Not surprisingly, Hillary accepted this view of herself, believing not only that she was entitled to use the power her husband had given her, but that she was entitled to use it without opposition or scrutiny—because she was a pioneer who spoke for all women, and because she was the first lady, a post traditionally honored by both parties as above and apart from the fray. As Smith writes, she took it personally “that wives were subject to criticism,” ignoring the fact that wives were not criticized when they played no political role—when they did little (Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower) or promoted the arts (Jacqueline Kennedy) or planted flowers and trees (Lady Bird Johnson) or encouraged reading (Barbara and Laura Bush). When Betty Ford was criticized for controversial statements, she did not whine; nor did Eleanor Roosevelt, a seasoned and tough political operative who understood that dealing a blow meant being willing to take one without complaining. Hillary behaved otherwise. While claiming Mrs. R. as a model, she never adopted her attitude. At an event to raise funds for a statue of Eleanor, Hillary spoke of “the conversations I’ve had in my head with Mrs. Roosevelt,” in which she had asked her predecessor, “How did you put up with this? . . . How did you go on day to day .  .  . with the kind of attacks that would be hurled your way?”

Eleanor never responded, but it turned out not to matter: Down but not out after health care had cratered, Hillary Clinton got a new lease on life when Bill was impeached on charges related to his affair with an intern, and she, on a wave of support for the brave little woman, was swept into the Senate from the state of New York two years later, by a margin of more than 12 points. While her approval ratings had been in the 40s for much of her time as first lady, they were close to 70 by the summer of 1998: In the most bitter of ironies for the trailblazing feminist, she had been rejected while being a maker of policy, and embraced as victimized wife. “It gnawed at Hillary that her role as the silent, aggrieved wife earned her record approval ratings,” Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta report in their biography, Her Way. “She isn’t thrilled at being forced to play the wronged little woman,” a Clinton friend told the two writers. “You go with what works.”