Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Truth About Hillary

The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go To Become President by Edward Klein

Klein was a NYTimes Magazine editor, with excellent liberal credentials. He starts the book by talking about Monica, providing more evidence for my contention that it is liberals who remain focused on the sex angle. Perhaps he has a point in starting a Hillary book there, though. His contention is that it was the Monica story which made the First Lady a presidential candidate, by softening her image with the “wounded wife” addition. Before that, her popularity among the general population was below 30%. Ironic, if true.

Hand #1: In the long run, as people no longer fear retribution from Hillary Clinton and are willing to speak for attribution, I suspect a great deal of this book will prove out. Klein is familiar with how to source and protect sources, and knows how the lack of proof and verifiability for his claims weakens them. In current form, what we are left with is more like a well-researched historical novel than like a history.

Hand #2: Or perhaps not. He may have just wanted to sell books and so was sloppy in his verification. He gives the impression that he is offering the maximum proof he can in the face of sources that need to remain anonymous, and that is certainly plausible. But it’s an impression, and whole sections may turn out to be misinterpretations or inaccurate.

Hand #1 Yet the incidents he relates do fit one of the most common narratives about Hillary, a narrative that surfaced in 1992 and has been confirmed rather than undermined by subsequent events. Controlling, ambitious, vengeful, corrupt, disingenuous – these have floated since she came on the national scene in 1992, and according to many reports, date back even farther.

Hand #2: We know how I feel about narratives.

For the record, I liked Hillary much better than Bill back in 1992. I believed them that they were New Democrats and thought she was the brains of their organization. I interpreted the aura of chill about her as a positive – she was no-nonsense and practical while her handsome and sloppy sentimental husband brought in the votes. And if she was a little strident, a little sharp – no problem. For this reason I am very unsympathetic to the idea that people don’t like Hillary because she is a strong woman. No, it’s more than that. I am contemptuous of that idea, because I know from my own experience that it was untrue for conservative Democrats and some Republicans in 1992 (Yes, children, there were many conservative Democrats as recently as 15 years ago – even 10 years ago). When a myth persists without evidence for years, always check if the opposite is true. Many of Hillary’s supporters like her because she is a (liberal) woman, but they don’t want to admit that. So they accuse you instead. Rubbish.

Back to Klein’s book. Despite my general assent that much of this will prove accurate, there is much to dislike about the book. Klein indulges in psychologising, guessing at Hillary’s motives and putative pathologies for why she acts the way she does. I hate that crap. We barely know our own motives, so our speculations about others are even more sensitive to invented narratives. We all do everything for mixed reasons – there is never just one. The most an outside observer can do is raise the possibility that a particular motive or pathology is in play, and give actual evidence for this. More frequently, observers put their energy into making the narrative tidy. Because most readers and listeners fall for this, I don’t see any of this changing soon.

Klein pretends to know what’s going on in Senator Clinton’s head a lot. I acknowledge that all his explanations sound plausible; none seems solid.

He also seems to gravitate toward the seedier details, especially sexual ones. Why go there so much? Why go there at all, in fact? Unless one can tie it pretty directly to behavior that will affect the country, why do we care? With the Clintons, it has seldom been so much what they have done but how they have covered it up: blocking Vince Foster’s office from the FBI investigation after his suicide, until they had emptied armloads of stuff out. Foster was not involved with national security issues – it was a raw dictatorial act worthy of a banana republic. So also with the 900 FBI files of political enemies. Lying to a grand jury. Stunning in their audacity.

With events like that all over the map, why be concerned about Gennifer Flowers? The only worry there is the type of threatening they did to try and get her to shut up. That’s the issue for the American people. Not affairs, not even lying about them, but threatening the helpless victims – that’s what needs to come front and center. Klein mentions these things, but they don’t get the play that the image questions do. There is too much about Hillary’s insecurity about her appearance and how the new stylists help; too much about how she treats the WH staff; too much about how many of her friends are lesbians. Just get off that.


terri said...

I have thought recently, despite what so many conservatives have said for so long about Hillary--that she wants power and is overly ambitious..plus lots of other things that are more a form of character assaination...--that it might not be such a terrible thing.

I have wondered if her desire to become president, and be successsful as the first female president, would help make her less liberal and more moderate.

Any thoughts about that?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I wrote about that two years ago and bumped last January. Maybe I'll bump it again just before the election. Summary: She will want to be re-elected, and so will be a weathervane. This will be more dangerous. See Jan 2007 on the sidebar

terri said...

ahh...I found it. I was reading your blog then. I didn't comment on that post.

Maybe my "recent" idea was a subconscious rehashing of yours...except without the dangerous for the country part. :-)