Hillary's Character

After reading her book, “What Happened”, I like Hillary less well than I did before I read the book. I know she is letting her hair down, and someone may not be at their most attractive when they do that, but the character she reveals is not all that admirable, for all that she claims that her’s is. Maybe it is just that she is not a gifted writer and so not used to trying to craft insights into a situation rather than relate platitudes so as to sum up a feeling that is more complex than that or else provide an analysis somewhat more worthy than is a two page policy memo at the White House. She is not good at supplying a rumination on the meaning of it all, and that is true of most politicians when they turn to writing, barring such exceptional people as Churchill, who deserved his Nobel Prize for Literature, and Obama, who may not have deserved his Nobel Prize for Peace. Of course, I still would have voted for Clinton to be President. I think she would have been a steady hand at the wheel, right on most issues, though wrong on some, such as feminism and education, and her opponent was likely to become the worst President in American history (he hasn’t started a war yet, but he has been demeaning and besmirching the United States for nine months now), but I do not hold her solely or even largely accountable for her defeat, as some of her detractors do, they continuing to underestimate the ability of the very unqualified Donald Trump to lather up a crowd and get voters to act on the basis of their anger rather than their interests. I blame instead those people who voted for Trump, they fully knowing what he was like because he did not hide what he was. You got what you voted for. So I will take stock of Hillary, and I know she has heard far worse.

Hillary goes out of her way, from the first chapter on, to portray herself as an ordinary human being. She likes to give her tot grandchildren their baths and read them stories before bed. She likes to sleep in her own bed whenever she can. She likes to have coffee in the morning with her husband and is sure to give him a good night call when she is on the road. She wishes she could dress in more casual clothes and spend less time in the hairdresser’s chair. She says all of this so as to assure people that it stings when she is insulted but that she has developed a thick skin after all these years in politics and so is not easily rattled by vicious remarks. She is reminding people of what my father said about famous people: they put on their pants one leg at a time. Except that my father was being sarcastic so as to undercut celebrities, while Hillary is appealing for our support against her adversaries.

Why is she whining? Her life has by no means been ordinary, even if she has the same private concerns as everyone else. She has been a national figure ever since she got a cover story in the New York Times Magazine when she delivered a graduation address at Wellesley. Even that famous overachiever, Barack Obama, had to wait until he was the first black President of the Harvard Law Review to get his first cover story in that same magazine. She went down to Washington and served as staff on the Watergate Committee and worked with Marian Wright Edelman and then took a detour to Arkansas to devote herself to her husband’s political career before returning, with him, to the political spotlight, and she has been there ever since, front page news, through the thick of the fight for healthcare to the very thin of the Monica debacle and on to being Secretary of State, where she did indeed master the world of diplomacy well enough to explain, on any number of occasions, what were its subtle resources and influences. It is her public career that is of moment, not the way her bedroom is decorated, which is not something I think a male with a comparable career would ever think to describe.

Which brings us to a central issue of this book, which is feminism, which Hillary claims is, in retrospect, what made her career distinctive, her version of the log cabin story familiar from pre-Civil War politics, or the war hero story that was told about both John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush. She was a first in so many ways, such as a female partner at the prestigious Rose Law Firm in Arkansas. They, of course, may have thought themselves fortunate to have a Yale Law School graduate who happened to be married to the Governor in their stable. She came into the White House on her husband’s coat tails. Really, she didn’t become her own person until she became a Senator, and by then being a female Senator was not so rare. So her’s is not the career of a feminist but someone who profited by feminism, and yet she insists that those are the issues that deep down motivate her. Her kinship with women is profound. She feels more comfortable with female friends than with male friends. She thinks that women are more sensible in their political judgments and willingness to compromise than are men. The future belongs to women.

Her analysis of feminism, which she offers in a bit of detail in a book not overly given to the careful articulation of arguments, is, however, very naive. She distinguishes between sexism, by which she means the inadvertent prejudices of men against women, and outright misogyny, by which she means anger against women. But both of these are species of prejudice and not matters of discrimination, which is the overt application of different standards for men and women. By explaining discrimination as the result of prejudice, she allows herself to focus on the slights women feel at being overlooked or unappreciated, when what the Civil Rights Movement taught was that undercutting overt discrimination in jobs and eating establishments would lead to a lessening of prejudice, and that is in fact what happened with blacks, and is also happening with women. More women in the workplace means more respect for women, and  women arrived in the workplace because the two paycheck family is now a necessity rather than a second income available for luxury purchases. So I don’t trust Hillary on social policy analysis even if I agree with her programs for equal pay and reproductive rights, just as I don’t trust her platitudes about education, her not confronting the fact that we have never found a way since Brown v. Board of Education to bring the performance of black and brown students up to or anywhere near the performance of white and Asian students. Sure, all kids can learn. The question is how much they can learn and how long it takes them to learn it.

On the other hand, Hillary is right on when she talks about something she knows about, which is the nuts and bolts of the Presidential campaign. She is right to say that James Comey twice stuck in the knife, first by offering his opinion that she had been “reckless” when he announced that he was not indicting her, a bit of editorializing that Justice Department guidelines frown upon, a prosecutor supposed to announce his decision and leave it at that, and, second, when he announced that he was reopening the email inquiry just eleven days before the election without also announcing, in all fairness, that he was also investigating the Trump campaign for its involvements with the Russians. She is right to attack the media for having been unfair in their coverage of her, emphasizing the emails, when there was nothing there, no violation of law nor any compromise of American national security. I remember when Matt Lauer interviewed her on a program that billed itself on having to do with being the Commander in Chief and spent half of his half hour with her asking her about the emails and not how she would handle a foreign crisis, something about which she could show a considerable amount of expertise. I think Hillary should have shed her veneer of politeness and asked Matt why he was so persistent in asking about something when there was nothing there and why he hadn’t done his homework and found that out? It was another missed opportunity, just like the one where she laments in the book that she could well have turned on Donald Trump stalking her in the second debate and told the creep to back off. That also would have won her some votes, including those of women who had also been menaced by men but who did not have the fortitude to talk back to them. Where was your feminism at those moments, Hillary? You were too self-effacing, not nearly bold enough, and that cost you the Presidency, much to the country’s loss.

I should add, however, that a Hillary Presidency would have been no easy ride. The Republicans regarded neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama as legitimate Presidents, and they would have treated her no differently. That is just their nature as Republicans. They would have opposed her every proposal simply because she had proposed it. They would make up charges so as to portray her as the archvillain. If they controlled Congress, she would have been embroiled in constant investigation, which would have been very wearing, even if she faced them down as well as she did in her appearance before the committee investigating Benghazi. But all of that is an alternative history. I feel sorry for your loss, Hillary, but what is is what is.