The Campaign Spot

Updating the Debate on Hillary’s Story of Trying to Join the Marines

Last week I noted that Michael Crowley’s (very meaty, BTW) profile on Sen. Hillary Clinton’s views on foreign policy and the use of military force repeated the anecdote of her trying to join the Marines in 1975 and the recruiter telling her to try the Army. I expressed some skepticism. Even if you put aside everything you think you know about her beliefs at the time, it just seems supremely odd that she would attempt to join the Marines shortly after she had moved to Arkansas to be with Bill, while teaching law school, while Bill was preparing to run for state attorney general (and was expected to win) and less than a year before her wedding. Heck, Maureen Dowd couldn’t hide her skepticism in the Times article at the time.
Bringing you up to speed…
I didn’t see it at the time, but Crowley said that there were no other sources for the story besides Hillary, but that:

Some argue the only plausible explanation is that it was some kind of post-Vietnam feminist stunt–that Hillary wanted to see how a 27-year-old female assistant law professor would be treated by a recruiter. This seems more plausible than the notion of her simply inventing the story.

Jonah is a skeptic of Hillary’s story as well, and it came up in his chat with Peter Beinart. Jonah also notes that the revised explanation is arguably worse – that instead of inventing a tale of going to a recruiter and being turned down, Hillary went to expose sexist attitudes, and now tells the tale as an example of her innate desire to serve her country, etc. JPod is characteristically blunt: “She’s almost certainly lying.”
Now Crowley points to a 1994 Washington Post article that discussed the tale. (By the way, I searched Lexis-Nexis with the terms ”Hillary Clinton” “tried to join” and “Marines” before 2000 and that article didn’t come up. Odd.) Two friends of Hillary say they have vague memories of her visiting the recruiter – although the second explanation seems a bit more plausible if this account is accurate:

But Ann Henry, a University of Arkansas business professor and Fayetteville friend of the First Lady, said she “vaguely” recalled the episode in the context of frequent discussions they used to have about women’s access to supposedly open career paths. Frequently, the equal opportunity that was promised was not a reality — and sometimes female faculty members went out to conduct “tests,” Henry said.
If Hillary Rodham had asked about the Marines as a way of testing whether the corps actually welcomed women, “it would have been consistent with what was going on with us at the time,” Henry said.
“Is it possible she was testing?” Blair asked. “I don’t remember if she was seriously exploring a career, or was moved by curiosity, or patriotism or feminism. I wish I had kept notes.”

If Hillary visited the recruiter simply to see if corps was sufficiently “welcoming” of women, it does not reflect well on her to speak as she did at that luncheon back in 1994 (the following is from her remarks as played on the June 15, 1994 Rush Limbaugh program):

Mrs. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Gee, now it was probably 19 years ago–1975–I decided that I was very interested in having some experience in serving in some capacity in the military. So I walked into our local recruiting office, and I think it was just my bad luck that the person who happened to be there on duty could not have been older than 21, was in perfect physical shape.


So I sat down and I said, you know, I wanted to explore. I didn’t know whether I thought active duty would be a good idea, reserve–you know, maybe National Guard, something along those lines. I was already a lawyer. I thought there were some roles I could perform, and I was going on and on, you know, trying to justify my existence. And this young man looked at me and he said, How old are you?’ I said, Well…  …27.


Silence. He looked at me, and in those days that was before I learned how to wear contact lenses. I had these really thick glasses on. He said, How bad’s your eyesight?’ I said, It’s pretty bad.’ Said, How bad?’ I said, This is embarrassing.’ And he said, How bad?’ So I told him. He said, That’s pretty bad.’ And he finally said to me–he said, You’re too old. You can’t see. And you’re a woman.’


And then he went on–and since this is the birthday of the Army, I will tell you what the rest that he said was–this man–young man was a Marine. He said, But maybe the dogs would take you.’ I said, This is not a very encouraging conversation, so maybe I’ll look for another way to serve my country.

Actually, the gist of the story is how badly Mrs. Clinton was treated by that Marine…
By the way, I’m sure some people are asking, “So she either made up or misrepresented a story about trying to join the Marines. So what?”
Maybe this is just my pet peeve, but I can’t stand it when politicians tell oh-so-perfect stories that illustrate their connection to whoever is listening to them speak at that moment. Almost all of them succumb to the temptation at one point or another — most recently Barack Obama suggesting that events at Selma, Ala. in 1965 brought his parents together, when in fact he had been born a few years earlier. (What’s really bonkers is that Obama has such an interesting and eventful life as is, and yet even he feels he has to tweak the details of his biography to fit the circumstances.) If it’s true that Mitt Romney only hunted twice (last I heard, he indicated he had hunted more frequently) his claim of being a “lifelong hunter” seems rather ridiculous.
I think my all-time favorite example of this was in 1995, when President Clinton addressed a group of Iowa farmers and said ”I am the only President who knew something about agriculture when I got there [the Oval Office].” Nevermind George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson, let’s think of Bill’s most recent Democratic predecessor, Jimmy Carter, a.k.a., the Peanut Farmer.
In this case, back in 1994, Hillary Clinton was addressing a luncheon honoring women in the military and it wasn’t enough to say, “nice job” to the honorees. No, she had to talk about her experience, and paint herself as a woman who could have worn her country’s uniform, if she just had had a more open-minded recruiter.
All of these comments are variations of, “look at me, aren’t I special, isn’t it amazing that I have an experience that is just like the experiences of all of you before me.” And politicians are willing to tell little white lies about their past in order to create that momentary feeling of connection. It’s cheap and phony, and our body politic would be better off if politicians resisted the urge.


The Latest