Doug Henwood Dispatches Hillary and Her New Book to Remainder Bin of History


I’m late getting to this review. It’s partly because, unlike most reviewers, I didn’t have a free pre-publication copy of Hillary’s awful book and had to pay good money for it myself. [Editor’s note: We’ll pay for it, but it could reduce your fee by a negligible amount. If anyone wants to pay for Doug’s book let him or me know.] And when I read it, I was overcome with boredom and despair and couldn’t imagine writing a standard review. But since I wrote a Harper’s cover story that turned into a book on Hillary I felt like I had to do it. But I’m not sure I can.

Were I to write a standard review, I might recall some of my history with HRC. When I started doing research for the Harper’s article in the summer of 2015, I was on a secret email list for liberal pundits called the Cabalist. I was recruited as an ideological diversity hire. Never a good fit from the first, relations between me and the Cabalisters deteriorated as I shared my feelings about their favored candidate. I said, ideology aside, she was a terrible candidate—a bad and widely un-liked politician, one whose poll numbers usually fell with increased exposure, with a million scandals just waiting to blow up at any minute. Add to that her miserable ideology—she believed in nothing but tweaking the status quo in profoundly tedious ways—and they might come to regret signing on to her still-unannounced campaign.

Saying this provoked intense fury. I was accused of enabling Ted Cruz (Trump was still a gleam in his own eye). When I asked them to convince me otherwise, they reacted with fury, but no answers. If these Democrats—mostly liberals, whatever it means to be a liberal today—whose business was making and analyzing political argument, including one who wrote a book about Hillary (or, more precisely, about her feelings about Hillary) couldn’t make a case for her, then who could?

I was right, of course. As was everything I subsequently wrote about her—the emptiness of her campaign, her shittiness as a politician, her fealty to convention, all of which contributed to her disgraceful loss to the abominable Trump.

Were I to write a real review, I might also point to Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’ Shattered, the story of her dismal, meandering campaign and its hilarious depictions of her staff desperately trying to invent reasons for her running and coming up empty. That, and their neglect of traditional campaigning strategies like polling in crucial states and knocking on people’s doors and reliance instead on preposterous statistical models that turned out to be fantastically wrong.

Hillary raises some of these issues in What Happened only to deny them. She did have a reason for running, she assures us: because she loves to help people, particularly women and children. And she did have a viable campaign strategy—it’s just that no one noticed it and it proved unviable. She concedes she’s deeply unpopular and untrustworthy, but just can’t understand why. Several times she takes responsibility for the campaign’s mistakes—not an easy thing for her to do, as anyone past the intro level of Hillary Studies knows—but never for more than a sentence or three, as she quickly moves from the confessional mode to blaming Comey, the Russians, the emails, and misogyny. Nothing is ever really her fault; decks are always stacked against her.

A few words on the misogyny question: there’s no doubt that Hillary has suffered from loads of vile, sexist attacks over the decades. It’s hideous stuff. But she and her acolytes have used this to deflect any legitimate criticisms of her politics or personality. And her habit of making herself into the rightful heir of the long and admirable line of American feminist struggle since Seneca Falls is annoying and deceptive. There’s nothing feminist about having supported welfare reform, mass incarceration, and every episode of imperial war in modern American history.

Were I to write a real review, I could devote hundreds, even thousands of words to these matters, and countless others I haven’t even touched on. One could spend a paragraph or two analyzing a sentence like this: “I started calling policy experts, reading thick binders of memos, and making lists of problems that needed more thought.” I could make fun of the fact that she nicknamed her campaign van “Scooby.” Or mock her claim that she wrote this lifeless tome at her kitchen table.

But I don’t want to do that. What I want to do is draw attention to one arresting and widely overlooked passage in this dull and preposterously long book, the moment where she admits that maybe Bernie Sanders was onto something in his preference for “big, simple ideas” over position papers and binders full of memos. (“Simple” is rather dismissive, but I’ll let that slide.)

She actually says (though maybe it was her three ghostwriters): “Bernie proved again that it’s important to set lofty goals that people can organize around and dream about, even if it takes generations to achieve them.” Rejecting a generation of neoliberal orthodoxy, she continues:

Democrats should reevaluate a lot of our assumptions about which policies are politically viable. These trends make universal programs even more appealing than we previously thought. I mean programs like Social Security and Medicare, which benefit every American, as opposed to Medicaid, food stamps, and other initiatives targeted to the poor. Targeted programs may be more efficient and progressive, and that’s why during the primaries I criticized Bernie’s “ free college for all ” plan as providing wasteful taxpayer-funded giveaways to rich kids. But it’s precisely because they don’t benefit everyone that targeted programs are so easily stigmatized and demagogued…. Democrats should redouble our efforts to develop bold, creative ideas that offer broad-based benefits for the whole country.

Were I writing that real review, I’d ask “redouble” what efforts? Twice zero is still zero. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to say that buried in this soporific and dishonest book is an admission that the entire modern history of the Democratic Party—from the creation of the Democratic Leadership Council in the early 1990s, in which she was an active participant, onwards—was a mistake. All their targeted microinitiatives are weak tea next to ideas like “Medicare for all” and “free college.” I’ll take it.

And now I’m done with Hillary, as we all should be.

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