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Hillary Clinton Tried to Join the Army (Or Was it the Marines?)

Bill Clinton says his wife, Hillary, tried to join the Army in the mid-1970s but was turned down.

Hillary Clinton Tried to Join the Army (Or Was it the Marines?)

ABC’s Jake Tapper:

“I remember when we were young, right out of law school, she went down and tried to join the Army and they said ‘Your eyes are so bad, nobody will take you,’” he said, after heralding her record on issues of concern to the military, such as body armor and access to health care.

I assume this is a version of the “Hillary Clinton tried to join the Marines” anecdote that then-First Lady Clinton told in 1994 that we wondered about since it’s a story she never seems to have told again.

The original story was that in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1975, Hillary walked into a local Marines recruiting office. The Marine recruiter looked at her, she recalled, and asked how old she was. Twenty-seven, she said. “He looked at me, and in those days that was before I learned how to wear contact lenses,” Sen. Clinton told a crowd of women veterans in 1994. “I had these really thick glasses on. He said, ‘How bad’s your eyesight?’ I said, ‘It’s pretty bad.’ …Finally said to me, he said, ‘You’re too old. You can’t see. And you’re a woman….But maybe the dogs would take you.’”

(“Dogs” being a reference to the Army.)

Perhaps she did so — and hence Bill Clinton’s Army story today?

Or maybe he’s conflating the two stories?

(Add that Bosnian sniper fire, and you might have something there that Julia Roberts would want to option.)

Does anyone really believe that, after graduating Yale at the top of her class, she wanted to join the military? Or that she was so dumb that she thought the way to do that was to go to a recruiting office (where they enlist privates)? Or that, in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam war and the earliest days of the all-volunteer force, they were turning people away by glancing at their glasses?

Maureen Dowd was a bit skeptical, as well, when the Marine story broke in 1994. In that iteration, Hillary made her approach in 1975, when she was a professor at Arkansas Law and the year after Bill made an unsuccessful bid for Congress.

But, even given the fact that the nation has become accustomed to Mrs. Clinton’s intriguing shape-shifting — from liberal do-gooder to high-risk commodities trader, from power lawyer to cookie baker, from health care czar to housewife supervising the menu for the state dinner for the Emperor and Empress of Japan — the latest one is still jarring.

First, it presented a macho contrast to a President who had just visited England, where news reports recalled the letter he wrote from there to a representative of the Reserve Officers Training Corps at the University of Arkansas, explaining why many members of his generation loved their country but still found themselves “loathing” the military.

And it did not seem to fit in with the First Lady’s own persona. After all, Hillary Rodham was an up-and-coming legal star involved with an up-and-coming political star. She had made a celebrated appearance in Life magazine as an anti-establishment commencement speaker at Wellesley College, where, as president of the student government, she had organized teach-ins on her opposition to the Vietnam War. She was a Yale law school graduate who had worked on the anti-war Presidential campaigns of Eugene J. McCarthy and George McGovern.

Mrs. Clinton told friends that she had moved to Arkansas for only one reason: to be with Bill Clinton. Years later, she would tell Vanity Fair that she had stayed because “I didn’t see anything out there that I thought was more exciting or challenging than what I had in front of me.” She and Mr. Clinton married on Oct. 11, 1975 in Fayetteville. So, if she was talking to a Marine recruiter in 1975 before the marriage, was she briefly considering joining the few, the proud and the brave of the corps as an alternative to life with Mr. Clinton, who was already being widely touted as a sure thing for Arkansas Attorney General?

The Clintons, Bill in particular, have a long history of telling stories about themselves — illustrating how they became so gosh-darned public service oriented and good — that couldn’t possibly be true. This seems to be another installment in that genre.

Photo credit: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton: Marine Corps Sunset Parade

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Fausta says:

    Ah, the whiff of desperation…

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  2. mike says:

    I thought it was the French Foreign Legion but she didn’t speak french. Maybe that will be his or her story next week, stay tuned. maybe the Clintons have a condition that truly prevents them from being honest.

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  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    To be fair, the recruiting office near the university I attended was open for recruiting officer candidates.

    That being said, I think she is Clintoning the truth here.

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  4. legion says:

    Does anyone really believe that, after graduating Yale at the top of her class, she wanted to join the military? Or that she was so dumb that she thought the way to do that was to go to a recruiting office (where they enlist privates)? Or that, in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam war and the earliest days of the all-volunteer force, they were turning people away by glancing at their glasses?

    Well, I highly doubt the entire anecdote – Peace Corps, maybe. But military? Hell no. And the idea that any service would turn down a lawyer (one assumes that’s what she would go in to be) because of eyesight anywhere short of legally blind is highly dubious. Do the Marines even have lawyers? I know they use Navy personnel for doctors and chaplains…

    That said, given the general lack of familiarity with military recruiting, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if even someone with her quaifications thought first of a recruiting office – did Yale even have an ROTC detatchment at that point?

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  5. floyd says:

    It’s NOT her EYES that were/are bad, It’s her VISION!!

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  6. James Joyner says:

    Do the Marines even have lawyers? I know they use Navy personnel for doctors and chaplains…

    I always thought it was the same with lawyers, except on TV and the movies, but it turns out there are actually Marine JAGs:

    About 400 active-duty Marine judge advocates, most of whom hold the rank of captain, are distributed among all of the Corps’ major stations and posts.

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  7. Eneils Bailey says:

    “I remember when we were young, right out of law school, she went down and tried to join the Army and they said ‘Your eyes are so bad, nobody will take you,’”

    Actually, the recruiters were trying to be nice. The Army or the Marines do not recruit any individual whose ass and mid-riff bulge presents a target larger than a medium sized tank.

    Did she try the Navy, fat floats.

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  8. Beldar says:

    What basis do you have for saying that she was at the “top of her class” at Yale?

    Harvard doesn’t give out class standings directly, but Obama was magna cum laude at Harvard Law.

    I’ve never seen Hillary’s degree from Yale Law even described as cum laude, however, and I don’t know where in her graduating class her grades put her. She did proceed to flunk the D.C. bar exam, however.

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  9. mike says:

    Wow, it is difficult to fail the DC bar.

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  10. Beldar says:

    Yale is an awfully good law school — usually ranked 1st or 2nd in most polls — and it teaches a “national curriculum,” rather than one designed for any particular state’s unique laws, with an emphasis on broad theory over actual practice.

    I’ve read, however, that the D.C. bar exam, at least at that time, consisted only of the “multistate.” I know she did pass the Arkansas bar; most graduates, and especially graduates from a “national” school like Yale, would certainly have taken a bar review course specific to the state whose specific laws they’d need to know for their exam. So maybe she slighted her study for the multistate and the D.C. bar in favor of the state-law specific portions of the Arkansas bar.

    I don’t think it’s a big deal that she flunked the D.C. bar. I think she’s plenty smart.

    On the other hand, I doubt merely a middle-ranking degree from Yale (if that’s what she had; it could have been lower, for all I’ve been able to tell), with no Yale Law Journal experience, judicial clerkship, or other special credentials, would have gotten her a tenure-track offer at another top law school like Chicago. Obama, by contrast, was offered a tenure-track position at Chicago, and almost certainly could have ended up as a top legal academic if he’d been inclined to go that way.

    As far as either’s credentials to be president, this isn’t a big deal. But I don’t think she was at the top of her class, nor that she’s ever claimed that.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    What basis do you have for saying that she was at the “top of her class” at Yale?

    I read quite some time back, somewhere that I regarded as reputable, that she finished #1 and Bill finished #3 in their class. Could be wrong, though, and haven’t been able to verify with a quick Google search.

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  12. Beldar says:

    Someone was pulling your leg, or (more likely) had themselves been misled. Here’s the entirety of what’s on her campaign website about her performance at Yale:

    Next came Yale Law School, where Hillary focused on questions about how the law affected children and began her decades of work as an advocate for children and families. As a law student, Hillary represented foster children and parents in family court and worked on some of the earliest studies creating legal standards for identifying and protecting abused children.

    Or, per Wikipedia (footnotes omitted):

    Rodham then entered Yale Law School, where she served on the Board of Editors of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action. During her second year, she worked at the Yale Child Study Center, learning about new research on early childhood brain development and working as a research assistant on the seminal work, Beyond the Best Interests of the Child (1973). She also took on cases of child abuse at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and volunteered at New Haven Legal Services to provide free advice for the poor. In the summer of 1970, she was awarded a grant to work at Marian Wright Edelman’s Washington Research Project, where she was assigned to Senator Walter Mondale’s Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, researching migrant workers’ problems in housing, sanitation, health and education; Edelman would become a significant mentor to her.

    In the late spring of 1971, she began dating Bill Clinton, who was also a law student at Yale. That summer, she interned on child custody cases at the Oakland, California, law firm of Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein, which was well-known for its support of constitutional rights, civil liberties, and radical causes; two of its four partners were current or former communist party members. Clinton canceled his original summer plans in order to live with her in an apartment in Berkeley, California, later writing, “I told her I’d have the rest of my life for my work and my ambition, but I loved her and I wanted to see if it could work out for us.” The romance did develop, and the couple continued living together in New Haven when they returned to law school. The following summer, Rodham and Clinton campaigned in Texas for unsuccessful 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. She received a Juris Doctor degree from Yale in 1973, having spent an extra year there in order to be with Clinton. Clinton first proposed marriage to her following graduation, but she declined at the time. She began a year of post-graduate study on children and medicine at the Yale Child Study Center. Her first scholarly article, “Children Under the Law”, was published in the Harvard Educational Review in late 1973. Discussing the new children’s rights movement, it stated that “child citizens” were “powerless individuals” and argued that children should not be considered equally incompetent from birth to attaining legal age, but rather courts should presume competence except when there is evidence otherwise, on a case-by-case basis. The article became frequently cited in the field.

    I guarantee you that if she had so much as a “cum laude” to report, it would be in at least one of these two places. (Wikipedia duly reports that she “graduated with departmental honors in political science” from Wellesley College.) And the Yale Review of Law and Social Action was, at best, a fourth-tier journal that was in existence for only three years; it’s not remotely comparable in prestige to either the Yale Law Journal or the Harvard Law Review (the latter of which, Obama was famously the first black president of).

    Maybe you, or whoever misled you, were thinking of the Stanford Law School Class of 1953, in which Rehnquist was reportedly #1 and O’Connor was #3? (Even that may be an urban legend, as Stanford says it too didn’t announce class-rank determinations.)

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  13. legion says:

    I always thought it was the same with lawyers, except on TV and the movies, but it turns out there are actually Marine JAGs:

    Shortly after posting, I thought about this & realized why: the Geneva Conventions.

    Every Marine, regardless of primary specialty, is trained as a basic rifle infantryman as well. Since Doctors and Chaplains have specific restrictions about that sort of thing (and JAGs don’t), they get ‘loaned’ by the Navy.

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  14. Marine Matt says:

    Not even the Army wold take her! Even if this story is true, it’s still makes her look bad. If she’s trying to get the military vote, she lost it with the sniper story. Now every Marine just hates her.

    Another reason she couldn’t make it in the Marine Corps. Marine Core Values: Marines NEVER Lie, Cheat, or Steal.

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  15. legion says:

    Marines NEVER Lie, Cheat, or Steal.

    (cough)Ollie North(cough)

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