Department: The Feminist: Marjorie Margolies
MARGOLIES DIDN’T LAST LONG on the Hill. That first year, after she’d publicly opposed Clinton’s budget because it didn’t do enough to cut spending and entitlement programs, he made an impassioned phone call to her just before she voted, and changed her mind. Hers was the pivotal vote, and she was crucified for it; outraged constituents, screaming betrayal, booted her for Fox in Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Republican Revolution.” But she still insists she did the right thing, voting her conscience when her party needed her. And before she agreed to cast that vote, she made sure Clinton agreed to pay her back with a high-profile summit conference, held in her district, on entitlements.
It was around then that Marc and Chelsea met, as teenagers. A famous photo shows a young, shy Chelsea sitting beside Marc on a college tour of his campus, Stanford. She joined him there in 1997, though they didn’t begin to date until 2005. (In a bizarre twist, Ed Mezvinsky used to play up his family’s intimacy with the Clintons to potential investors in his schemes.)
Margolies’s House experience didn’t sour her on politics; she ran for lieutenant governor in 1998, and was mounting her campaign for Rick Santorum’s Senate seat when, in 2000, Ed’s Ponzi train derailed. They both had to file for bankruptcy. Main Line gossip insisted Margolies had to know about the swindles, but a friend says, “She was running her own game, and not paying attention to him.” Ed pleaded guilty to bank, mail and wire frauds. Released from prison in 2008, he still owes millions in restitution. At Marc’s wedding, Margolies walked the groom down the aisle by herself.
“OKAY, LOVE YOU, TOO!” Margolies chirps before hanging up her cell phone. “That was Lee Heh,” she says between bites of hummus. “I’m going to Canyon Ranch with her, and she’s asking why I haven’t made my reservation. I did make my reservation. There must be some mistake.” Margolies doesn’t get upset, the way some people do, about a missing reservation. It will all work out in the end.
That’s the same way she feels about ignominy. Shame, in her book, is useless: “Get up and dust yourself off,” she says. She learned from the master: Bill Clinton, who called after Ed’s shit hit the fan and told her, “Few people can speak about public humiliation with as much empathy as I can.” Together, they laughed.
But it’s telling that when you ask her family and friends for a funny anecdote about Marjorie, they’re stumped. There’s a reason prototype feminists can seem so humorless: They had battles to fight. Nothing about it was fun. Just ask Hillary Clinton. And women may not be constitutionally suited to the fray. “With men, so much of it is about ego,” says Margolies. “There’s a lot of winning and losing in politics.”
Yet it’s vital that women run for office, she adds, because their worldview differs from that of men — and that’s what her latest baby, WCI, is all about. She gives the example of an African nation that formed a commission to deal with its AIDS crisis. There was one woman on the panel. Her male colleagues nixed giving antiretroviral drugs to pregnant women because of the cost, but the woman, who’d worked in medicine, explained how dramatically antiretrovirals reduce the chance a baby will be born HIV-positive. “She was a presence in the room,” Margolies says, “of the things we consider important to the family.”