The in­dig­ni­ties of run­ning (and re­port­ing) while fe­male

In ‘What Hap­pened,’ Hil­lary Clin­ton as­sesses her de­feat by a shame­less sex­ist

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Book re­view by David Weigel

Hil­lary Clin­ton was sur­rounded by women the mo­ment she lost the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. “Things had been go­ing too well for too long” when, on the morn­ing of Oct. 28, her spokes­woman Jen­nifer Palmieri ap­proached her and long­time aide Huma Abe­din and said two words: Jim Comey. “I im­me­di­ately knew it was bad,” Clin­ton writes in her mem­oir “What Hap­pened.” There was a mo­ment of mourn­ful sis­ter­hood as Abe­din learned that the FBI was prob­ing her hus­band An­thony Weiner’s com­puter, en­sur­ing that the fi­nal week of the cam­paign was go­ing to be about Clin­ton’s email server. “This man is go­ing to be the death of me,” Abe­din said of Weiner. Clin­ton gave her a hug.

Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, the first fe­male pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee of a ma­jor party — de­feated by a man whom even Repub­li­cans called a sex­ist — is, as she points out in the book, the fre­quent an­swer when Gallup asks who is “the most ad­mired woman in Amer­ica.” None­the­less, she was un­able to break the pres­i­den­tial glass ceil­ing, and her de­feat was gen­uinely trau­ma­tiz­ing for mil­lions of women. Locked out of the White House, she of­fers sol­i­dar­ity with Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren (D-Mass.) and other women who are called shrill or un­lik­able be­cause they want to climb the same lad­der as men. “I wish so badly we were a coun­try where a can­di­date who said, ‘My story is the story of a life shaped by and de­voted to the move­ment for women’s lib­er­a­tion’ would be cheered, not jeered,” she writes. “But that’s not who we are.” Her book fi­nally takes on di­rectly what has been mut­tered for years: that Clin­ton was of­ten treated poorly sim­ply be­cause she was a woman.

It will be up to some other woman to carry on the bat­tle, Clin­ton writes. She’s done with pol­i­tics. Much of “What Hap­pened” is a med­i­ta­tion on pow­er­ful women, a test run for the speeches Clin­ton will give for the rest of her life. “I’ve seen women CEOs serve cof­fee at meet­ings,” she writes, “women heads of state walk tis­sues over to a sneez­ing staffer.”

But still, Clin­ton can­not let that Comey mo­ment go. She quotes Fox News clips, le­gal anal­y­sis and con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony to con­clude that she was

WHAT HAP­PENED By Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton. Si­mon & Schus­ter. 494 pp. $30

wronged. She takes sub­tle plea­sure in Comey be­ing fired by Pres­i­dent Trump six months later. She apol­o­gizes to the reader, who has to re­live all of this. “It wasn’t healthy or pro­duc­tive,” she writes, “to dwell on the ways I felt I’d been shiv­ved.”

It’s a per­fect word, “shiv­ved.” The Hil­lary Clin­ton of this bit­ter mem­oir re­sem­bles the shrunken, beaten Richard Nixon who told David Frost that he gave his en­e­mies a sword and “they twisted it with rel­ish.” Again and again she blames her­self for los­ing, apol­o­giz­ing for her “dumb” email man­age­ment, for giv­ing paid speeches to banks, for say­ing she would put coal min­ers “out of busi­ness.” She veers be­tween re­gret and right­eous anger, some­times in the same para­graph.

“I re­gret hand­ing Trump a po­lit­i­cal gift with my ‘de­plorables’ com­ment,” she writes. Then she lays out re­search on voter bi­ases from the Univer­sity of Chicago and the Voter Study Group. Data amassed, Clin­ton clar­i­fies: “Too many of Trump’s core sup­port­ers do hold views that I find — there’s no other word for it — de­plorable.”

“What Hap­pened” is a raw and brac­ing book, a guide to our po­lit­i­cal arena. Clin­ton, who came within less than 100,000 votes of the White House, re­calls how friends urged her to take Xanax (she de­clined), how there “are times when all I want to do is scream into a pil­low” and how she had to re­strain her­self from snap­ping at a young woman who told her af­ter the elec­tion that she didn’t vote: “Now you want me to make you feel bet­ter?”

Democrats who once begged her to run for pres­i­dent now squirm when they’re asked about her. Clin­ton no longer cares; ex­iled to her home in Chap­paqua, N.Y., she is lib­er­ated from the pub­lic eye and dis­mis­sive of the me­dia, which, in her view, main­tains one rule­book for ev­ery other can­di­date and a Ne­cro­nomi­con for her.

“Why am I seen as such a di­vi­sive fig­ure and, say, Joe Bi­den and John Kerry aren’t?” she asks. “They’ve cast votes of all kinds, in­clud­ing some they re­gret, just like me? What makes me such a light­ning rod for fury? I’m re­ally ask­ing. I’m at a loss.”

There has never been a can­di­date mem­oir like this, but there has never been a de­feated con­tender like Clin­ton. Since at least 1999, when she leapt into the race for an open Se­nate seat in New York, the idea of a se­cond Pres­i­dent Clin­ton had loomed in our na­tional con­scious­ness. In 2004, su­per­fans tried to draft her into the pres­i­den­tial con­test; in 2011, poll­ster Pat Cad­dell ar­gued that “the Hil­lary mo­ment” had come and that Clin­ton could “step above par­ti­san pol­i­tics” if Pres­i­dent Barack Obama stepped aside. It didn’t hap­pen.

The book is some­times corny, with quotes from “Hamil­ton” and de­tails about the hot sauce she car­ries every­where (Ninja Squir­rel Sriracha), sug­gest­ing that the Clin­ton who told young vot­ers to “Poke­mon Go to the polls” re­ally meant it. The apho­rism “What does not kill us makes us stronger” is cred­ited to both Friedrich Ni­et­zsche and Kelly Clark­son. It is, per­haps, the only po­lit­i­cal mem­oir that takes time to thank Bey­oncé for her sup­port.

That ap­proach to pol­i­tics is part of “what hap­pened.” The cat­er­waul­ing about Clin­ton’s loss ba­si­cally takes two forms: whether one event or gaffe could have re­versed the elec­tion, and whether an­other can­di­date would have let the elec­tion even get close.

Clin­ton is con­vinc­ing on the first point, cit­ing Trump’s own strate­gists about how the elec­tion was lost be­fore the Comey let­ter. She is all over the map on the se­cond. It’s dis­hon­est and un­fair, she writes, to sug­gest that she ran a my-turn cam­paign that ig­nored eco­nomic is­sues.

She in­sists that the press, which she never has to deal with again, is to blame for that im­pres­sion. It “of­ten seemed bored” by the round­tables she held with vot­ers, which she used “to guide the poli­cies al­ready be­ing ham­mered out back in our Brook­lyn head­quar­ters.” Clin­ton charges that cov­er­age of her cam­paign was dom­i­nated by her emails; cov­er­age of Trump’s, in­clud­ing start-to-fin­ish live shots of his ral­lies, fo­cused on the is­sues.

She is eas­ier on Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.), whom she cred­its for “un­der­stand­ing the po­lit­i­cal power of big, bold ideas,” than on Bi­den, who “cam­paigned for me all over the Mid­west” and then claimed that Democrats never talked about his is­sues.

In a point-by-point de­bunk­ing of the idea that she ne­glected the Mid­west, Clin­ton chides the press for ig­nor­ing the sub­stance of the Rust Belt tour that fol­lowed the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion. “The very same week that Tim [Kaine] and I were driv­ing around Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio, Don­ald Trump was pick­ing a high-pro­file fight with the Khans, the grieving Gold Star par­ents,” she writes. “That sucked up all the oxy­gen in the me­dia. . . . But it was also part of a pat­tern that over the long-term en­sured that my eco­nomic mes­sage never got out and let Trump con­trol the tempo of the race.”

The saga of the Khan fam­ily — Mus­lims in Char­lottesville whose son had joined the Army and died in Iraq — was com­pelling and harm­ful to Trump in the short term. It was also pre­cip­i­tated by the Clin­ton cam­paign. Her team had de­cided to bring the Khans on­stage and el­e­vate their is­sue; it de­lighted when Trump took the bait, burn­ing up sev­eral news cy­cles. Two weeks be­fore the elec­tion, it rolled out a 60-se­cond ad in which Khizr Khan watched Trump on tele­vi­sion and wept at the mem­ory of his son.

Her cam­paign’s mes­sag­ing, Clin­ton ar­gues, would have locked up the elec­tion had Comey not in­ter­vened and sent sub­ur­ban mod­er­ates scram­bling. But she made a choice with that mes­sag­ing. She did talk about jobs, but un­til the last mo­ments of the cam­paign, she and most Democrats were con­vinced that Trump was less vul­ner­a­ble on tra­di­tional is­sues than on his fre­quent, in­sult­ing gaffes.

Clin­ton has more in com­mon with San­ders than the book lets on. Both of them wanted to run sub­stan­tive cam­paigns. Both of them re­sented a me­dia that Trump seemed to un­der­stand in­tu­itively, even as it was re­port­ing on how this or that mis­take was, fi­nally, the end for him. Clin­ton spends two pages on the con­cept of a shared na­tional re­source fund, an idea barely dis­cussed dur­ing the cam­paign — “we would call it Alaska for Amer­ica,” a ref­er­ence to that state’s prac­tice of cut­ting checks to res­i­dents from the oil in­dus­try’s prof­its. The reader knows that this is dull; the reader, like Clin­ton, re­lies on me­dia that pri­or­i­tizes scan­dal and nar­ra­tive over news. Trump, in the cam­paign and in power, never let go of the nar­ra­tive; Clin­ton could never get her hands around it.

She ad­mits that af­ter her loss she didn’t want to go to the in­au­gu­ra­tion un­til Ge­orge W. Bush and Jimmy Carter did. She ar­rived, and set­tled scores. Amid the cer­e­mony, she ran into in­com­ing In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, who, as a con­gress­man from Mon­tana, had called her “the An­tichrist.” Now she watched him blanch as she quoted the in­sult back to him.

“One thing I’ve learned over the years is how easy it is for some peo­ple to say hor­ri­ble things about me when I’m not around,” she writes, “but how hard it is for them to look me in the eye and say it to my face.”

“Why am I seen as such a di­vi­sive fig­ure? . . . What makes me such a light­ning rod for fury? I’m re­ally ask­ing. I’m at a loss.” Hil­lary Clin­ton, in “What Hap­pened”


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