White House: First Lady Was Brainstorming With Spiritual Adviser
Jun. 24, 1996
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fearing embarrassing comparisons to Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer, the White House is portraying Hillary Rodham Clinton's meetings with a spiritual adviser as harmless brainstorming for her book. ``These were not seances,'' the first lady's spokesman Neel Lattimore said.
Mrs. Clinton met with Jean Houston from late 1994 until March of this year, according to a new book that says the adviser led the first lady through imaginary conversations with her hero, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi. Mrs. Clinton drew the line at a suggestion to converse with Jesus Christ, saying that would be ``too personal.''
Lattimore, dismissing any notion that such imaginary talks were odd, said, ``The only thing she's been channeling with is her television set and I can assure it was not tuned to the Psychic Friends Network.''
The White House said the primary role of Houston, a researcher of psychic experiences and expanded consciousness, was to help Mrs. Clinton with her best-selling book, ``It Takes A Village,'' about child rearing.
The consultations with Houston and an associate, Mary Catherine Bateson, were described in ``The Choice,'' by Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post. The book was excerpted at length in Sunday editions of the Post and in the upcoming issue of Newsweek magazine.
Woodward's book deals with the inner workings of President Clinton's re-election bid as well as the campaign of Bob Dole, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Neither President Clinton nor the first lady commented on the book Sunday after morning church services.
But in her syndicated column on June 4, the first lady spoke about her fanciful consultations with Mrs. Roosevelt, whom she called ``someone I wish I could have talked to in person about the role of first lady.''
``I occasionally have imaginary conversations with Mrs. Roosevelt to try to figure out what she would do in my shoes,'' Mrs. Clinton wrote. ``She usually responds by telling me to buck up or at least to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros.''
She listed Houston, co-director of the Foundation for Mind Research, as one of many women with whom she has consulted. She also said she has spent hours discussing the roles of women in society with Bateson, an anthropologist and daughter of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, as well as others, such as poet Maya Angelou and historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Blanche Wiesen Cook, experts on Mrs. Roosevelt.
In an interview Sunday with WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H., Bateson said she expects to visit Mrs. Clinton again. ``What we did, or what Jean Houston did, was to suggest ways (of) reflecting on the historical records that might be helpful,'' she said regarding Mrs. Clinton's imaginary talks.
Vice President Al Gore said Sunday that the meetings with Houston were something in which Mrs. Clinton had a right to participate.
``They have attacked her practice of law 15 years ago. Now they are going into the way she brainstormed to write her book,'' the vice president said on CNN's ``Late Edition,'' preempting any critics of Mrs. Clinton.
White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, speaking on CBS' ``Face the Nation,'' said the consultations show, ``The first lady is a human being.''
``She reaches out,'' he said, ``talks to friends, talks to others, gathers information. We have to draw strength from wherever we can in order to make it from day to day.''
In a four-page passage of the 462-page book, Woodward wrote that the consultations occurred when Mrs. Clinton ``seemed jerked around by the muddled role of first lady, as she swung between New Age feminist and national housewife.''
Most people in the White House did not know about the sessions, Woodward wrote, and some who did feared they could ``trigger politically damaging comparisons to Nancy Reagan's use of astrology,'' which had heavily influenced President Reagan's schedule.
Woodward said one of the sessions occurred in a sun parlor atop the White House with members of the first lady's staff present, including one who tape recorded one of the ``conversations'' with Mrs. Roosevelt.
The president, Woodward wrote, was uncomfortable around Houston, who sensed this and asked Mrs. Clinton about it. ``Well, he's basically a very conservative man,'' Hillary told Houston, according to the book.
The vice president's wife, Tipper Gore, said ``Yeah, I do'' when asked whether she thought Woodward's book took ``a cheap shot'' at the first lady.
``As her friend, I think with the enormous scrutiny that is on the first lady and the president just naturally, all of us should respect the right to privacy that they ought to have,'' Mrs. Gore said on CNN.