June 10 2014
I have made an easy choice: I am not going to read Hard Choices. But reading about Hard Choices—well, that’s something else.
While I gladly leave this “subtle, finely calibrated work” in the capable hands of New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, I can’t resist the reviews.
As Seth Mandel points out this morning at Commentary the book was produced with “an assist” from Hillary Clinton’s “book team.” So presumably it is not going to give ol’ Ulysses Grant, author of possibly the greatest political memoir in U.S. history, a run for the money. Unless, of course, Hillary’s “book team” is more literary than I suspect.
Nobody doubts that it is a campaign document and its primary purpose will be to deflect unpleasant questions: “I’ve already addressed Benghazi in my book, and, if other people want to politicize this national tragedy, they’ll have to do it without me.”
I sort of feel that way about the book—the reviewers will have to do it without me. But here is a round-up of some of the early reviews and comments:
In a post headlined “Clinton’s Task: Spin the Unspinnable,” Mandel writes:
After an undistinguished and at times dismal term as secretary of state, the book had two basic objectives: show Clinton to have accomplished something–anything really; and dispel the image Clinton cultivated of using the prestigious perch as an Instagram-based travelogue. Readers of the Times review will encounter, early on, the following sentence: “The book itself, however, turns out to be a subtle, finely calibrated work that provides a portrait of the former secretary of state and former first lady as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”
This sounds promising. A few paragraphs later, however, they will be told: “For readers who are less policy-oriented, there are personal tidbits strewn lightly throughout, like small chocolate Easter eggs.” It is unthinkable that a great many readers will press on past that sentence, instead reaching for the ginger ale to calm the rising tide of nausea that accompanies particularly greasy Clinton-worship. For those who couldn’t tough it out, spoiler alert: there are precisely zero examples in the review of anything that even approaches portraying Hillary “as a heavy-duty policy wonk.”
In “Hillary by the Book,” Wall Street Journal reviewer Bret Stephens opines that the Mrs. Clinton’s book “invites us to forget her record:”
However one feels about Mrs. Clinton, she was the least consequential secretary of state since William Rogers warmed the seat in the early years of the Nixon administration. This is mainly the fault of the president for whom Mrs. Clinton worked, and of the White House hacks who had the larger hand in setting the tone and shape of foreign policy. Most everyone knows this, and most everyone doesn't want to admit it. So in place of a record we have a book.
Then again, Mrs. Clinton has, prospectively, the most consequential future of any secretary since James Buchanan (the last of her predecessors to become president). How does she secure her ambition?
There is a Platonic dialogue, the "Phaedrus," which observes that the surest way to forget is to write it down. Preferably in minute detail, at extravagant length. If there's a book you can consult, no need to remember it for yourself. "You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding," warns Socrates, "and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom."
Mrs. Clinton has produced a book that asks us to forget her tenure as secretary of state. It's going to be a blockbuster.
Speaking of the number of bad reviews, Business Insider reviewer Colin Campbell observes:
But it's not clear if pleasing reviewers was a priority for Clinton, who still claims to be undecided about a future run for president. Allen suggested this may have been a case where no publicity was bad publicity and Clinton may have mainly been concerned with getting a high volume of press for the collection of bland statements.
"TRUTH BOMB 2," [Politico’s Mike] Allen wrote. "It probably won't matter. Reporters all raced to get pieces of the book first, the rollout has been masterful, and Americans will see Secretary Clinton at her most likable."
Interestingly, Clinton did not come across as likeable in an interview pegged to the book with ABC’s Diane Sawyer. This book is probably hard to read so I commend those who have and hope (but don’t expect once she is the Democratic nominee) that journalists will ask her hard questions, even as she (fatuously) will maintain that she has answered them in this “book.”