Monday, December 3, 2012


.... Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, an unauthorized biography by Jeff Gerth and John Van Natta Jr., both investigative reporters for the New York Times.  As is so often the case, I'm a late-comer to the book, which was published in 2008, before the results of that year's presidential election were known---before, even, Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee.  It is still widely assumed in many quarters that Hillary is a show-in for the presidency.

Old news, then.  Still, an interesting read that hindsight makes not much less interesting.  I'm hardly surprised that the Clintons declined to give the book their cooperation, let alone their blessing.  The picture of Hillary that emerges is not exactly flattering.  On the one hand, the authors allow a certain grudging admiration for her personal courage in the face of many adversities, and for her unwavering persistence.  On the other, they make much of her sometimes ruthless ambition, her willingness to set the wayward habits of her husband aside in order to pursue what the authors believe to be the couple's ultimate, long-standing goal: a dual presidency, first Bill, then Hillary.  They describe her as mendacious, dissembling, and ready to discard old friendships while demanding nothing less than total loyalty to herself.  The "Billary" team comes across, in this book, as extraordinarily driving and effective, but greedy for power and intolerant of opposition.

Admittedly lacking the authors' investigative resources, I do not quite share the harsh judgment that is barely disguised beneath a veneer of objective reportage--but which feels, at times, quite personal.  The qualities they describe are those that are needed in a leader in a world as complex and fraught with dangers as our own.  The Machiavellian traits that both Clintons share may be distasteful and may well seem unethical in the lives of those of us who do not relish or aspire to power; without them, who could rise to important political office and the ability to effect change?  Our current president is surely one of the smartest political operatives we have known in recent history.  Had he not been, he would never have defeated the smartest of his opponents, Hillary; who also, not incidentally, enjoyed the backing of her Bill, a man of enormously impressive political skills.

In other words, I like and respect Hillary much more than the authors of this biography seem to do.  I have the added advantage, of course, of having watched her admirable performance on the world stage as Secretary of State.  She has proved herself a skilled and tireless diplomat, and a tough one when that quality is required.  No matter that her support for Bill through the worst of times may have been rooted in her own ambition, it's admirable, too, that the couple have managed to persist in their mutual support and, seemingly, a loyalty that has been sorely tested.  Now I read in a New Yorker column by David Remnick that "Hillary is running" for the Democratic nomination in 2016.  I hope she does.  I would love to see a woman in the White House as something other than First Lady and Hillary, it seems to me, is more than qualified.  I hope that, after so much turmoil and so much fierce deployment of energy in her life of service, she finds the stamina for yet another onerous task.  From the perspective of the present moment, there is no one I would rather support.

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