Hillary Clinton’s chronicle of her electoral misfortune in What Happened has drawn the predictable reactions. Critics throw out the argument that Mrs. Clinton’s analysis of the election hollows out apparent self-inflicted wounds. The indifferent maintain her latest written work underscores the lack of authenticity, conviction, and perceptiveness that has forever plagued her ambitions. The“I’m with Her” homies elevate the work as justification for Mrs. Clinton’s continued presence in progressive politics.
All of them are wrong.
In reality, before the release of What Happened, Hillary Clinton has time and again taken responsibility for her defeat. (This is in stark contrast to the previous Presidential loser, Mitt Romney, who’s post-election loss memoir was titled No Apologies.) Nevertheless, many ‘Lock her uppers’, and even left leaning Vox (who secured an early interview with her) still ignore her words of acknowledgement and bolster the narrative that HRC blames everyone.
Put aside, the futile and unconsciously banal narratives on how she picked her staff, her favorite food-wine pairings, how she bought extra property to house her staff, and her efforts to watch the final World Series (FYI Bernie Bros: she spends far more time on this than bashing your purported revolutionist, so let’s relax) and you still see weighty passages at length deconstructing her most glaring mistakes such as the e-mails, her verbal gaffes, and campaigning blunders like not actively campaigning in the Midwest.
An article from Quartz Magazine highlights over 35 times when the former First Lady owns up to her political mishaps.
“I regret handing Trump a political gift with my “deplorables” comments. […] I am sorry about that.” She explains.
“I made a mistake with my emails. I apologized, I explained, I explained, and apologized some more.” She further confesses.
Continuing, Hillary admits, “I blamed myself. My worst fears about my limitations as a candidate had come true. […] I had been unable to connect with the deep anger so many Americans felt.”
Further, underscoring the point of responsibility, the New York Senator pens, “I go back over my shortcomings and the mistakes we made. I take responsibility for all of them. You can blame the data, blame the message, blame anything you want — but I was the candidate. It was my campaign. Those were my decisions.”
But further analysis of her work, for some reason, breeds the familiar talking point that the former Secretary of State lacked the foresight to successfully become President. This argument, as well, barely resembles the truth.
Clinton quotes Nigerian author Chimanda Ngozi Adichie, “It’s not your job to be likeable. It’s your job to be yourself.”
With this, Hillary reminds the reader that she is fully aware of her popular perception and further passages encapsulate her cognizance of the outside world. From the moment Secretary Clinton made up her mind about her running for her office, her campaign hired Obama’s data team, the DNC’s outreach members, and her inner circle chalked up meticulous plans to gain a positive rapport with the media. HRC made extra efforts, unsuccessfully she concedes, to look “…cool and connectable.”
It’s not that Mrs. Clinton never lacked conviction or diluted her authentic self either. The Former First Lady’s description of the love she has for her daughter, granddaughter, and (yes) husband is genuine and heartwarming.
Her analysis on women and children’s right lends credence to the idea as Rebecca Traister, of the magazine of The Cut, puts it, “as a manifesto and useful model for female politicians to channel their fury.” Clinton’s sharp diagnosis regarding gender double standards underscore the depth of her intelligence but also an often ignored apolitical issue dogging America.
However, what fails Mrs. Clinton is not her unawareness of the importance of resonance and charm, more so her inability to evoke either. Take her analogy on Pandas.
“Panda Principle: Pandas just live their lives. They eat bamboo. They play with their kids. But for some reason, people love watching pandas… My staff thought I was a political panda.” (With all due respect to the esteemed public servant who negotiated a historic nuclear arms deal with Iran, but when it comes to the symbolism of emotional catharsis, very few people would label HRC as their proverbial panda.)
Further, the former First Lady isn’t correct when she says, “Learning how to tame my tongue bit me in the end.”
As Sam Seaborn, the fictional writer in Aaron Sorkin’s show The West Wing quips, “Oratory should raise your heart rate. Oratory should blow the doors off the place. We should be talking about not being satisfied with past solutions.”
But this episode must not have been viewed by anyone on her 300+ person team. As many resources as she puts into listening tours and speech prep, there is very little golden eloquence in her campaign. Very rarely did Secretary Clinton broaden the discussion on an issue or make us feel existentially excellent. Though she contemplated the idea of running on an universal basic income platform (which would have initiated an important discussion), she punted. If you remember the oratorical highlight in the campaign came from Michelle Obama when the First Lady declared, “when they go low, we go high.”
Nor did her heavy reliance on policy personnel create much nuanced connective tissue with the public. Peruse through her 38 white papers , which she proudly highlights in her book, and one fails to find single innovative solution for a rapidly new globalized world. As Thomas Frank (author of What’s the Matter With Kansas) so accurately pinpoints about her book — and by extension her campaign, “is a checklist of think-tank-approved policy solutions,” without any real answer to how the Democratic Party, presumably the party of the people, “withered as inequality grows.”
And that is why her recent work can not and should be a manifesto but more of an outgoing memo. For the Democratic party needs to wash away the old narrative and give a platform to the rise of new faces and factions: Indiana mayor Pete Buttigied and Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander to form the good white dude coalition, Senator Kamala Harris and Cory Booker leading the ‘brown in town’ team, the pragmatic progressive unit directed by Senator Al Franken, and the wonkish energy spearheaded by Elizabeth Warren.
Without question, there has been an objectively infuriating, unfair analysis of the former Secretary of State, further nagging her life’s work. It is also an inarguable fact that sexism has played a pivotal role in undermining her professional ambitions.
But it is Hillary herself who reminds us of such topical words from two famous female icons. In her chapter on perseverance, she scribes Mary Oliver’s thoughts, “while our mistakes make us want to cry, the world doesn’t need more of that.”
And she paraphrases her most-quoted author, T.S. Eliot, claiming, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”
I try to understand why America, electorally, chose to bypass a profound historic opportunity. I also try to tame my bewilderment as we witness a under-qualified buffoon, instead, leading the free world.
But I also hope that Mrs. Clinton’s utilitarian soul will try to understand that in order to make strides on the important issues to her, expand the progressive ecosystem, and eventually break the glass ceiling, What Happened must be her political journey’s final chapter.