The very model of a modern marriage

So far, the Clintons' long-distance relationship is working

They were like ships passing in the night, or in this case, the morning.

President Clinton, with a day trip to South Carolina behind him, arrived at his residence in Chappaqua, N.Y., just after midnight. His wife, on her way back from California, didn't get home until 6:30 that morning.

That left exactly four hours and 45 minutes of bleary-eyed visiting time before the president would head out the door for a full day of fund-raising in the city. Then it would be back to the White House until the next blitz trip to his Dutch colonial on Old House Lane.

In the nearly four months since Bill and Hillary Clinton embarked on the nation's most visible commuter marriage, the first couple may not be spending tons of "quality time" together, but they are at least managing to see each other regularly - about once a week, sometimes more.

And when it comes to analyzing the state of the Clintons' marriage, it seems everyone, from New York cabdrivers to marriage counselors, has an opinion.

Some give the Clintons high marks for their efforts, especially in light of the fact that many commuter couples can go for months between visits.

"That's a pretty good record, considering he's president and she's running for office," says Judith Wallerstein, an expert on marriage and divorce, and author of "The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts."

More often than not, the president combines his trips to New York with official or political business.

This week, he was four for four - making his fourth fund-raising trip to New York this year at a gala event featuring the four White House principals: himself, his wife, and Al and Tipper Gore.

It was an unusual gathering of the political quartet, considering their diverging campaign schedules. But it was obviously worth the effort of schedulers, with the event pulling in $2.2 million for the Democratic National Committee.

It also had a nice side benefit for the first fund-raiser: a chance to RON ("remain overnight") in Chappaqua.

Of course, the Clinton commuting track is a two-way street, with the first lady doing her share of flying south.

According to her spokeswoman, Lissa Muscatine, Mrs. Clinton tends to be at the White House "most weekends." The Clintons - including daughter Chelsea - just passed the Easter weekend together among the freshly greening trees of Camp David (though it's hard to see how nearly seven hours golfing sans wife and daughter counts as family time).

Despite her barnstorming around New York, the first lady has always maintained that she would not completely give up her Washington role. And she hasn't. She's just doing less of it.

In January, of course, she flew down for the State of the Union address, but she's also returned for education and health events - two issues of special importance to her. Next week, she'll be back for a White House conference on teen violence.

On Monday, she joined the president in welcoming 30,000 children to the annual Easter egg roll on the South Lawn - pointing out, with a twinge of nostalgia, that this was the last time they would be hosting it.

Those close to the Clintons say the New York-Washington commute is no big deal for the couple. After all, the president spent roughly one-third of his time on the road without his wife last year - and that's not even counting the trips she made.

Says one longtime friend, "They wouldn't even think of this as a strain."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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