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To honor, cherish and be aware of cameras til death do us part

July 7, 2007 |  8:14 pm

Remember the other evening when your spouse was talking while you were watching TV and you really weren't listening and looking and your spouse got annoyed and said something snippy and you waved your hand dismissively?

How would you like to have about 80 reporters, TV cameras and clicking photographers there in the family room with you two to record all that and relay it on to the wide world just waiting to pass judgment on both of you with laughs and clucks and mocking?

HilbillSuch was the case in Iowa this past week, to be repeated soon in New Hampshire, for Bill and Hillary Clinton as they traveled the campaign trail together for the first time this year. For some of the '08 presidential contenders, divorce--the end of a marriage or two--could be a problem. But for the Clintons it's their non-divorce.

"Like no other presidential candidate in modern times," The Times' Peter Nicholas writes in his fascinating new examination of that unusual trip, "Hillary Clinton declared for the White House knowing that her marriage would pose a challenge."

First, before the violins get too loud, let's lay down some disclaimers. The notoriety that President Clinton drew to himself for his infidelities and prevarications is nobody's fault but his own; scriptwriters for "Days of Our Lives" could not have come up with this stuff.

He's not the first president to be unfaithful to his wife; JFK, Eisenhower, FDR come to mind. But he was the first president whose...

...dalliances were widely known contemporaneously to his administration. (Does this make you think of Mayor Villaraigosa?) And with our modern 24-hour instant media, that makes for bounteous public gossip and political ammo.

Likewise, Hillary's decision to stay with her imperfect guy has been the subject of amazement, admiration, disdain, contempt. If they didn't want to be the First Couple again, it would be none of our business.

And nobody made Hillary run for the Senate or the presidency; she's remained in the public eye by choice and there's an awful human price to pay for that in a society with such powerful, pervasive industries dedicated to manufacturing and prolonging fame and doing the same for infamy. In a small way even this blog is part of that.

You can throw on anything you want to run over to Home Depot and nobody cares or notices. And simply going out to dinner without being interrupted by a dozen sometimes sober strangers seeking autographs or photographs to prove their one-time proximity to fame is taken for granted by most of us.

Our celebrities may be well-paid and some have egos that thrive on such attention. But they do forfeit such simple freedoms.

Clever people in the public eye, especially those with clever communications advisors, soon learn that they can help shape and manipulate their own image by doing or saying certain things in public. Do you really believe that Britney Spears forgot her panties when she went out nightclubbing that night? Or that Hillary's self-deprecating jokes on her website videos are spontaneous?

That's why Nicholas' account of the Clinton trip is so interesting. It was a test run for how that powerful political machinery will handle the marriage issue from here on in.

The two were often hugging, touching, looking at each other. Bill may have slipped once or twice and looked bored during his wife's speeches. But when they marched in the Clear Lake July Fourth parade, much of the time they held hands, fingers intertwined.

Whether you believe such gestures are sincere or calculated will indicate to others how you're gonna vote when no cameras are watching you.

Nicholas' full story on the Clinton couple is now posted on our Campaign 08 politics webpage or click here to go directly to the story. It will also appear in Sunday's print edition.

--Andrew Malcolm

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