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Good Hillary, Bad Hillary

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The cumulative bottom line of this narrative is that next to Barack Obama, who is portrayed as an incompetent mobster, and Bill Clinton, who is always turning red with anger when he’s not cruising waitresses in close proximity to his presidential library in Little Rock, Hillary is by far the most appealing character, a foulmouthed, independent-minded executive you’d like to have that proverbial beer with. You can’t fault a reader for wanting to spend time with Klein’s two-fisted Hillary rather than the often robotic self-­censoring bureaucrat of Hard Choices. Both these Hillarys are in essence fictional creations crafted for the marketplace—one embellished with camp to sell books, the other embalmed with civic virtue to win votes—so in the end, it all comes down to which kind of fiction you prefer. The real Hillary, whomever she may be, is scantly visible in either book. But with all due respect to Greta Van Susteren, it’s Klein’s who turns out to be “fun.”

One of the several shopworn themes of Hard Choices is that when you make a mistake, you learn from it. No doubt the 2016 Clinton-campaign-in-waiting is learning, as many have reported, that its candidate is rusty after her years above the political fray as secretary of State and that she and her enforcers still don’t know how to deal with a press corps they despise. Hillaryland reacted to the mishaps of the book tour, the disappointing sales, and the nuisance of a gnat like Klein with an overkill that recalls its ham-fisted efforts to cope with the Obama insurgency in 2008.

Now as then, the case for a Hillary victory is overwhelming: a more-or-less unified Democratic Party; the lack of a gangbusters opponent in either party; a fractious and self-immolating GOP that seems determined to drive away women, minorities, and young people; and an ability to raise tons of money. But as we all know, Hillary was inevitable in 2008 too. Anything can happen in the next two years.

The continued failure of Benghazi (or, for that matter, any foreign-policy issue on Hillary’s watch) to gain traction with the public has lately spawned an alternative line of attack by potential Republican opponents: Hillary is a “20th-­century candidate.” As a recent fund-raising appeal from Marco Rubio’s PAC had it, “Clinton’s ideas are from the days of the Macarena, Prodigy Internet, and the Y2K scare.” That’s a big step forward from the 19th-century ideas championed by the GOP’s anti-government and xenophobic base, but the orchestrated rollout of Hard Choices nonetheless reeked of old-school Establishment political culture: the inevitable hype about how the D.C. “superlawyer” Robert Barnett secured a multimillion-dollar advance, the prepublication press embargo to build suspense, the leaks of selected passages to friendly media, the breathless accounts of which television name would be awarded the “get” of the first interview with the author, the fiercely stage-managed book signings. It was all reminiscent of the stately, too-big-to-fail corporate culture of Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign.

A bigger issue raised by Hard Choices is a more fundamental one—the assumption by Hillary and her handlers that the Hillary Clinton portrayed in its pages is the one voters want: a cautious, unspontaneous caretaker of all things good and true who will never run a yellow light or frighten the horses. Not a Hillary who knocks back a drink stronger than Chardonnay, not a Hillary who will fire back at the partisan congressional committee running a Benghazi witch hunt with a rightly intemperate “What difference at this point does it make?”

The blandness of the Hillary presented in Hard Choices was a political, not a literary, choice. It is what created the vacuum that a nimble opportunist like Klein could fill—and that conceivably an opposing candidate might fill, much as Obama did. It’s a book that made no effort to entice, let alone win over, voters who weren’t Hillary fans in the first place. On the other hand, Blood Feud just might attract some new adherents. One of my favorite moments in Klein’s fantasia occurs when Bill Clinton tells his wife that he wants her to get plastic surgery because “dowdy and old doesn’t win the White House these days.” To which, in the author’s inimitable style, Hillary responds, “Fuck you. Get your own face-lift.” I am sure that the Clinton camp is correct and this deplorable, trashy scene never happened. But tell me: Wouldn’t you be more enthusiastic about voting for Hillary Clinton if it had?


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