Jonah Goldberg: Reading between the lines of Clinton's 'Hard Choices'
HILLARY CLINTON’S State Department memoir, “Hard Choices,” has just come out, and who among us can contain their excitement?
Not Mike Allen, author of the incestuously insider Politico column “Playbook.”
In Monday’s installment, he began, “Welcome to Hillary Week!”
But the exclamation point was ironic, for Allen immediately dropped what he calls a “truth bomb”: “‘Hard Choices’ is a newsless snore, written so carefully not to offend that it will fuel the notion that politics infuses every part of her life. In this book, like in ‘The Lego Movie’ theme song, everyone is awesome!”
Such truth bombs seem to be going off everywhere. In Slate magazine (hardly an anti-Clinton fever swamp), John Dickerson declares that “Clinton’s account is the low-salt, low-fat, low-calorie offering with vanilla pudding as the dessert. She goes on at great length, but not great depth.”
“It feels like a lively textbook,” Dickerson adds, presumably to soften the blow.
The Washington Post ran an item on how much the book weighs: 2.4 pounds.
Have some sympathy for Clinton. She is an accomplished woman, but writing an exciting book about her unremarkable tenure as Secretary of State would be hard enough. Doing so without throwing the President under the bus and telling other tales out of school is simply impossible.
This is because Clinton is not an exciting person. Yes, many people are excited about her, favorably and unfavorably. Yes, she is at the center of many hot cultural and political controversies. But beneath all that, she’s a remarkably dull figure.
It’s like Allen’s ironic exclamation point. She’s exciting because of the stuff that follows her around, and to the extent she is interesting at all, it is to see how she tries to manipulate her image to her benefit.
Clinton may be President one day, but she’s already presidential in one sense: Her statements are never really taken at face value. Every utterance is examined for its ironic content and parsed like the rough draft of ad copy. What will people take away from this? What message is she sending to her fans? What spin is she offering to the media? What bait is she giving her enemies? How true is it?
The reason for this is that, unlike her husband, she’s not very good at faking sincerity.
She told People magazine that she wrote the book herself by hand on paper, “in my little old Chappaqua farmhouse, in the attic where I hang out.”
No doubt there’s some truth to that, but it’s been widely reported that her former aide, Ted Widmer, did the “heavy lifting” as her ghostwriter.
In fairness, politicians often — usually, in fact — employ ghostwriters. (That’s what my wife does for a living.) But they hate admitting it, which is why Clinton famously refused to acknowledge Barbara Feinman, the ghostwriter of her book “It Takes a Village.”
More interesting is the line about the Chappaqua farmhouse, which the Clintons bought in 1999 for $1.7 million, in part to establish Clinton’s residence for her carpetbagging Senate run in New York. In her first Hillary Week interview, Clinton told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that those were rough times for the Clintons. “We came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt,” she explained. She left out that they landed the house by having chief Clinton fundraiser (and current Virginia governor) Terry McAuliffe secure the loan.
“We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages for houses [note the plural], for Chelsea’s education ... it was not easy.” She went on to explain how her husband “worked really hard” to pay off all of their debts.
Yes, it must have been a struggle for the Clintons to amass a reported fortune of more than $100 million. No wonder they worried that they might not be able to cover Chelsea’s tuition.
I have no idea whether Clinton’s remarks were inadvertently laced with sincerity. But you can be sure her explanation was intended to sell herself as the kind of person who knows what it’s like to make ends meet and worry about the high cost of college.
And it’s because she’s so bad at these things that Hillary Week promises to be so entertaining.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online.