Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Book Review: WHAT HAPPENED by Hillary Rodham Clinton

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't vote for Ms. Clinton. (I didn't vote for President Trump, either, but that's a whole other blog post.) Still, when I saw that she was writing a memoir about the campaign, I knew I wanted to read it. I'm a political news junkie, so I gobble up campaigns like I gobble up Thanksgiving dinner. Also, like so many pollsters, journalists, and outside observers, I was completely flabbergasted by the election's results.

What I Liked

I went into the read expecting it to be about the behind-the-scenes drama that must be part of a campaign, and for the most part, it was. But it was also about Ms. Clinton's day-to-day life now. And her early years as a lawyer and an activist. And her mother's truly inspiring life story. The truth is, I wish I'd had access to this book BEFORE the general election, because it definitely reshaped my opinion of one of this generation's most prominent political figures.

Though I like to think of myself as a fairly nonjudgmental person, I've come to multiple conclusions about Ms. Clinton's life that probably aren't accurate. For instance, I've always assumed--and I'm embarrassed to admit it--that President and Ms. Clinton's marriage is a marriage of convenience, political gain, and mutual tolerance. I've also assumed that they only had one child because they didn't really like each other. And yet the text is sprinkled with references to their relationship that overwhelmingly paint a picture of affection and respect, and she also alludes to her struggle to conceive multiple times.

Oh, man, can I relate to THAT.

Do I now agree with all of Ms. Clinton's views? Well, no. Am I interested in reading Donna Brazile's just-released book about Ms. Clinton's alleged takeover of the DNC? You bet. But I feel like I relate to her in a way I've never related to her before, and when you see pieces of yourself in another human being, it's harder to demonize them or think of them as other.

What I Wish There Had Been More/Less of

As I mentioned above, I soaked up the details of her life like a cactus soaks up water. (A few vignettes about her law career literally made me laugh out loud.) I wish she'd spent more time on those early experiences; I especially wish she'd spent more on her struggle to conceive. There are SO MANY WOMEN who are grappling or have grappled with infertility, and I think we need to talk more about these struggles, not less. Other women need to know that this is a far-reaching issue that will likely touch them in some way and that infertility isn't something to be ashamed of.

Also, given that she spent a justifiable whole chapter on Russia's meddling in the election, I was surprised she didn't mention Mitt Romney's 2012 quote. Do you remember when, in a primary debate (and again in a debate that fall), Mr. Romney labeled Russia "our biggest geopolitical threat" and basically got laughed off the stage? Doesn't it turn out that he was right? That was a huge moment in the 2012 election cycle, and given that she referenced previous elections and candidates on more than one occasion (including Mr. Romney in several other situations), I was surprised she left that out.

Finally, the e-mails. Yes, they were a huge deal--she quotes multiple statistics that only go to show how over-hyped they were--and yes, they probably had an impact on the outcome of the race. But there are only so many times you can rattle a dead man's bones. While I was interested to hear her take on how those e-mails were covered, she brought them up so often that the force of her argument was lost. (Also, you can make statistics say almost anything you want, so it would have been great if she'd included several conflicting statistics and accompanying analysis.)

Long blog post short: whether you voted for Ms. Clinton, President Trump, or Mickey Mouse, I think this book is worth a read, if for no other reason than that we believe in giving everyone, winners and losers alike, a voice.