“I know in the Bible it says they asked Jesus how many times you should forgive, and he said 70 times seven….Well, I want you all to know that I’m keeping a chart!”—Hillary Rodham Clinton
It’s nothing new for any beleaguered Administration to find humor as well as a homily in the Good Book. The remarkable thing was that the First Lady made that rueful joke in February, when the year that would become her husband’s annus horribilis had hardly begun.
The truth is that 1994 was about as unforgiving a year as any President has endured in recent memory. From Whitewater to health care, Clinton found himself dogged—some would say hounded—by credibility questions. Almost nothing seemed too trivial for attack. When aides let it slip that the First Golfer had shot an 80 during a round on Martha’s Vineyard, hackers raised their eyebrows along with their martinis at 19th holes all around the country. Throw in disclosures of Hillary’s curiously fortuitous commodities trades and Paula Jones’s unsubstantiated—but still widely retailed—sexual allegations, and there was little wonder public confidence in Clinton had plunged. In November the Democrats suffered the worst election debacle in decades, forfeiting 10 governorships and control of Congress, while not a single GOP incumbent lost a significant election anywhere.
For the President, 1994’s personal toll was equally grievous. He lost his indomitable mother, Virginia Kelley in January. And in December his trusted friend and a former Justice Department official, Webb Hubbell, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and mail fraud—the latest of Hillary’s former Rose Law Firm partners to leave Washington under a cloud. Just days later, Clinton lost another Arkansan when he fired his outspoken Surgeon General, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, after her comments about discussing masturbation with schoolchildren. (“Boy,” cracked Jay Leno, “if there is one area where I think our students can beat the Japanese—this is it, ladies and gentlemen!”)
Yet it’s too early to write off this or any President. Ronald Reagan recovered from even lower approval ratings to win a second term in a landslide. Even in 1994, Clinton pulled off difficult achievements—from Haiti to a major trade agreement. Indeed, his determination to hang in there brings to mind the year’s most popular figure—Forrest Gump. Like Forrest, Clinton has proved in the past that he can outrun almost anyone.