After lying low in the Senate for more than two years, Hillary Rodham Clinton is back in the headlines with the release of her anticipated memoir, which seeks to set the record straight on old scandals and leaves many wondering what her next political move will be.
"Living History," the 576-page mega-memoir, which among other topics tackles her pain over then President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, has been accompanied by such a media and publicity storm that many see it as building momentum for a 2008 presidential bid.
"There's less talk about what's actually in the book and more talk about when she's going to run for president," Craig Crawford, a columnist for Congressional Quarterly, told the CBS Early Show. "There's an assumption in Washington that Hillary Clinton is running for president. The question now is: Is it for next year or 2008?"
The timing of the book's release, to be followed by a nation-wide summer book tour, closely coincides with the just heating-up 2004 presidential campaign, spurring on speculation that Mrs. Clinton may, intentionally or not, overshadow this campaign.
"I can't see it having any effect on the campaign either negative or positive, other than it will suck up headlines," said Jefrey Pollack, President of Global Strategy Group, a Democratic polling firm. "But it puts her in a very different category than most political figures. She's obviously high-profile and well-positioned."
The media frenzy surrounding the book reached near fever pitch Friday, still days before the book's release, when the A&E television network announced plans for a two-hour movie on the former first lady, with actress Sharon Stone tapped as a possibility for the title role. Mrs. Clinton will also be making the television rounds herself in coming days in interviews with Katie Couric, Barbara Walters and Larry King.
Walters, who also landed the first interview with Monica Lewinsky in 1999, has first crack at the former first lady in an interview scheduled for Sunday on ABC. Speaking about the interview in an appearance on CBS's The Late Show with David Letterman Thursday, Walters pointed out that in "Living History" Mrs. Clinton, though speaking frankly about her pain over her husband's philandering, never mentions Monica Lewinsky by name.
Since leaving the White House and winning a New York senate seat in 2000, Mrs. Clinton has maintained a decidedly low profile. And until now, the former first lady has remained tight-lipped about the numerous scandals that rocked the Clinton White House, maintaining what she called her zone of privacy.
But it appears that Mrs. Clinton's "zone" is about to shrink considerably, and on her own terms. Some predict the book will help to soften her image and dispel the last remnants of the Lewinsky scandal.
"This book will put the lone question mark behind them," said Pollack. "The people have always liked to hear what politicians have had to say about their lives, and this will be a demonstration of that. I think she will come out looking good."
Clinton critics are quick to point out that the book may bring up bad memories as easily as help put them to rest.
Among the contentious issues addressed in the book, for which she is being paid $8 million, are the former first lady's allegations early in the Lewinsky debacle of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" to smear and unseat her husband; the mysterious suicide of Vince Foster, a White House aide and friend of the Clinton's; and the "botching" of health care reform, for which she acknowledges some responsibility.
Of the Lewinsky affair, Mrs. Clinton writes that she continued to believe her husband was innocent until the night before his testimony to the grand jury, when he finally confessed.
"She's explaining herself," said Crawford.
The straight-talking, frank language used in the book, excerpts of which were published this week by the Associated Press, along with the candid, head-on portrait that adorns the book's cover, suggest an effort by Mrs. Clinton not only to clear the political air, but to tell a story that will resonate with readers – and potential voters – in a personal way.
"I think the most fascinating thing about the Clinton relationship is its interest among suburban women, who see something of themselves in her," said Crawford. "This is not an unusual story, infidelity in marriage around the country, it is always something that helps make the Clintons relevant to people."
Simon and Schuster, the book's publisher, has gambled on an extraordinary 1 million-copy first printing of the memoir accompanied by a carefully organized publicity campaign to promote it. "Living History" is already the number 2 best-seller on Amazon.com, and Time Magazine has secured first crack at printing excerpts from the book, which will hit bookstores Monday.
(Simon & Schuster and CBSNews.com are both owned by Viacom.)
By Brian Bernbaum