U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoirs of her eight years in the White House with President Clinton went on sale Monday amid much publicity and some speculation that the book is aimed at laying the groundwork for a possible presidential bid for the former First Lady in 2008. Hundreds turned out at a New York City bookstore where the junior Senator from New York made an appearance and signed autographs.
Portions of the book, Living History, had been leaked to the news media last week, heightening interest in the 562-page volume.
In the book and in an audio version of the memoir, Mrs. Clinton addresses her husband's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which ultimately led to his impeachment in 1998. She says she believed his denial of the relationship until he confessed to her two days before he testified to a grand jury in the case.
"I was furious, and getting more so by the second,'" she described those moments. "He just stood there, saying over and over again, 'I am sorry. I am so sorry. I was trying to protect you and Chelsea,'"
But Senator Clinton also takes aim at the special prosecutor in the impeachment case, Kenneth Starr, saying she was convinced he had overstepped his legal authority.
She says the most difficult decisions in her life were to stay married to her husband and to run for the Senate.
Among the other issues in her book, she takes responsibility for the failure of the Clinton administration to enact health care reform, an issue she was tapped to oversee by her husband.
Her critics say the book is an attempt to put the difficulties of the Clinton White House behind her so she can prepare for a run for the presidency in 2008.
In an interview on ABC television, Senator Clinton said she has 'no intentions or plans' of running.
Speaking to reporters at the bookstore, she said her book has given her an opportunity to give her side of the story.
"These were obviously personal and private moments that unfortunately were made public for partisan political purposes as part of the ongoing politics of personal destruction that was so much a part of our country's life and certainly our time in the White House," she said. "I had to address what was public in my memoirs, and I tried to do so in a way that might provide some insight and information to the reader."
Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says Senator Clinton was probably motivated by the eight million dollars that the publisher, Simon and Schuster, is paying. But he also agrees with the reasons she stated for writing the book.
"She had been battered a lot," explained Mr. Ornstein. "There are still a lot of voters out there who may not give her the benefit of the doubt, who do not start out with a visceral hatred of her, but with some skepticism. This was terrific opportunity to set the record straight, and if it got people thinking about her in a different way and if she demonstrated that candor that was widely accepted, it certainly could not hurt if it came to any to any future thing she wanted to do in her life, including a possible bid for another office."
But a Hillary Clinton candidacy for the White House would not be easy, according to public opinion polls. A recent ABC survey says 53 percent of Americans would not want her to be president, while 41 percent said they would.
Still, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution does not view the poll numbers as very significant.
"That probably applies to her husband, that applies to George W. Bush," he said. "We live in a very polarized time. Forty percent of the country would under no circumstances vote for our current president. So having a substantial number of people against you is sort of a badge of honor in contemporary American politics, for good or for ill."
Mr. Mann says Mrs. Clinton is taking on a more prominent role in politics. She has been active legislatively in the Senate, established coalitions with both Democrats and Republicans. He calls her a formidable fund-raiser with the capacity to excite Democratic activists and articulate policy goals.
Mr. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute agrees, saying Mrs. Clinton's political profile rose following the terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
"Her Senate career to some degree was transformed after September 11," he said. "After September 11, she could emerge clearly as an advocate for New York, at a time when New York needed major heavy-weight advocates, and she did it with great vigor and with some success. It solidified her political position in New York and it underscored the clout she could have as a member of the Senate."
Simon and Schuster is publishing one million copies of Living History, which has become the latest chapter in the extraordinary life of Hillary Clinton.