Hillary Clinton’s book on her presidential campaign is a quintessential piece of bourgeois indulgence. Much like autobiographical works that have come before, this book is inseparable from the larger trajectory of the political class once their time in the media spotlight wanes.
Politicians get paid handsomely to publish an insider magnum opus, pulling the curtain away, revealing their humanity—their legislative struggles, the toll political life has on their families, and what they often allege the public fails to see, like their personality outside of office.
The former Democratic presidential nominee was given a $14 million advance for her previous book, “Hard Choices,” and while there’s been no confirmation as to how much “What Happened” received, one can presume, based on the pattern of Clinton book deals, that it was somewhere in the millions.
Ideological differences aside, “What Happened” is not worth the binding with which holds the nearly 600 pages together, let alone millions of dollars.
It mixes varying personal episodes with political fiction, creating its own historical revisionism that will go unchallenged by those who saw in Clinton every childhood dream of a Madame President. This explains, in part, why any and all criticism of “What Happened” is met with aversion, as though a career politician should not be made to answer for the material consequences of her years as a government official or prominent public figure.
Clinton attempts to reclaim the characterization that she is flawed, asserting that “everyone’s flawed. That’s the nature of human beings. But our mistakes alone shouldn’t define us.”
Her “mistakes”, which stretch far beyond the general election, are not deconstructed in a manner that sheds light on what happened but serve as a way in which Clinton can further blame other people, such as the political climate and anything but the nature of her own decisions.
For example, in the chapter “Change Makers,” Clinton complains that during the primaries activists used the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed by then President Bill Clinton, and which she supported, to force her into taking personal responsibility:
“[T]hese activists didn’t want to talk about developing a policy agenda. One was singularly focused on getting me to accept personal responsibility for having supported policies, especially the crime bill that my husband signed in 1994, which he claimed created a culture of mass incarceration…I thought these activists were right that it was time for public officials—and all Americans, really—to stop tiptoeing around the brutal role that racism has played in our history and continues to play in our politics. But his view of the ’94 crime bill was oversimplified beyond recognition.”
She legitimizes the crime bill, arguing that “it included important and positive provisions,” but “unfortunately, the only way to pass the law was to also include measures that congressional Republicans demanded.” This is the bipartisan liberal-speak which has shaped legislation explicitly targeting communities, which are a continued fixation of state violence.
Clinton and other “flawed” Democrats believe that this is the way things are—that in order for there to be a provision rebuking violence against women the concessions made, where federal sentences for drug offences were extended, were an “unfortunate” part of the package.
She wants readers to know that other congressional Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders, voted for the crime bill, as did “many black leaders.” This blame-shifting, as though these politicians are any less culpable, is not her accepting blame or owning up to “mistakes,” but a way in which she can lighten the load without acknowledging the devastating impact of such policies, a kind of devastation which is still being felt across black communities and in every hall of American justice.
In the chapters where Clinton addresses policy, she is a scold, always alluding to an understanding that people outside of these elite and increasingly insular political circles are unable to decipher how government works.
It is a common refrain one hears from legislators who are incapable or unwilling to come to terms with the side effects of the policies they support. Clinton’s supporters are adamant when it comes to defending her political maneuvers, arguing that they come from a place of pragmatism. They read Democratic policy as well-intentioned and devote their time to humanizing party politics in a way that is rarely offered to its victims (all of whom Clinton strips of autonomy and justifiable rage).
Her understanding of systemic racism and bred-in-the-bone abuses facing black communities is mechanical and uninvolved. It serves as a guide for how one should not discuss mass incarceration, police brutality, gun violence, and poverty.
A sample of Clinton’s barren adoption of social justice rhetoric comes from the chapter “Turning Mourning Into A Movement,” in which Clinton wants readers to know that her “throat tightened” when she listened to mothers of police violence victims tell their stories. But she uses their pain to argue that “the vast majority of police officers are honorable, brave public servants, who put their lives on the line everyday to protect others.”
Clinton refers to officers reacting to a black man reaching for his wallet with cries of “Gun!” as an “implicit bias.” And “we all have implicit biases,” she writes.
Describing the act of accusing black men of having a weapon before sending down a hail of bullets as “implicit bias” frames police violence as product of the subconscious, thereby divorcing this brutality from history; this complaisant narrative erases the function of the racist caricature of the thuggish black man, which she helped popularize on a national stage.
Clinton’s meandering around the subject of police violence is inescapable. Despite fleshing out, to some extent, how people of color are “made to feel like their lives are disposable,” she calls for compassion for police officers, a lazy both sides-ism that demands “imagining what it’s like to be a police officer, kissing his or her kids and spouse good-bye every day and heading off to do a dangerous but necessary job.”
This empathy, she says, “is hard to come by.” “The divisions in our country run deep.” The language Clinton uses here is devoid of justice and omits the position of immense power that police officers wield and how this authority allows them to have an almost unshakeable dominion over life, death, and the way in which a victim is portrayed after they are killed.
Referring to one of her most “controversial actions,” Clinton mentions Iraq, leaving the violent military occupation that still plagues the country and its people to nothing more than a blip:
When it comes to some of my most controversial actions—like my vote giving President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq—I was far from alone. That doesn’t make it right, but it also doesn’t explain the venom targeted at me specifically. Why am I seen as such a divisive figure and, say, Joe Biden and John Kerry aren’t? They’ve run for President. They’ve served at high levels of government. 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.
Here Clinton shrouds her culpability by passing the buck, and then has the gall to feign ignorance as to why she is “such a lightning rod for fury.”
The vote for military action in Iraq, allowing the Bush administration to destroy every fabric of Iraqi life already suffering due to years of U.S. sanctions, was part of Clinton’s wider pattern of advocating for intervention—her support of the Iraq Liberation Act (1998), endorsing troop surges in Afghanistan, calling for regime change in Libya, proposing a covert CIA program to arm contra groups fighting against the Syrian Arab Army, her enthusiasm for war with Iran, further militarizing U.S. coup efforts, bringing about the resurgence of death squads in Honduras, and supporting “a Colombia Plan for Central America,” a reference to the assistance program enacted by then President Clinton, which led to millions being displaced, and torture and massacres becoming commonplace.
This is by no means a comprehensive list; other victims of Clinton’s bourgeois feminist liberation efforts include the people of El Salvador, Haiti, Paraguay, Mexico, Pakistan, and Somalia.
Despite the contention by Clinton’s impassioned media stenographers that “What Happened” is an authentic autopsy of a doomed campaign—an unsheltered look on a valiant effort to break a glass ceiling that was stripped away by Russia and a bumbling, egomaniacal Manchurian candidate, the book, at times, reads like a poorly crafted attempt to recreate the Hillary memes shared enthusiastically by supporters, memes she even mentions in passing.
Clinton’s emotions and vulnerability are lauded as a sign of being the genuine article, especially as she is so often described as robotic, but in “What Happened,” she is as raw as ever, admitting to being angry, drained, and wanting to scream into a pillow.
Hillary Clinton’s most fervent disciples have built communes in their heads, where they go to tune out criticism, spending time in formerly empty lots now cluttered with the remnants of a campaign lost to a pernicious halfwit who has reenergized a somewhat dormant body of white supremacists.
That Clinton, without hesitation, uses the challenges facing women in politics to shield herself from criticism, specifically in the face of her support of the Iraq war, defines how liberal feminists confront detractors should they encounter similar condemnation.