Bill and Hillary Clinton Get the Maureen Dowd Treatment

Hillary Rodham Clinton at an event in Colorado last month promoting Democrats. Senator Mark Udall lost his race there. (Credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press)
Hillary Rodham Clinton at an event in Colorado last month promoting Democrats. Senator Mark Udall lost his race there. (Credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

by Maureen Dowd

Somewhere in Smithsonian storage sits a portrait of Bill Clinton with two odd features: He is standing next to a shadow meant to conjure Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, and he is not wearing his gold wedding ring.

As we have been reminded by a recent wild cascade of stories, everything about the Clintons is convoluted. Nothing is simple, even a celebratory portrait.

Nelson Shanks, picked by Clinton to do his portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, revealed to the Philadelphia Daily News that he had used a blue dress on a mannequin to evoke the shadow of the Lewinsky scandal in the portrait.

I called the 77-year-old artist to ask about his devilish punking.

“It’s an extra little kick going on in the painting,” he said. “It was a bit humorous, but there was also a sort of authenticity to it. To do a Pollyanna, basically meaningless, symbolically neutral painting of somebody that has had a powerful influence on society is really copping out.” He said that Clinton’s lack of a wedding band has no ulterior meaning, noting: “I just forgot the ring.” But Clinton aides weren’t buying it.

He said when the omission first made news after the portrait was unveiled in 2006, Hillary Clinton sent him “a lovely little note saying don’t worry about it, this is just a tempest in a teapot.”

In a blog post last week, Eugénie Bisulco, a Clinton administration staffer who led the search team for a White House portrait artist, said it wasn’t Shanks’s attempt to put in “a moral compass” that grated. (The Clintons didn’t even know about that.) Bisulco said that it was that the portrait made Clinton look like “a disheveled Ted Koppel.”

Other Clintonistas dismissed the allegorical shadow as “put-a-bunny-in-the-pot crazy.”

Shanks said it was “like an ice pick going through my back” when he learned that his portrait was “exiled to the dark recesses” in 2009. On a visit to the museum a year and a half ago, he heard a docent telling a tour group that the Clintons put the kibosh on the painting.

He asked Kim Sajet, now director of the National Portrait Gallery, and she confirmed his darkest fears in an email, saying that they took it down because the Clintons disliked it. But, in response to a query, Sajet admitted that she was “repeating unfounded gossip,” according to a spokeswoman, and insisted that the painting is merely in rotation.

Shortly after the art imbroglio broke, an email imbroglio broke. The Times’s Michael Schmidt reported that, as secretary of state, Hillary did not preserve her official correspondence on a government server and exclusively used a private email account. She used a private server linked to her Chappaqua home, only turning over cherry-picked messages in December at the State Department’s request.

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SOURCE: The New York Times

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