Long, long ago, in the moss-encrusted year of 1967 — when Shakespeare was still on high school reading lists and most of the population was capable of recognizing simple literary allusions — an obscure left-wing writer named Barbara Garson enjoyed her fifteen minutes of fame by attacking President Lyndon Johnson and his long-suffering wife in a lightweight but heavy-handed parody of “Macbeth.”
She called it “MacBird” and the cast of characters was headed by Lord and Lady MacBird, a thinly-disguised homicidal duo based on Lyndon and “Ladybird” Johnson, then at the height of their unpopularity. It was rude, crude and not particularly funny, but the liberal media, most of which had turned on LBJ by then, lapped it up. Casting the Johnsons as the Macbeths in 1967 was stretching it. But 26 years later, a gruesome twosome moved into the White House that came a lot closer. Bill and Hillary Clinton really could pass for a dumbed-down, updated version of the Shakespearian originals.
Especially Hillary; like Lady Macbeth, she came across to many close observers as even more power-hungry and ruthless than her husband, and much more determined to cling to power at any cost. Part of that cost was cleaning up after Bill’s steady stream of predatory sexual scrapes in and out of the Oval Office. One of the most notorious ones would have never made it past the whispering stage if it hadn’t been for the determination of a very strong-minded career civil servant, a non-political White House staffer who had worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Her name was Linda Tripp and, once she revealed Bill Clinton’s true role in the Lewinsky scandal, she was mocked, vilified and smeared by a liberal establishment that seems to think whistle-blowing is patriotic during Republican administrations but reprehensible during Democratic ones.
Tripp weathered the storm, left the public spotlight and led a quiet, respectable private life until her death, from pancreatic cancer, in April of 2020. She died suddenly, and only a few years after she finally decided do her part to set the record straight. Why? Because, she explains, “there were so many books — all written from an outsider’s point of view, unfailingly from a political perspective, all by bystanders to history who chose to malign me as an avarice-driven political hack with a political agenda.”
“A Basket of Deplorables” is based on notes and a journal written by Linda Tripp and put into final form by collaborator Dennis Carstens. Death cut the effort short, so the book has a fragmentary feel to it and some of the transitions are rather abrupt. But Linda Tripp had a powerful story to tell, as only an eyewitness could.
“Before I go any further introducing you to Bill and Hillary Clinton,” Tripp writes in an early chapter, “there is something you need to know if you don’t already.” The Clintons the public saw on display, she continues, “bear no resemblance to what those of us who worked in the White House saw daily behind closed doors … It was a partnership of sorts. Their shared ambition was on display for all to see … But it was a lopsided partnership and a power struggle right from the beginning.”
The hand-holding, she tells us, “took place when the cameras were present. They could be going at each other tooth and nail one minute, then the next walk out to Marine One on the South Lawn holding hands, smiling and waving to the cameras.” Off camera the hearts and roses were often succeeded by shouting matches and industrial strength cuss fights.
Much of the book focuses on Bill Clinton’s ongoing cycle of sexual scrapes, ranging from the quick and sloppy to the downright abusive and potentially criminal. Despite her self-proclaimed feminism, Hillary usually spearheaded the cover-ups, operating on the principle that the best way to defend her husband’s indefensible conduct was to attack his victims, smearing them as liars, sluts and trailer park trash.
The long, sordid saga of the Clintons, from their early, corrupt days in Arkansas up to the illicit millions raised for the Clinton Foundation, has had many chroniclers, notably R. Emmett Tyrrell, whose column appears in this paper. But Linda Tripp witnessed much of it in the belly of the beast itself. Her memoir, though fragmentary, is a vital part of the historical record.
• Aram Bakshian Jr., a former aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, has written widely on politics, history, gastronomy and the arts.
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A BASKET OF DEPLORABLES: WHAT I SAW INSIDE THE CLINTON WHITE HOUSE
By Linda Tripp with Dennis Carstens
Post Hill Press, $28, 223 pages