“What’s to be done with Hillary Clinton, the woman who won’t go away?” began a recent piece in the New York Times. A recent Chicago Tribune op-ed was headlined, “Hillary: How can we miss you when you won’t go away?” The New York Post proclaimed, “She still doesn’t get it.” The gall of her, the sheer and utter gall, the newspapers seem to say. She should just slink back to her mansion in Chappaqua and stay there. She has no business writing a book.
I’d argue the opposite. I think the first woman candidate for President, the one who won the popular vote, has every right to offer her own take on the election. But bear in mind that many — if not all — of the people tearing down Clinton and her new memoir, What Happened, haven’t actually read it. Bear in mind, too, that few — if any — of these same people called out Bernie Sanders for writing his own campaign memoir, one that dropped just days post-election. No, there’s some sort of special virulence reserved for Clinton. And she gets it. In fact, she spends much of What Happened parsing that very question. Not that she arrives at a neat and easy answer. Sexism plays a big part, she believes, as do the partisan investigations she’s been drawn into: Whitewater, Benghazi, emails. There’s also her own stubbornness: “I’ve made mistakes, been defensive about them, stubbornly resisted apologizing. But so have most men in politics. (In fact, one of them just became President….)”
This is a campaign memoir. Clinton is upset about a lot of things (Jim Comey, the New York Times, Matt Lauer — the list is a long one), but she does not lay the blame for her defeat on them. For that, she takes full responsibility, beginning with the traditional way she ran her campaign: “I was giving speeches laying out how to resolve the country’s problems. He was ranting on Twitter.” She’s blunt about other missteps, like the ones she made in coal country and like her “basket of deplorables” remark.
There are parts of this book — like the opener, for example, which is set at Trump’s inauguration — that soar. Other chapters are not quite so successful. There’s one that’s basically a long list of everyone who worked on her campaign (the kind of stuff that should’ve been relegated to the acknowledgements). Sometimes her inner policy wonk gets a bit carried away. And other times her simmering anger comes boiling to the top and she’ll make a cutting remark about the President, effectively undercutting whatever point she’s making.
Her detractors will dismiss What Happened as a laundry list of grievances. They’re wrong. This is an important book, and anyone who’s worried by what happened last November 8 should pick it up. B