The memoirs of Hillary Clinton have to be viewed, like their author, as a work in progress. Volume one carried her all the way from her days as a Goldwater girl in Park Ridge, Illinois, to her years as a political lightning rod in the Clinton White House, then finally to the United States Senate, which was never going to be her last stop.* Volume two, picking up the story at the end of her 2008 presidential campaign, recounts her four years at the State Department as what she accurately enough but a tad vaingloriously calls “the chief diplomat of the most powerful nation on earth.”
Taken together, the two volumes add up to nearly 1,200 pages, and a third can hardly be ruled out. Passages toward the end of the latest, on building the middle class at home and abroad and restoring the American dream for the twenty-first century, read like early drafts for an acceptance speech at the next Democratic convention. Just possibly, by the time that third volume is written, the first African-American president will have long since given way to the first woman to hold the office; and Hillary and Bill will have spent more time in the White House than Eleanor and Franklin.
If it comes to that, Hard Choices won’t be the reason. The book landed with a thud. It’s a stiff-jointed, careful performance, assembled by a “book team” of former and present aides from briefing papers, old speeches, town hall transcripts, and interviews. What we get are the highly edited reflections of a prospective candidate: part résumé, designed to reveal the depth of her immersion in global affairs and the extent of her familiarity with the world’s great and near great, scores of them (from the Empress of Japan to His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, to Bono); part rampart, designed not to reveal too much.
Here and there, maybe every eighty pages, it’s flecked with stabs at wry humor, mostly about her wardrobe and hair. (“How many times, as Senator from New York, did I go on David Letterman’s show to deliver a pantsuit joke?” she asks.) Here and there also, flashes of real feeling briefly light up dry recitals of yet another trip, another itinerary. “That drove me crazy,” Clinton exclaims over her discovery that there were no schools in a vast Congolese refugee camp she visited. A “senior administration official” invites a blast from the secretary by posing a question about the wound that could be inflicted on Pakistan’s sense of national honor by a raid on Osama bin Laden’s presumed hideout. “What about our national honor?” the exasperated Clinton shoots back. The senior official—unnamed, of course—is left to absorb this notice that there may not be a place for him (or her) in the next Clinton administration.
This edgy, tough Hillary often stays home in Hard…
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