treasure trove

03.01.14

What We Learned from 5,000 Pages of Hillary Clinton Documents

Hillary could have guest-starred on Home Improvement? Bill used a Walgreens to woo St. Louis? Uncover new details about the 2016 contender's time as First Lady.

Do you listen to the Spin Doctors? Play pogs? Like to do the Macarena? If so, you’ll love the blast-to-the-past papers released by the Bill Clinton Presidential Library on Friday.

While reporters hoped for new angles on Hillary Clinton’s potential 2016 campaign, the 5,000 pages of documents released on Friday lacked dirt that might undermine the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee. Instead, they contained details that provide an intriguing historical perspective but little relevance in the second decade of the 21st century.

Perhaps the most exciting moment for the Internet was the revelation that Hillary Clinton was approached by ABC to make a cameo on the hit sitcom Home Improvement. The First Lady turned down the opportunity to appear on national television with Tim Allen and heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas, possibly bowing to concerns from staffer Lisa Caputo that an appearance on the show “diminishes the role of First Lady by going on a TV sitcom.”

The documents also contained details about how Bill Clinton tried to schedule political appearances to appeal to voters. As part of a tour of the Mississippi River Valley, Clinton stopped at a Walgreens in East St. Louis in 1999 to buy a Miles Davis CD, since the jazz great was from that city. The files contained no records of whether Clinton’s tribute to Davis somehow resounded with bebop-loving independent voters in the polls.

The comparison is likely to resonate with those still rolling their eyes at the Obama administration’s promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”

Other miscellaneous details were also uncovered; from the doodles of speechwriter Jeff Shesol to Hillary Clinton relying on the AOL community in deciding to visit China, to the Clinton administration proclaiming its tough stance on the WMD program of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The White House’s struggle with the details of how to sell the Clinton health care plan in 1993 is particularly interesting. At the time, a White House staffer warned that while the Clinton plan promised “the health plan and doctor of your choice,” that wasn’t necessarily true. The staffer, “Todd,” warned that the Clinton administration would be “skewered” for “overpromising here on something we can’t full well deliver.” The comparison is likely to resonate with those still rolling their eyes at the Obama administration’s promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”

The trove of documents did reveal one little tidbit of advice for Clinton if she runs for President in 2016. In a memo from 1999, a year before she launched her first run for United States Senate from New York, political consultant Mandy Grunwald gave the new candidate a number of lines of advice. She wrote the then-First Lady to “be careful to ‘be real’” and “look for opportunities for humor.” Grunwald also tried to prepare Clinton for potential press questions by contrasting her record in public life with Rudy Giuliani’s and asking her, “Have you ever done drugs?” Clinton passed the test en route to her first of two terms as senator but the advice is still politically relevant as Clinton prepares for what may be the most important campaign of her career.