This book has been causing a sensation, as many people have eagerly awaited the first look inside Hillary Clinton’s doomed presidential campaign. Like other Dems, I’ve gone through my own stages of grief, which have passed from shock, to sadness, to a somewhat guilty anger toward Hillary. It seems that this campaign did not have to be lost, and in fact could have easily been won if it had been managed a little more effectively, so it’s hard not to blame her — even to put the blame squarely on her shoulders — despite Comey, Russia, Wikileaks, and everything else bad that happened.
So I was really looking forward to this book, not just because I read books on politics the way other people read mysteries or romance novels (I’m not a wonk, just love to read about politics), but because I really wanted to know if she was at fault, how much, and in what ways.
“As it turns out, the chaos was far worse than anyone had imagined.”
As it turns out, the chaos was far worse than anyone had imagined: according to Shattered, Hillary repeated many of the same mistakes she made in her 2008 primary campaign, even as she was determined not to. She never managed to articulate even to herself a clear reason why she wanted to run, but railed against her aides for not helping her fashion a central message. Maybe the greatest irony of all is not that she was a terrible manager of people, but the way in which she was a terrible manager of people – according to the authors, “she liked to set up rival power centers within and outside her operation, which created no shortage of confusion, angst, and infighting.” It’s not hard to think of Donald Trump here.
The authors are about as trustworthy as journalists can be. They have solid reputations, document their material carefully, and are coauthors of another book on Hillary, HRC, a sympathetic account of her tenure as secretary of state. For me, though, the strongest evidence of their integrity is their portrayal of Hillary. This book is a character study that is nuanced, complex, sympathetic, damning, fully fleshed out, and completely believable. She is neither villain nor victim, and largely because of that, the book helped me work my way through anger toward acceptance – even though it’s a strange, schizoid kind of acceptance in which the status quo inspires horror while every twist and turn fascinates. I suspect that describes the way a lot of people are coping with reality these days.
As much as I appreciated and benefited from the book, I do have a criticism, which for me looms large. I think the book scapegoats campaign manager Robby Mook unfairly. Mook does not benefit from the same nuanced treatment that Hillary does, but is instead portrayed as a blackguard and a villain. He is a self-aggrandizing, sneaky, inept player in the drama, despised by Leon Panetta and by unnamed others in the campaign. The authors actually call him a “paid political assassin,” presumably because he “neutralized” (their word) Adam Parkhomenko, the ringleader of Ready for Hillary, a “scrappy grassroots super PAC.” The dynamic between the two men, as the authors see it, is typified in the title of Chapter 2, “The Mercenaries and the Missionaries.” Read: Robby Mook political assassin, neutralizer, and mercenary. What can justify such blatant, one-dimensional analysis?
Many people disappointed with the campaign have been more than ready to blame Robby Mook for all, if not a good part, of it. But if Allen and Parnes’ thesis is sincere – that Hillary Clinton is the architect of her own destruction – their demonization of Mook makes no sense. Truly, it is hard to imagine Mook ever finding steady work again after this character assassination. He may already have been unemployable, but in my opinion the authors have done him a great, gratuitous disservice. Long after I’ve put the book down, this is the thing that still haunts me about it.