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WHO KNOWS IF BILL AND HILLARY WILL SPLIT UP?

This is a lesson I learned by being around long enough to see friends and family couple, marry, separate, divorce or recouple: No one knows what is really going on between two people -- sometimes even if you're one of them.

So I believe little of what I read and half of what I see of Bill and Hillary Clinton. I have seen them, publicly and privately, in good times and bad. I have seem them in public situations where they have avoided each other's eyes for minutes or for hours, all the while smiling brightly enough to light up a small town.

In those situations, more often than not, Bill does shoot half glances toward Hillary to see if maybe her posture has relaxed. I assume what I would assume about any couple, or what any couple would assume about my wife and me -- that the need for public duty interrupted a fight or an argument.

That is prologue to my amusement at the myriad polls being published now on the state of the Clintons' union. I would hope that two things come out of this dreadful time in the history of the presidency:

The end of the open-ended independent counsel laws. I think I preferred the Cold War to Kenneth Starr as the paradigm of American news and attitude.

Moving polling and opinion research to the sports pages or, better yet, to the comic pages of newspapers and magazines.

U.S. News & World Report, a magazine I like, put this line on its cover, with an appropriately grim-faced photograph of Hillary: "Can She Save Him?" The lead articles are based on a national survey done by Democratic and Republican pollsters. They come up with such gems as these:

56 percent of Americans think she will divorce him after he leaves the White House.

20 percent think she was an unknowing victim.

This is a put-on or a send-up or high parody. Who knows? They don't. So that is the fun and games. But in the third paragraph of the magazine's lead story, there is a single sentence that demonstrates or dramatizes what opinion research in all its forms is doing to us: "A U.S. News poll shows the limits on what the first lady can do."

The "can" is emphasized in italics. The point being made is that these numbers are as real as stone tablets held up by Moses. Good Americans, like good Jews and Christians, are bound by these numbers.

I, for one, prefer a world where Hillary Clinton, in italics, can do or try anything she damn well pleases, including changing the minds and numbers of America about her marriage and their presumptions. And she will, believe me, for better or worse.

You may recall that there used to be something called leadership. That was in the dark days before "scientific" polling, focus groups and survey research. There was a time when men and women thought they could fly around the Earth or go to the moon or cure polio, even though any poll could have told them that such feats were beyond the limits.

In leadership times, humans who were too ignorant to live by the codes of numbers were expected, or expected themselves, to go out on their own and change minds about limits. I believe it worked on occasion, even if most people thought there were limits.

So I have come to hate polling and the state of mind it has produced in the public and private life of America. The numbers are infallible, aren't they? Do what people want; don't make that product; the numbers say no one will buy it.

As for Bill and Hillary, my unscientific opinion is this: In a very fundamental way, they have a great marriage. They are, in my mind, one person with the strength of two. Each of them has gone further in life than either could have gone alone. I know 1,500 Americans, the standard for a national poll, can't be wrong. But my sample of one thinks they will stay together, because both know they would be diminished without each other.

But, as I said earlier, I have been wrong about such things before.

Universal Press Syndicate

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