IMPRESSIVE. There's a...

IMPRESSIVE. There's a lot of blogosphere outrage, including here at TAPPED, about this morning's New York Times story on Hillary Clinton's marriage. I'm not so sure there should be. This story answers an essential question for Hillary-watchers, and knocks down one of the major raps against her as a candidate, the allegation that she is a coldly calculating person so ambitious she stayed in a sham marriage just so she could run for President one day. So, as much as she and her staff and her supporters may hate this story, I think they should be grateful for it. It has never previously been reported that she and Bill spend so much time together. Their carefully calculated public distance has created an impression that they prefer to keep each other at arms' length; this story knocks that down:

Since the start of 2005, the Clintons have been together about 14 days a month on average, according to aides who reviewed the couple's schedules. Sometimes it is a full day of relaxing at home in Chappaqua; sometimes it is meeting up late at night. At their busiest, they saw each other on a single day, Valentine's Day, in February 2005 � a month when each was traveling a great deal. Last August, they saw each other at some point on 24 out of 31 days. Out of the last 73 weekends, they spent 51 together.

Based on their very public, very separate lives, I would have imagined this number to be much lower.

That it's as high as it is is a testament to her own efforts, and to the power of the institution of marriage, to reconcile people to each other, even after great difficulty. I've long thought that one of the best things Sen. Clinton had going for her on the family values front was that she stayed married in a situation where every woman in America would have understood if she'd have wanted a divorce. She made a highly conservative personal choice in a situation in which doing the opposite would have been eminently forgivable. That's why I think that those who worry that her expected presidential candidacy will raise old concerns about family values are too worried by half. Her choices and behavior have always been very different from her husband's.

I can't imagine Sen. Clinton ever doing this, but, should she chose to, she could make a defense of marriage as a civic and social institution more powerful than any other Democrat, ever, having chosen to value a vow taken in youth above her own pain, above and beyond fidelity, and above the understandable sentiment of her community. In a world where there are so many forces that pull people apart, from their own weaknesses to their work to the lack of support of the society overall for maintaining vows in the face of grave challenges, having simply done that should tell voters everything they need to know about her values. I know nothing of the Clinton's marriage, but I have watched enough families over the years to know that those couples who run up to the brink of divorce and then chose to reject it enter a territory few people ever see, and that there is much goodness to be found on the other side of that decision. Couples do recover from the unrecoverable and they can reforge bonds of love that transcend not just past difficulties, but, in a really profound way, even embodiment itself. Yes, marriage is a contract for the conduct of mundane life, but it also has the potential to be a spiritual pact, and as marriage has lost more and more of its material grounding, its psychic and spiritual functions have loomed ever larger. That's not news story material -- who writes of such things outside the Style section, or novels? -- but it's part of the larger human story we ask our politicians to be part of, and in which, ultimately, all of us can't help but be interested.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

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