For those who voted for Hillary Clinton – we Democrats, liberals, progressives and feminists – this is a hard book to talk about. The loss, of course, was hard to bear – unexpected, catastrophic – and I would still, personally, rather be thinking about almost anything other than this defeat. But I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book, unhappy with what Hillary has said publicly since the election, and curious, hopeful, that – given the chance to gain distance and to organize her thoughts into writing – she could provide some explanation, some closure, for the rest of us as she tries to reach closure for herself.
I appreciate the effort she has made here. I’m pleased at the thoroughness of her thinking, the engaging style, the warm, lofty sentiments, the careful parsing of strategy and data. But I’m left with feelings just as mixed, just as guilt-ridden and unsatisfactory, as ever. I do not believe she should run for president again. She claims she has no intention of doing so – that she plans on remaining politically engaged, but in a different kind of role – and perhaps that’s true, or perhaps at least she means it to be true in the moment. But the fact is, if she were thinking of running again, she couldn’t have written a book more suited to the purpose of rehabilitation and resurrection.
“If she were thinking of running again, she couldn’t have written a book more suited to the purpose of rehabilitation and resurrection.”
She writes eloquently about her family – husband, daughter, grandkids, mother – and about how home is an anchor for her and a source of grace and replenishment. She reviews her personal and political accomplishments in chapters full of feeling and nostalgia – college days, early career in child welfare, first lady, senator, secretary of state. In what is one of the most interesting parts of the book, she describes what it was like to run for president, her thoughts during the primary and presidential campaigns. She takes steady, cathartic aim at her enemies – principally, of course, at Donald Trump – and her criticisms are dead-on and devastating.
But she still, clearly, has a hard time accepting responsibility for her loss, and instead seems to try every avenue available to deflect the blame elsewhere. She writes exhaustively and convincingly about how Russia has hacked and muscled its way into the U.S. political process, and how her campaign was the first to understand the seriousness of the problem and to sound the warning – which fell on deaf ears until the election was over. (If you think you know all about the extent and nature of the Russia problem, read this book and be afraid.)
She talks about the clear statistical evidence that James Comey’s interference had a direct impact on the vote. She talks about how misogyny played a role in her defeat, and though many people don’t want to hear about it – she sounds a little too whiny, and the subject makes people uncomfortable – it’s hard not to believe she has an abundantly obvious point. It’s also hard not to feel deeply and genuinely sorry for her, and to harbor an almost overwhelming anger at the forces arrayed against her in such an unfair way.
Yet – as often as she writes sentences like “I take responsibility” and “I felt that I had let everyone down, because I had” (and she makes this point a number of times in a number of different ways), she always manages to work her way around the terrible reality of it all. She insists that the criticism she didn’t visit Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is false, and points to the number of staffers she had on the ground in those states. But why doesn’t she address the ground game there, and tell us if she accepted the idea she had already lost the white working class, as many on her staff – contradicting her own husband’s advice – tried to convince her?
“If you think you know all about the extent and nature of the Russia problem, read this book and be afraid.”
She admits she may not have been able to articulate a clear message, but complains that the onslaught of Russia’s cyberattacks, and the unfairness of the media, robbed her of her voice. She displays clear resentment toward people who later expressed regret at failing to vote, but does not address why her campaign failed to communicate the urgency of the fight. All of us, after all – including Hillary Clinton – never really believed Donald Trump had a chance to win. Many surely stayed home on election day in an uninspired state of complacency.
Nevertheless – guilt does rear its ugly head. I know full well what she was up against, but still retain little mercy – not enough, anyway, to want to see her run again. To prepare for this review, I returned to the first review I wrote on this blog five months ago. That book, Shattered, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, dealt Hillary its own harsh blow, with a merciless assessment of how she botched the run. Shattered was another book I eagerly awaited, and I pretty much swallowed whole its analysis of her failure and, for that matter, still do: her poor management skills, her tone-deafness, her inability to avoid the same errors she made in 2008.
I reviewed the book favorably, welcoming its conclusions, objecting only to its skewering of her campaign manager, Robby Mook. My analysis was based wholly upon the reputation of the authors and a close reading of the text. Now, my remarks seem cringingly lopsided, and I wish I could write the darn thing over. If I did, I would certainly show more compassion for Hillary Clinton, a remarkable woman who has served her country so admirably and courageously, who has stood for all the right causes, for so many years. I would write more about my feelings in that review, less about the cold, dry parsing of an argument.
Yet that’s the dilemma for many of us who voted for Hillary and, yes, still love her: She had her chance. She should not run again. This I believe – yet already I’ve signed up for her next project (check out onwardtogether.org, hillaryclinton.com, and buy this book). Already the beautiful chapters win. Somehow she manages to radiate renewed hope, inspire in a brand-new way – and in this world, such sentiments are not to be taken lightly.