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Good Hillary, Bad Hillary


But the disappointing trajectory of Hard Choices and the concurrent rise of Blood Feud say more about Hillary Clinton, her own book, and the vulnerabilities of her potential presidential run than they do about the media or the commercial durability of Clinton bashers. Aside from money, which she does not need, and publicity, which she also does not need, what is the motivation to write and strenuously promote a memoir that obscures more than it tells and that is not so much a personal statement about the hard choices she has faced as a string of uncontroversial position papers salted with upbeat anecdotes? It’s safe to assume that the readers who bought Hard Choices, a sizable group when compared with the audience for most books, admire and in many cases revere Hillary Clinton. They hunger to get to know her better. What is to be gained—whether now or in 2016—by selling them a book whose main value is as a sleep aid?

As it happens, Klein’s book is complete crap, but it is relatively amusing crap (Hawking Index: 19.7 percent) next to Hillary’s slog through seemingly every engagement on her official secretary of State calendar. According to the Times, “Some publishing industry insiders” believe that Blood Feud, despite being a “barely sourced account full of implausible passages,” was selling not just to the usual Clinton haters but to liberals and “readers who are simply looking for irresistible entertainment.” If you’ve read Hard Choices, you can’t blame them for seeking comic relief—and possibly seeking a different Hillary.

“Before we are Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, or any of the other labels that divide us as often as define us, we are Americans, all with a personal stake in our country,” the Hillary of Hard Choices writes, typically, early on. You fear you’ve wandered by accident into a “for kids” edition aimed at lower-school readers, but no such luck. The entire book is crafted to avoid startling children and adults of all ages. Hardly do we encounter its uncontroversial thesis—“Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become”—than we get a disclaimer: “Of course, quite a few important choices, characters, countries, and events are not included here.” And so it goes. Hillary can’t begin a paragraph with the sentence “I am not alone in feeling so personally invested in Israel’s security and success” without starting the subsequent paragraph with “I was also an early voice calling publicly for Palestinian statehood.” In chapters like “Iran: Sanctions and Secrets” and “Climate Change: We’re All in This Together,” she tells us what we already know, larded with an excess of superficial and sometimes self-­aggrandizing detail as well as bullet points from various official proposals and hefty excerpts from speeches and town-hall meetings. There’s lots of name-checking (“I always enjoy seeing Ehud”) and lots of firsts. “No previous U.S. Secretary of State had ever visited the organization’s headquarters” (ASEAN, if you’re asking) … “No Secretary of State had ever visited this city before” (Chennai, India) … “I would be the first Secretary of State to visit in more than half a century” (Burma). Quantity always trumps quality.

Some of us don’t expect (or want) to hear about the Clintons’ private lives. But if Hillary insists on taking us to Chelsea’s wedding anyway, she might include a little personal revelation to go along with the generic Hallmark sentiments. Instead the occasion is repurposed for political branding: “This, I thought, is why Bill and I had worked so hard for so many years to help build a better world—so Chelsea could grow up safe and happy and one day have a family of her own, and so every other child would have the same chance.”

The only touching passages in Hard Choices can be found in Hillary’s generous and humorous portrait of the one-of-a-kind diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who died tragically while trying to stave off incoming fire from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the antagonists in the Obama White House (unnamed, of course) who tried “to force him out of the job.” Next to Holbrooke, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama emerge as ciphers in Hard Choices. Hillary’s trusted aide Huma Abedin is more vividly present, but the public spousal scandal that proved a major distraction to both her and the nation during her service at State goes unmentioned. Also “not included here” are the hard choices—a.k.a. bad choices—that hobbled Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign. To her credit, she does finally call her 2002 Senate vote to authorize the Iraq invasion “a mistake,” though the blame is deflected from her own faulty judgment and political cowardice to the Bush administration’s phony case for war. The candor of this overdue admission, however, is negated by an account of her 2011 speech in Geneva championing LGBT human rights in which she schooled foreign leaders that “leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for.” Given that the Clinton administration’s “leadership” record included being out front in supporting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, you might expect at least a mini mea culpa, or some circumspect grace note of irony, but Hillary just leaves out that embarrassing history entirely. No wonder she bristled when Terry Gross challenged the timing of her tardy evolution on gay marriage in a book-tour interview for NPR’s “Fresh Air.”


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