Nov 15, 2014 12:57 PM

At Clinton center, the past and the future collide

The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) Bill Clinton always said presidential campaigns must be about the future, but Hillary Rodham Clinton's potential White House bid is bound to bring up the past.

How the former secretary of state navigates her husband's triumphs and travails during the 1990s could figure prominently in a possible 2016 race for the presidency.

In a touch of legacy shaping, Bill Clinton and his onetime White House advisers highlighted his record during a 10th anniversary weekend celebration at his presidential center, pointing to an administration that presided over a high-octane economy and worked with Republicans on big problems such as welfare.

"We did what we set out to do," he said Friday in a speech at his center along the banks of the Arkansas River.

The former first lady often presents her husband's White House as a case study of what can be accomplished for Democrats who are now dealing with midterm election losses and a weakened President Barack Obama. She frequently talks of untangling the gridlock in the nation's capital and cites concerns that a rebounding economy has yet to benefit many families.

On Saturday, she discussed one of her passion projects, increasing economic opportunities for women. "We have seen over and over again how important it is to open up economic opportunities for girls and women," she said.

With Republican teams researching Hillary Clinton's past for vulnerabilities, the reminiscing about one Clinton White House and quiet speculation about another one offered examples of how the past could influence the future.

The Miller Center at the University of Virginia released the first batch of oral histories of Bill Clinton's presidency. The interviews provide an accounting of Clinton's two terms, from his struggles to pass a health care overhaul to his successes in steering the economy and defending against impeachment.

"They'd say, 'It's our duty to screw him,'" said former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican who described his party's approach. "I'd tell them, 'The country has to run; you came here as legislators, not as bomb throwers.'"

Many of the interviews offered a look at Hillary Clinton's White House role.

Alan Blinder, a Princeton economist and former Clinton economic adviser, said she learned lasting lessons from her work on the health care task force.

"I think she's much more politically astute now than she was in early 1993," Blinder said.

Former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta said Clinton acted as a "chief of staff-in-waiting," adding that "if she felt the chief of staff or whoever was not doing the job, she was prepared to protect the president."

The interviews also delve into Clinton's impeachment and his controversial pardons.

Mickey Kantor, who served as U.S. trade representative, said the president's decision to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich bothered many, calling it "the single most inexplicable, devastating thing he did."

Panetta recalled his concerns about Monica Lewinsky hanging around during a government shutdown. "The president always had an eye for attractive women," Panetta said.

Bill Clinton's testimony for the Paula Jones lawsuit, in which he denied a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, led to his impeachment in 1998 by the Republican-run House. He was acquitted by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Yet many members of Clinton's network noted that domestic matters such as the economy and dealing with gridlock are more likely to resonate.

"Americans face some real problems but aren't sure Washington can fix them," said Bruce Reed, a former economic adviser, in an interview. "That's the biggest hurdle to anybody who wants to do something with the presidency."


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