued several reports finding no reason to stop the construction of the pipeline. Does she have a plan to stop deficit spending and debt building and to balance the budget in a reasonable period of time? If so, why is she hiding it, instead of being a leader and offering her proposals to the country now? Do leaders sit on the sidelines and wait to give campaign speeches, filled with trite slogans and empty promises, during election season or do the lead when leadership is needed? Is she happy with Obamacare? If not, what are her plans to fix it or replace it? What does she intend to do about China's unfair trade practices and aggressive military posture in the Asian pacific and other places? The same as Obama, nothing? What is her position on immigration? Does she favor securing our border before legalizing 30 million illegals? How does she propose protecting American citizens from the competition of 30 million illegals that will be free to compete for our jobs once legalized? Where will the money come from to pay for the government handouts many of the current illegals will line up for once legalized? How does she propose to stop more illegals from entering the country, once the current group is legalized? What is her position on dealing with the "Palestinians " and the Israelis? Etc, etc... Seems to me that far too many people are jumping on the Hillary band wagon when they know next to nothing about her positions on a whole range of issues. But I guess they are content to support and vote for here, no questions asked, because she has a (D) next to her name and she is a woman. Both of which are simply not enough to put her in the WH

    February 12, 2014 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
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