What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
This is already one of the most heavily reviewed books of the year. Some reviewers have concentrated on Clinton’s slams of various politicians and entities, tellingly pulling the bulk of these out of the first couple of chapters. (Yeah, I don’t think many reviewers read the whole book.) Conservative reviewers have dinged Clinton for picking on Trump. Even the current press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has gotten into the act, accusing Clinton of fake accusations and using what will probably be the word of the year due to White House usage calling the book “sad”. Even the president has tweeted on the subject.
Just to lay all cards on the table: I caucused for Sanders and voted for Clinton. As one liberal radio host has said “during the primaries you fall in love and during the election you fall in line.” Republicans get that, most Democrats don’t.
I’ve also read and reviewed Alan and Parnes’ book Shattered that covered the Clinton campaign from the inside. What Happened offers a different perspective and one that I feels is more than a little self-serving.
So let’s cover the juicy parts first. Clinton has a lot of complaints. Some of this is directed at Sanders and his supporters. She complains that Sanders delayed in conceding and waiting to put his support behind Clinton’s campaign. She also points to data (there’s oh so much data) that a considerable percentage of Sanders supporters ended up voting for Trump. While she mentions the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz from the Democratic National Committee, she doesn’t bother to delve into the the underlying factor being that she held that important position but exposed emails showed that she had little regard for Bernie Bros and was trying to push the election in Clinton’s direction. Here Shattered goes into better detail, including tense moments when Schultz still thought that she could make a speech at a Clinton event after the email dump.
Perhaps the most rancor is directed at James Comey. The former FBI director wrote a damning letter to Congress indicating that a new stash of emails (found on Anthony Weiner’s computer) were being investigated days before the election. She also points to the fact that Rudy Giuliani was pre-announcing this on Fox News, indicating that he had a high-level source in the FBI. She also complains that information about investigations of Trump were not given the same exposure and quotes Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com stating that the Comey memo directly led to a change in the outcome of the election. She avoids reports that Comey agonized over seeming to be protecting Clinton if there turned out to be new information in the emails, especially likely as Comey was an Obama appointee.
Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange are generally grouped together as those who already disliked Clinton for various reasons and joined forces to attack her campaign. Jill Stein is also named as a co-conspirator. Putin’s dislike of her came in part from her tough stance on the invasion of Ukraine as well as a KGB general disregard for women politicians. She says that she took an equally strong stance on Assange after the Wikileaks release of State Department communications that put intelligence sources at risk of their lives. Stein was at an event with Putin and Michael Flynn celebrating the RT News network, a Russian propaganda organ that directly falsified news stories and then used a cadre of faked Twitter and Facebook accounts to distribute the stories. She also points out that Stein’s vote count exceeded the vote margin at which she lost to Trump in three key states. This with Russian cybersnooping on campaign emails did seem to have an impact on keeping potential Clinton voters at home on election day.
Clinton also offers no love for Trump. That’s her choice. She describes him as intellectually and emotionally unsuited for the presidency. Not every losing candidate speaks out against the winner in a presidential race. Then again, not every candidate ran against someone like Trump. She does go into detail regarding her preparations for her debates with Trump, using a friend who studied Trumps speeches and debates so carefully that many times she and campaign employees thought he was being bizarre until be pointed out that he was simply quoting Trump.
Others earn her scorn, including the press giving more time to emails than her positions. She also chides herself for certain statements, such as the “basket of deplorable” line, but credits the press for taking those statements out of context.
She does not blame her campaign, which is described as a hot mess in Shattered, a book written by two journalists who hoped to write a profile of a winning campaign. The title refers as much to their expectations as the campaign. She maintains that she was more than willing to “put people on the ground” in some key states, despite the reporting in Shattered that she put the campaign’s finances in the hands of a miserly manager who failed to respond to several desperate requests from state campaigns to pay for more workers.
After all this we hit something key that Clinton demonstrates in her book without expressly mentioning it: A bad candidate for the race. This is not to say that Clinton wouldn’t have made an excellent president or even that she might not have won a race in a different climate. Throughout the book Clinton says again and again that she had a grasp of the details of policy in nearly every area, something that Trump didn’t bother with at all. She consistently seems to believe that if she just could have made that known to voters, which she blames on the media’s fascination with emails over substance, that the voters would have lifted her on their shoulders and carried her to the White House.
She’s a wonk. That’s a good thing. It’s better for a future Chief of Staff than it is for a president but there have been a few wonky presidents. Let’s face something fundamental about a presidential election. In recent surveys only 26% of Americans could name all three branches of government. Ten percent believe that Congress has the power to outlaw atheism because America is one nation under God. We’re generally a nation of disinterested idiots, something that hasn’t been helped by a declining investment in our educational system. This isn’t new. In 1971 I was the only student in a social studies class who could point to Vietnam on a map, desipite half the class having the potential to be shipped there to fight after graduation. Americans are busy and sitting around cafes discussing the latest books on philosophy is not in our general makeup.
Clinton was married to a political genius, a charismatic man who could get girls to come to his house in high school just to watch him complete crossword puzzles. She lost the 2008 primaries to another charismatic candidate. Despite her close association with both of them, Clinton never developed the ability to create an emotional message that would satisfy an electorate’s fears or hopes. She figured that she could dazzle voters — voters from a population in which 31% couldn’t name ANY of the branches of government — with keen statistics, perhaps while dropping a few emotional messages into her speeches. These speeches, according to Shattered, went through the hands of mind-boggling committees of friends and campaign staff before Clinton felt comfortable.
The book tells an important story by example rather than in words. Even as she wrote the book, Clinton could not get her mind around the fact that she had a campaign devoid of excitement, hope, or answers to emotional concerns about day-to-day life. Clinton lacked “it”, and derides Sanders for having “it” with ideas that couldn’t be paid for. It’s sad to say about someone I admired and for whom I voted that it’s probably best that this was her last campaign.