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Nothing Unusual In First Lady’s Conduct, Says Historian

June 24, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hillary Rodham Clinton’s imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt were a form of harmless role-playing, a prominent author who has advised the first lady said today. A former Reagan aide dismissed the likely political impact of the disclosure.

The White House, fearing embarrassing comparisons to Nancy Reagan’s consultations with an astrologer, is portraying Mrs. Clinton’s discussions with a spiritual adviser as run-of-the-mill 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 Houston 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.″

``It didn’t seem like anything weird. It simply sounds like a role-playing exercise. I think it’s being made to be weirder than it actually was,″ historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said today on CBS’s ``This Morning.″

Goodwin, who has talked with Mrs. Clinton about the changing role of women, said political cartoonists ``are going to have fun with this.″ But, she said, ``People in the White House ought to take it with a grain of salt.″

Michael Deaver, a former aide to President Reagan, told CBS that Mrs. Clinton is ``a woman like millions of Americans who are struggling to find themselves so they seek various means to do that. I don’t think it’s going to make a heck of a lot of difference in the election or people’s attitudes about her.″

Tipper Gore, interviewed on CBS with Vice President Al Gore, said the public should realize, ``We’re just human beings in extraordinary positions in life doing the best we can.″

``I don’t think it’s the great big news story people think it is,″ the vice president said.

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 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.

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.

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.

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