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Talking With the First Lady

Hillary Rodham Clinton discusses her role in politics, and as a wife and mother

MONITOR Radio's Sharon Basco, host of the Weekend Edition show, interviewed Hillary Rodham Clinton on a range of subjects recently, including her advice for future presidential spouses, the Oklahoma tragedy, and her aspirations for her daughter, Chelsea. The interview will air this weekend. (Please check local listings).

Some excerpts:

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Do you think that your role in your husband's 1996 presidential campaign will be different, and how do you see it as being different from the 1992 race?

I don't think it'll be different. I think I will do what I've always done, which is try to support the campaign, speak wherever I'm needed, do any of the tasks that are required to try to get the message that my husband will have in '96 out to as many voters as possible.

If you could begin your health-care project again, would you take on less and leave more for the future? Do you believe you took on too much?

I don't feel that. When the president was elected, he said there were a couple of big problems facing the country. One was reversing the economic policies of the 1980s, getting jobs back in the country, and doing something about health care. Because if we didn't act, both the government and the private sector would not be able to sustain the costs. I think he was right then. I think he is still right...

I guess the reality of being the wife of the president differs from one's expectations.

Any new experience is one that takes some getting adjusted to, and certainly moving into this White House -- with all of its pressures and spotlights -- has been quite a learning experience for me personally, one that I feel very grateful that I've had a chance to have. But I don't know that anything could ever prepare you for it. I'm not sure I had any expectations. It has been kind of an ongoing process.

The first lady you're most often compared to, of course, is Eleanor Roosevelt, and she lived at a time when the press was polite and deferential. [Mrs. Clinton laughs.] Do you ever daydream about what that would be like?

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Oh, I think it would be wonderful, and I think the country would be better off if that were the case today.

If you were to give advice to the spouse of a future president about what to do, how would you frame it?

The most important advice is to be yourself, and to know that no matter what you do, you will be criticized. And so why try to turn yourself into something that you're not? Instead, pursue the interests that are yours, and if you've been a private person, don't feel compelled to become public. If you've been involved in your public activities, try to find ways to continue those in the White House. Make the choices that are right for you. And I think that's good advice no matter where you live.

It seems, sometimes, that you can't win. When you took your trip to South Asia, the Calcutta Telegraph said you were ''solely decorative.''

[Laughing] Well, they were a very lonely voice amid all of those who were very pleased that the United States had sent a delegation that was concerned about issues affecting social development, and understood that the kind of investments in women and girls that I was talking about were critical to economic and political development, and were part of the broader human-rights agenda. I had a great time. I'm so excited to have had the opportunity to make that trip. And it is one that I am still replaying in my own mind, and I hope that I'll have a chance to continue to work on the issues that were raised there.

You took your daughter, Chelsea, along on that trip. I'm wondering, though, when you're at home -- of course you have a husband who works at home -- since you're a working mother, how do you manage family time?

Oh gosh, Sharon, I think it's like all of us who are trying to compose a life that consists of many different parts. I am always most concerned about my daughter's well-being, and what both she and my husband need in order to get our family on firm footing.

How do you make private time?

I just make it. We try to have dinner together most nights. We spend time on the weekends together. We have recreational activities we enjoy. I think it is absolutely critical for everyone to have private time, whether that person is the president or anyone. So we are very intent upon preserving our family time, and I'm intent on preserving time just for myself as well.

You and President Clinton have clearly been trying to use the example of the people in Oklahoma City -- the way they've reacted to the bombing -- to teach Americans something about what kind of people they can be, ideally. What are some of the characteristics you'd like to see the American people reinvigorate?

We always see, when disaster strikes in America, the best of the American community. And I hope that the traits that people have exhibited in the aftermath of the terrible bombing in Oklahoma City are ones that have a longer life in our country.

I hope that we look for ways to strengthen our bonds among one another. I hope that we have learned that we can work together, as we saw, day after day on our television sets, people working to save lives, to put back the shattered experience of so many in Oklahoma City, regardless of race or income. It was just the most human response that you could ever imagine.

And I hope we can understand the damage that hate can do in families and in communities, and that each of us is more conscious of the words we use, the impact of our language, our feelings about one another. There is so much good in our country, and there are so many more good people than those who are evil or misled. It is important for people who share values that ... bring us together to stand up on behalf of those values. If that could come from this terrible tragedy, it would be a great gift.

Unlike little boys who grow up saying they want to be president, little girls don't grow up saying ''I want to be first lady.'' Is this anything to wish on one's daughter?

I don't think anyone can plan to do this. I mean, it would take such an enormous [laughing] prophecy to be able to say, ''Oh this man that I've met or that I've fallen in love with, I think I'll marry him because he's going to end up being president.'' That is not the way the real world works.

Is this an experience you would wish on your daughter?

I wish for her what is best for her. And if circumstance were to lead her to end up in the position that I'm in, I have every confidence that she would handle it with grace and make the most of it ... by doing what was appropriate for her..... That is what I wish for every woman.

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