Who is Hillary?

Who is Hillary? July 22, 2014

At the New Republic, Anne Applebaum tries to pinpoint the genre of Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices. Too superficial and sentimental to be a policy book, to guarded to be a memoir, too cliched to give insight into people or events, the book is best read, Applebaum argues, as one of those books that Presidential candidates write when they’re getting ready to run for President. Read in that light, she thinks Hillary has revealed a good deal.

For one thing, she reveals that she is motivated above all by the “ethic of service that her parents bequeathed to her. At one point she speaks of her ‘service gene, that voice telling me there is no higher calling or more noble purpose than serving your country.’ Clinton also hints at personal sacrifices: ‘When I chose to leave a career as a young lawyer in Washington to move to Arkansas to marry Bill and start a family, my friends asked, Are you out of your mind? I heard similar questions when I took on health care reform as First Lady, ran for office myself, and accepted President Barack Obama’s offer to represent our country as Secretary of State.’ That is a clear message: Clinton is not enjoying all of this, and she is not going to pretend otherwise. She didn’t move to Arkansas or tackle health care reform or become secretary of state because those were pleasurable things to do. She was not seeking personal gratification—on the contrary. Unlike some of the men who have been or will be her competitors, she is not motivated by narcissism, arrogance, and egotism. She is animated entirely by her ‘service gene.’”

Applebaum also thinks that Clinton is positioning herself as a “deeply non-ideological” candidate, “a centrist. She intends to run as a hard-working, fact-oriented pragmatist—someone who finds ways to work with difficult opponents, and not only faces up to difficult problems but also makes the compromises needed to solve them.” Hardly inspiring, but it “might well be a brilliant campaign strategy. It might even be a brilliant presidential strategy. Clinton wants to be the politician who will rise above the partisanship that has hamstrung the Obama administration, end the gridlock in Washington, cut deals, and move forward. In order to do this, she will transform herself into a figure of benign neutrality.” Maybe that is brilliant, but let’s say it’s going to be a hard sell among the people I know and in the places I’ve lived.

On a more personal note, Applebaum concludes that “there is another message in Hard Choices: by writing the kind of book that she wrote, Clinton is indicating that she is not going to open up and reveal herself in some new way—ever. If there is more depth beneath the surface, if she is less stolid and lackluster than she appears to be, then we aren’t going to know about it. This is a woman who is aware that every outfit she wears, every hairstyle she adopts, every word she utters can create an international debate, and she intends to control as much of that conversation as she can.”

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