Don't blame the critics for focus on Bill & Hillary relationship

Lisa Miller defends Hillary Clinton against critics of her marriage in the latest from Newsweek. Although admitting that Hillary has brought the focus onto the marriage herself because of the nature of her claims to “experience”, Miller scolds people for speculating on the nature of the relationship. However, Miller doesn’t explain how to separate that from the nature of Hillary’s experience:

Cindy McCain is a grown-up woman who has suffered her share of personal and marital setbacks—including an addiction to prescription painkillers that she hid from her husband—but she knows that what America wants in a First Marriage is something more mythic than real. Like my 4-year-old daughter, deep into the second year of her infatuation with the Disney princesses, people want to believe that “husband” and “prince” are synonyms.

Hillary suffers at the hands of her critics, in part, because we all know her husband is no prince and her marriage is no fairy tale. Bill is a reckless philanderer who disrespected his wife, his daughter and the people who elected him because he couldn’t control his libido—and then lied about it. Much of the hesitance I hear about Hillary in my (admittedly small) circles is a hesitance over seeing that marriage (say it in irritated italics) back in the White House for four or eight more years. …

To be fair, Hillary has encouraged this endless dissection of her marriage because she seems to want it both ways: she wants to run and win as her own woman and she wants to offer her years as First Spouse as “experience.” She wants her impossible husband to be always an asset but never a liability. At the same time, I confess to a certain amount of unease when I hear that party game starting up yet again.

Hillary invites the criticism because she has essential run on her husband’s record. She has little experience of her own to produce: just an undistinguished seven years in the Senate. She has spent most of her life supporting Bill Clinton’s political career, only freeing herself from his shadow when he could not realistically run for another office.

Furthermore, neither Hillary nor Bill has exactly made it a secret that Hillary’s bid for the Senate was a mechanism they hoped to use to return both of them to the White House. Some speculated that she would run in 2004, essentially becoming the Barack Obama of that cycle — and against John Kerry, she may have succeeded in being just that. Hillary’s personal ascent in national politics has always been tied to Bill. John McCain didn’t have to run on Cindy McCain’s record, which is why the public treats their relationship differently.

Since Hillary has tried claiming credit for the accomplishments of her husband (Northern Ireland, economy) and disassociating herself from his liabilities (NAFTA, dot-com collapse, philandery), the nature of the relationship both on a personal and professional level has become germane to the discussion. Did she direct policy while in the White House? Did Bill act more as a puppet than lead in his own right? These questions arise when Hillary argues that she deserves the credit for Bill’s accomplishments, and whether we can take those claims as credible depend in large part on the nature of their relationship.

If Miller finds that offensive, then she needs to take that issue to the person who made it the centerpiece of her campaign.