What really happened? What always happens: Politics, like life, is not fair. Nobody tells the whole truth. Everybody thinks they're right and excoriates everybody who doesn't agree with them. And the best we can do with this mess is try to listen to everybody with an open mind, make the best choices we can—knowing that none of them are perfect, and when we are in peril, choose whatever compromise most assures life.
I voted for Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries, and his book, Our Revolution, was the first I read about the election.
The second related book I read more recently, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, and it was like an infusion of sanity.
What Happened by Hillary Clinton feels like the third in a medicinal trilogy. It is healing to read a funny (the specifics of the phone and email stuff are laugh-out-loud funny!), articulate, sane person admit her flaws, take responsibility for most of them, introspectively process what happened, learn, and consider new policies and future actions in a more open way because of it.
I am amazed by reviews that say she blames everybody else for what happened. It simply isn't true. Yes, she's angry at plenty of people, but she mostly is analytical and takes full responsibility. For instance, for the bad choice to make speeches to big business. Also, she explains her alliances in order to raise funds—she doesn't say she did the right thing; she says it was necessary in today's environment and will go on being necessary until there is campaign finance law change. I get it. (And if anybody thinks the current cabinet billionaire cronies with zero experience in their departments, who are dismantling their offices and taking tax-payer-funded private jets for personal pleasure is a swamp-clearing, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.) She reports the many times she was pushed and rather than get as outraged as Bernie Sanders did, she did the female thing: "I remained polite, albeit exasperated, and I played the political game as it used to be, not as it would become. That was a mistake." She gets it. However, she does use this book to rehash what happened, offer different analyses, examining them all, and in some cases say what she wishes she would have done (used a government email) or said or not said; perhaps that feels like blaming to some readers. (To that, I would ask: Imagine a man responding as she is now doing in this book. Would you call that blaming? Or strong analysis and post mortem in order to learn? Rhetorical questions. I don't want to debate this review. And perhaps I am doing the girl thing by saying that. So be it. I don't like fighting and have a right to choose not to.)
Clinton says she wore her composure like a suit of armor. This is verbatim: "I wear my composure like a suit of armor, for better or worse. In some ways, it felt like I had been training for this latest feat of self-control for decades." And then she proceeds to explain how all that became her M.O. in what is essentially a first-person account of the historic and ongoing struggle for women's equal rights and humane treatment in the workplace. I was with her every step of the way. And I marvel that any woman who works would not understand the tightrope walking she describes to get the job done while also not triggering judgments and resentments that no man in similar circumstances faces.
The material about her daughter brought me to tears. And you don't have to be a mother to feel this—I'm not.
The section on emails, government classification of emails, press coverage of those two issues, and James Comey reads like a Kafka story. Both hilarious and scream-worthy: the Salem witch trials seen from a rational point of view. I changed my opinion about several things because I never understood this level of detail before! Who could? It takes a book, and it is so much easier to listen to sound bites or half-baked opinions about partial facts. I admit I was wrong on several counts. I'm sorry.
Her researched chronology about the Russia attack on not only our election but our psyches is a much needed call to arms. (The attack is ongoing and it remains shocking to me how blasé so many of us are about this, preferring our righteous anger to facts about what's inflating it.)
My one beef with Sanders's book (I bought the hardcover) was a lack of an index. The first part was story but the second part was pure education with no way to find it out of context. Clinton has a complete index at the end of her book (for me, a Kindle, with a careful explanation that the page numbers apply to the hard copy, but if I click them, I'll go to the correct place in the e-book). And there was way more personal story, blow-by-blow of the campaign, and a mind-numbing level of detail in the final analysis of why she lost. However there was far less than Sanders on evergreen issues (trade, health care, education, etc.) to mull over for the future. So together these books really work as a comprehensive source.
Identical to Sanders's book, there are endless references to all the people on Clinton's team and in her life who help and support her efforts. It sometimes got tiresome to read so many names, but it is honest crediting and derives from a generosity of spirit. Both Sanders and Clinton innately function with this spirit and therefore their accounts of their own histories and the histories of their campaigns are infused with gratitude. (Oh, how I miss this in our current politics.) And with all the details of people, policy thinking, and the process of politics, both books offer a valuable and complete historical record that one day may contribute to a bird's-eye-view understanding of what is going on.
Yes, there is pain and resentment—for instance, when Bernie Sanders moved from his position on national single-payer health insurance to one that accommodates improving ACA, which is what Clinton advocates. She seems to miss that he also moved the conversation to health care as a right (or what I prefer to call "infrastructure," because nobody is a "consumer" when they're deathly ill. There is no possibility of cost comparison or making sure that doctors are on your plan or that you happen to have had your heart attack in your own state. In my opinion, asking states to come up with policies is like telling drivers they must pay a toll every single time they change roads. We will all eventually need health care, the same as we need roads and bridges! End of tirade.) But I certainly understand her feelings. She is human, somebody disagreed with her, used it against her, and then came over to her way of thinking. I've gotten pissed when that's happened to me. (And in a later chapter, she does acknowledge the merits of influencing the overall health care conversation.)
As with Sanders's book, when I read her deep, personal involvement with people and the way she translated this into creating policy—using facts, research, history, science, whatever was necessary—her ability to expand big enough to hold all this feeling and information put me in a state of awe. But she feels a similar humility and awe in the face of all the people who share their stories with her. So we have a circle of awe and appreciation. (This is reminiscent of what I experienced when she was my senator during 9/11. How nice it was to have a real human being who voiced her admiration of all the welders who were first responders. I vividly recall her simple statement that she didn't know how to cut metal pipes and how grateful she was for their expertise and selfless work. She was one of us and she spoke for all of us. And I met that person again in this book.)
So even though I still don't agree with her on everything—I certainly take issue with her flippant denial of the fact that the DNC rigged the primary in her favor (the case was dismissed because it was found that the DNC had no legal obligation not to be biased), and I'm not at all sanguine about the Democratic party which created the Sanders/Clinton rift without need of Russian trolls (who certainly helped it along) and whose refusal to acknowledge responsibility and abdication of ethics (see new Donna Brazile article: "If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead. This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity.") may be responsible for the fury of people who voted for third-party candidates or didn't vote—despite all this, I really do like and admire Hillary Clinton and I'm glad I voted for her in the election . . . just like 65,844,610 other Americans—a majority of three million.
In summary, this is a well-written necessary history, I'm grateful for it, I certainly better understand the woman who wrote it—she elicited in me the "radical empathy" she calls for at the end of the book, and even though she is not perfect, she does come out on the side of life, and I kind of love her.