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Roger and Bill Clinton

A Mute Relationship

The stormy yet touching relationship between former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his stepfather Roger Clinton is vividly described by prize-winning author Roger Morris in his riveting book on Bill and Hillary Clinton, entitled Partners in Power.

From early childhood Bill had been witness to his alcoholic stepfather beating up his mother Virginia. But as a high school fresher in 1960, taller and stronger now than his stepfather, Bill could take it no more. Morris describes it thus: “Listening one evening to yet another fight reverberate from his parents’ closed bedroom, he busted in: ‘I just broke down the door,’ he recalled. ‘Daddy, I’ve got to say something to you … I don’t want you to lay a hand on my mother in anger ever, ever again, or you will have to deal with me.’”

A year earlier Virginia had actually filed for divorce but had relented when Roger pleaded with her promising that he would change. He didn’t, however, change till in 1964 he was diagnosed with cancer of the mouth that had metastasized. Although in unbearable pain, Roger stubbornly refused the radical facial surgery doctors prescribed. It was much later when he was hospitalised that Bill wrote him what Morris describes as “a letter of sympathy and encouragement, exceptional documentation of the torturous, otherwise largely mute relationship between stepfather and stepson.”

Referring to Roger’s going to church, Bill wrote to him: “I believe, Daddy, that none of us can have any peace unless they face life with God, knowing that good always outweighs bad and even death doesn’t end a man’s life.

“In part compassionate, in part bitter, the letter was a reminder, too, of the younger man’s relative strength and power, and even of the reconciliation with Virginia that Bill had opposed.”

Then came what Morris describes as “an especially telling passage”. Speaking in a few earnest sentences, with a mixture of confession and denial, guilt and anger that was their shared torment:

“Of course I know I have never been much help to you — never had the courage to come and talk about it. The reason I am writing now is because I couldn’t stand it if you and Mother were to break up after all these years. I just want to help you help yourself if you can.

“I think I ought to close this letter now and wait for your answer but there are a couple of things I ought to say first — 1) I don’t think you have ever realized how much we all love and need you. 2) I don’t think you have ever realized either how we have all been hurt … but still really have not turned against you.

“Please write me soon Daddy — I want to hear from you. … Don’t be ashamed to admit your problem. … We all have so much to live for; let’s start doing it — together.

“Your son, Bill”

A time soon came when Roger, enfeebled, could no longer make it to the bathroom on his own. “Bill would bodily pick him up and take him … so that he could maintain his dignity,” Virginia remembered. On Bill’s last visit to his father in hospital, Roger handed over his ring to his son.

It does seem a cruel irony of history that this devoted and caring young man would, before and after he became President, as Roger Morris relates, “come under scrutiny by special prosecutors and federal grand juries in civil and even criminal cases — ranging from sexual exploitation and petty abuses of power, to bribery, obstruction of justice, financial corruption, election fraud” and even “linking the President to drug money and organised crime”.

Courtesy: “Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America” by Roger Morris. Published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York.