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Reading Through My Feelings About Hillary Clinton

I can point to two specific pieces of satire that inspired me pick up HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton by Jonathan Allen and Amir Parnes: SNL’s cold open (above) from their Feb. 13 show and this article from The Onion, Female Presidential Candidate Who Was United States Senator, Secretary Of State Told To Be More Inspiring.

hrc by jonathan allen and amie parnesBoth of these pretty much capture the conflicted feelings I have about Hillary Clinton and her campaign. On the one hand, she’s clearly the most qualified candidate either party has offered, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that she would make an excellent, historic president.

But there’s something about her or her candidacy that has failed to energize me and many other voters… despite the fact that Bernie Sanders running as an anti-establishment candidate after 25ish years in the Senate is silly, and the Republicans are (at the time I’m drafting this review) poised to endorse a candidate that represents the worst of their party. How can I feel this ambivalent about Hillary when the alternatives are so unlikely?

HRC looks at a very specific period of Clinton’s political career, her defeat in the 2008 Democratic primary and her subsequent career as Secretary of State. The authors – political reporters from Politico and The Hill respectively – argue that her success as Secretary of State represents “one of the great political comebacks in history.”

During that time, Clinton went from being hated by members of Obama’s inner circle to being one of the president’s most influential advisors. She cemented her reputation as a talented stateswoman, improved America’s standing abroad, and left herself open to run again in 2016 (although the book, published in 2014, merely speculates on what that might be like).

The period covered in the book is nearly identical to the timeframe of another book on Clinton that I really enjoyed, The Secretary by Kim Ghattas, but takes a different frame, looking less at Clinton’s specific priorities abroad and more at how her time at the State Department affected her political career and legacy. In that respect, HRC is a book I’d recommend to political junkies, while The Secretary has more broad appeal to readers interested in international issues.

So did this book change what I think of Hillary Clinton? Yes, a bit. Nearly everyone interviewed for the book – many speaking on anonymously, which I’d argue gives them a license to speak frankly – commended Clinton for her work ethic and command of the myriad of topics presented to her. She worked hard on issues with no obvious political benefit, and has a warmer and more caring personality than she’s really allowed to display on the campaign trail. (Check out this Daily Beast piece by Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau for an idea of what I mean).

On the other hand, the book also offers some smart analysis of the Clinton’s political network and the way both Bill and Hillary use political favors and intimidation to get what they want. It’s really clear where that sense of sleaziness with them as a couple comes from, even though the authors don’t push on that subject as much as they could have. Maybe all of that isn’t much different from how other politicians operate, but it’s still contributes to that sense of raw, crazed ambition that Kate McKinnon captures so well in her impersonation of Hillary.

Hillary Clinton, for better or for worse, is one of those public figures who will continue to court controversy as long and she continues to seek public office. For those looking to learn more about her, HRC offers a nuanced look at her philosophies on foreign policy, a strong sense of her personality and work ethic, and a sampling of the kind of political pressure she and her allies use. I’m glad it read it, even if I still don’t know where I stand on her candidacy.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. If you make a purchase through any of those links, I will receive a small commission.

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  • Shannon @ River City Reading March 3, 2016, 6:20 am

    I love this post and feel so much of what you’re feeling. I’ve gone back and forth between Clinton and Sanders for months – smart of you to pick up this book! I’d be thrilled to see either win, so I try to feel lucky to have two great candidates, but it can be hard when there’s so much back and forth all over.

    • Kim March 6, 2016, 9:02 am

      That’s true, I don’t think Sanders would be a terrible candidate. I’m skeptical of some of his promises (free college, for example, makes little sense to me), but think he’d be interesting.

  • Alise March 3, 2016, 7:13 am

    Fantastic post. You captured a lot of what I’m feeling right now, too. I want to be thrilled about Clinton, but I find myself feeling ambivalent. I’ve read a few of her own memoirs (including Hard Choices) and am always amazed at how truly qualified she is for the job. Yet, she often lacks that “likability” quotient that so many voters are drawn to – or at least it doesn’t come across through the media. I have The Secretary on my list, but I’ll have to read this one, too.

    • Kim March 6, 2016, 8:59 am

      It’s such a weird phenomenon, this idea of being “likable” and what it exactly means… and I think she gets criticized for that factor a lot more heavily than male politicians because of these deeply ingrained perceptions we have about how women “should be” nice.

      • Alise March 6, 2016, 3:36 pm

        Absolutely. No question about it. We are maintaining a double standard even when we don’t realize it. It’s hard to even know how best to fight something so engrained in our culture.

  • Kay March 3, 2016, 9:10 am

    I’m older than you guys and probably a lot more conservative (or have become that way as I age). However, I’m just depressed about this whole election. Truly. Monumentally depressed. Sigh.

    • Kim March 6, 2016, 8:58 am

      It’s been so awful! I can’t imagine being a Republican voter and seeing the party slide towards insanity this cycle. I haven’t watched the GOP debates, but the analysis afterwards has been really depressing…

  • Amanda March 3, 2016, 10:46 am

    Really great post – and smart reading choice. I’ve had this on my list to read, as well as her memoir but just haven’t made the effort. I’ve just been thinking more about what a monumental election this could be as a woman. My plan is more trashy reading it feels like! I want to read Primary Colors before the election gets here.

    • Kim March 6, 2016, 8:56 am

      Political memoirs are so not my cup of tea, even for politicians I really like. They’re always so calculated and careful… you never feel like you get into anything substantive because the writer knows it’ll get dissected and come back to haunt them in their careers. You’re right though, a huge election for women (that could end in a good way or a really, truly terrible way).

  • Valorie Grace Hallinan March 4, 2016, 10:06 am

    I’m slightly younger than Hillary’s generation, and having watched her come up and withstand what she has, it saddens me to see the lack of enthusiasm for her (and I don’t mean the vitriol she has been subject to, that is another group of people entirely.) I can understand it, and to some degree feel it myself, and she has really disappointed me at times. However, I do feel strongly a man wouldn’t be looked at in this way for his ambition and tactics. I mean, look at Johnson and Nixon. And yet Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. I suppose being older I have a different perspective than younger women, but what Hillary has managed to do is staggering, especially in the context of the stubborn paternalism/sexism in the US. Anyway, so glad to see your review of this and your thoughts. I feel the media hasn’t given enough attention to younger people and their political/social views, so I’m sometimes left bewildered as to where they stand, having been a girl/teen in the 1960s when it was glaringly obvious where everyone stood. I love to discuss the election with my sons; however, as one of them admits, he lives in NYC and is surrounded by liberals – he knows he’s in a bubble. It disturbed me a great deal to see in the NY Times a photo of young people holding up a “we want walls” Trump poster at an Indiana basketball game – they were playing a hispanic team.

    • Kim March 6, 2016, 8:55 am

      I 100 percent agree that she gets additional scrutiny and criticism for her attitude and tactics because she’s a woman. Every candidate in this race has a level of raw ambition that she demonstrates, but never gets criticized for it. That’s one of the reasons I picked up this book, I was hoping to address some of those biases I know that I myself am demonstrating in that area. Her achievements are amazing and she’ll certainly go down as one of the most influential figures in modern American politics.

  • Allison @ The Book Wheel March 4, 2016, 10:30 pm

    This one keeps popping up in my recommendations but I always shied away from it, thinking it was a one-sided takedown type of book. I’m happy to read that that’s not the case and that it might be worth picking up. I’ve been a Hillary fan for 20 years and yet I have VERY conflicted feelings about her this election cycle. I could give you 100 reasons why but I won’t because I don’t want to clog up your entire comments section but I will say that I will likely pick this one up.

    • Kim March 6, 2016, 8:52 am

      I don’t think it’s a takedown at all. On the whole, I thought it was pretty even-handed, even a little kind, to Clinton and her time as Secretary of State. I didn’t really make my feelings less conflicted, but certainly shed some light on political and behind-the-scenes topics I hadn’t read much about yet.

  • Jenny @ Reading the End March 6, 2016, 11:32 am

    This election has been such a nightmare. I have conflicted feelings about both of the major Democratic candidates (though that’s at least over with, because the Louisiana primaries were yesterday and the die is cast), and I am absolutely terrified of what our country will become if Trump wins the election. I’m scared it will happen because Democrats will find it so unlikely that it CAN happen that they won’t turn out to vote, and then. (shudder)

  • susan March 6, 2016, 4:01 pm

    You touch on some good points about the ambivalence towards HRC (the Clinton sleeze factor) and the baggage she seems to have too. Comparing her to the other buffoons though I’ve still got to support her candidacy — and how she will be strong for human and women’s rights all over the world. She seems to have the right ideas. But I know what you mean. The SNL sketches are pretty funny too

  • iliana March 6, 2016, 5:58 pm

    Great review, Kim. I think you capture what a lot of people feel with this election. A lot of conflicts of opinion but then when you see some of the alternatives it is frightening. I wish the whole election was over. I’m over all of the mud-slinging, the hate and crazy.

  • Citizen Reader March 7, 2016, 11:50 am

    About a million years ago, I read a Vanity Fair profile of HRC, much of it examining her relationship with Bill, and what she knew about his personality and needy needy ways (and cheating proclivities) before they were even married. It is a fundamental belief of my feminism (I realize this is only my personal opinion) that you CANNOT call your yourself a feminism if you knowingly enter into marriage with Bill Clinton. A relationship, fine. Maybe even a legal domestic partnership of some kind. But marriage? Why?
    I don’t really want to sling mud. But I just can’t take her seriously as a crusader for women’s rights. And I don’t think I have the energy to read about her–but maybe some day.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey March 8, 2016, 9:57 am

    Loved this! You captures a lot of what I’m feeling about the election. For me, Bernie does feel less establishment and more honest than Clinton to me, but I admire her anyway.

  • Aarti March 9, 2016, 2:05 pm

    I’d been keeping this blog post unread for a week to get around to it, and finally I have! I really appreciate this post. I have this book on my library audiobook wishlist. I will have to add The Secretary, too.

    Have you heard of the book Big Girls Don’t Cry? It’s about Clinton’s first run for president but I think it approaches it from a feminist POV and how people treated her differently because she was a woman. Did either of these books touch upon that?

    • Kim April 10, 2016, 7:47 am

      You know, I don’t think either one touches on it as much as they could have. Since both focused on her time as Secretary of State, when she was well-liked by a large majority of the American public, they didn’t get into the gendered criticism that comes up when she’s a candidate as much.

  • Lisa March 17, 2016, 9:39 pm

    I have conflicted feelings as well. I continue to question her political ethics and she’s made some really horrible political recommendations when Bill was president. On the other hand, I think she truly understand what it would take to be an effective president and I think she has a good grasp on world events and our place in them. On the third hand, if we think the Republicans hate Obama, I hate to see how they’ll behave with Clinton as president. But a woman as president? I would so love to see that!