Somehow Hillary Rodham Clinton morphed from an angry law student to a canny senator who makes coffee for her male colleagues with a "touch of self-mockery." Her dad called her "Miss Smarty Pants," and it was she, not Bill, who was chosen in 1969 by Life magazine as an emblem of her generation. Her background, though middle-class, may have been as harsh as Bill's. In a footnote in his new biography of Hillary, Carl Bernstein states that she's never discussed how severely her father beat her.

Bernstein's written a pro-Hillary salvo—he keeps on about her serious Methodism and ardent Sunday school sermons, and paints her as still partly a Rockefeller Republican. However, actual politics bore Bernstein. The wayward Bernstein prefers Hillary's more wayward and interesting past.

It's clear that Bill's the dreamer; she's the realist. Theirs was a rock-star presidency: deeply principled in its vision, lacking in decorum, and specializing in self-destruction, with a bit of abuse (she may have hit him) and womanizing on the side. Leaving two suicides and a few jail terms in their wake, Bill and Hillary managed to piss off most of Washington with their hokey Arkansas friends and unwillingness to play games.

Bernstein's tidbits are wonderful. Hillary likes to pray, and once belonged to an exclusive prayer group for the wives of congressmen and senators. She was head of the Young Republican Club at Wellesley, and she was deeply into national politics at Yale while her future husband was still wearing a Viking beard and chatting people up about the size of Arkansas watermelons.

The book does, however, look carefully at Whitewater, and finds it was, at worst, embarrassing. What really happened was that Bill and Hillary scared the holy crap out of the power structure by getting to the White House without insider help. Worse, they showed up in '60s power-to-the-people trappings. The Republicans nearly impeached a president in the name of revenge.

Washington is Old South in a way that Arkansas isn't. The second-most disliked thing in the South is an uppity woman. (The first-most is an uppity, well....) One thing I fear about a Barack Obama presidency is that Washington might decide to make him completely ineffective, but then, I fear that about a second Clinton presidency as well—though Bill would make one hell of a first lady.