No, this is not a review of the former Secretary of State’s new book What Happened. I rather doubt I shall ever get around to reading it, which actually is not that unusual, even by its purchasers. There was an interesting article by Walt Hickey on the political data site FiveThirtyEight.com the other day that looked into just that. Hickey had to use Audiobook data as people do lie about their reading like drunk salesmen fumbling their way into the family home at three A.M. Anyone who claims to have actually read (and even less likely, enjoyed) every page of Herman Melville’s paean to the boredom of fishing Moby Dick is a far cry from Billy Budd as far as honesty goes.
What Hickey found in looking at the major political memoirs published since 2000 is that people get to about the halfway point of listening and then call it a day and listen to Adele or the Arctic Monkeys or some such instead. I plead guilty to this myself. David Garrow’s Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama squats like Edgar Allan Poe’s raven on my coffee table. Oh I started it, and Garrow did massively impressive research, however sweet holy hell do I really need to know every fine point about the foundries of Chicago in the 20th century? Similarly, a few years ago I eagerly anticipated and ordered Tony Blair’s memoir A Journey: My Political Life until it arrived and I stopped to think, ‘Do I really want to spend six to eight hours of my life reading Tony Blair talking about his life?’ I gave it instead to my late Mum. No, she didn’t finish it either.
And so it is that, in the truest spirit of lazy modern journalism I shall spend some thousand words or so discussing something I actually know nothing about. Do cease your sneering gaze! You rattle on non-stop about the managerial career of Arsene Wenger even though there are two things in life you have never successfully kicked – a football and alcoholism. Besides, it’s not Hillary Clinton’s book per se that I am writing about; rather it is the controversy as to whether or not she should have written it. Because yes, as the kids would say that is a thing.
God only knows the 2016 presidential campaign is short only the presence of Bill Murray to seem like a re-boot of Groundhog Day. Well, the movie at least was funny whereas that damned election is a haunting and depressing tale that frankly I wish people would leave in the dustbin of Big Mistakes Best Forgotten. No such luck. Donald J. Trump in his tweets and speeches mentions and shouts that he won with the frequency of an addled child who won a canoe race at summer camp three summers ago. Virtually simultaneous with Mrs Clinton’s book release, both Maggie Haberman of the New York Times and Katy Tur have had memoirs of the 2016 campaign trail published; and one can scarcely turn on any US news channel at any time of the day without hearing someone blather on about why and how a nation of over three hundred million, generally well-educated people made a plurality decision to essentially say in unison, ‘Oh fuck it, let’s just vote for the TV guy with the goofy hair.’ Therefore, if everyone else is cashing in, why shouldn’t Hillary?
Well, I for one think it was a damn selfish move and here’s why. That dear old generator of snappy quotes for all occasions Winston Churchill once said of one of his opponents that he was ‘magnanimous in defeat, abominable in victory.’ That first bit has served as a worthy behavioural template for decades. Think about the notable losing leaders in our lifetime. Neil Kinnock could easily have written a book called What Happened? but he didn’t. He wrote instead about socialism, the economic future and that sort of thing. Al Gore had the 2000 election frankly stolen from him and he did not write What Happened? or What the Fuck? or anything similar. He wrote about the environment. I don’t see any book written by Senator John McCain titled Okay, So Maybe Sarah Palin Wasn’t the World’s Best Idea, nor one by John Kerry called Some of the Guys I Served With Were Assholes. I could go one (and this is rather fun) however I think you see my point. Losers are meant to step aside graciously and go on to do good works from the sidelines. End of story. Literally.
‘BUT!’ you roar even though I can hear you perfectly well ‘Why shouldn’t she write a book? Just because the others didn’t doesn’t mean she can’t.’ On resent evidence, of course you are correct. Hillary Clinton could write a book, did write a book, a publisher published the book, trees died, shelves were filled, and there’s a whole lot of money to be made. Where’s the harm in that?
Quite a bit actually. As bumbling and stumbling as Trump is, the series of attacks that Mrs Clinton has launched against (deep breath) Bernie Sanders, the Russians, Republicans in Congress, Trump, the news media, Joe Biden, former FBI Director James Comey, Barack Obama and Christ almighty probably some room service waiter who delivered a cold sandwich some dark night in Des Moines, in combination all this finger-in-the-eye pointing accomplishes only one very unhelpful thing. It reminds people why they didn’t like Hillary Clinton. Leave us not forget, according to the polls, Donald J. Trump was the least popular presidential candidate in history. He defeated the second least popular candidate in history, the self-same Hillary Clinton.
One really shouldn’t care on the face of it that Mrs Clinton’s blame game works as a boomerang, except the effect of all this blaming is that it decreases the chances of bouncing Trump out of office. In particular, the attacks against Sanders, Biden and Obama divide the Democratic party even more, and the Democratic party is one that divides as easily as a virulent cancer cell even without any help. As the late humorist Will Rogers said back in the nineteen twenties, ‘I am not a member of any organised political party. I’m a Democrat.’
Consider the charges Hillary Clinton makes against Bernie Sanders. She accuses him of two things: one, on universal health care, free college tuition and a $15 an hour minimum wage he made (gasp!) un-costed promises! Well you know, when John F. Kennedy vowed that Americans would go to the moon before the end of the 1960s, he didn’t cost that one out either. And in 1969, Americans went to the moon. There are a multitude of ways in which universal health care can – and eventually will – be phased in without an apocalyptic sudden tax shock. (Here’s one: as individual private health care plans end because the recipient changes jobs or moves, she or he may buy into Medicare at the same premium/now tax rate as their previous plan.) Sanders’ ambition, that so motivated millions of young voters is treated with an attitude uncomfortably close to elite snobbery. Somewhere on these islands Jeremy Corbyn nods his head in the knowing style.
Furthermore, when Joe Biden said that the problem with the 2016 campaign is that Mrs Clinton’s policies and overall message did not address the needs and fears of the middle class, she has responded by saying that wasn’t true as Biden himself gave speeches throughout the Mid-Western states (which she lost) on exactly those themes. Um. What? This is the same logic as a truculent brat saying to his father, ‘How dare you accuse me of not cutting the grass? The lawn is perfectly mowed because you mowed it. Now pay me my five quid!’
I could go on, but really what’s the point? The defenders of Mrs Clinton and her book will continue to state that she has the right to say what she says (I have agreed), that it is worthy and important (I beg to differ) and that complaints against her are based on misogyny alone. No. No, no and no. My arguing against Hillary Clinton is not because she’s a woman, it’s because she’s a goddam disagreeable politician.
Be seeing you.