Oh, Hillary, You Should Have Talked to Us: What Went Wrong in "What Happened"

You may be sick to death of reading about Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, or Hillary Clinton in general.  But before you wish you had some rotten tomatoes to throw, please read on.  I hope to shed some new light.

Unlike her earlier narratives, Hard Choices and Living History, primarily aimed for future votes, Clinton’s What Happened, far better written and more engrossing than the earlier two, is a poignant and somewhat desperate attempt to define her legacy and control negative reaction to it.  Beyond that, it is an attempt  to convince those, especially women, who did not support her of their grave mistake. 

But sadly, the book does the opposite.  It reveals precisely why Hillary lost the votes of an essential constituency:  white women who are not college graduates and why she did not overwhelmingly win the votes of those who are college graduates. Hillary’s vulnerability was perceptively examined pre-election by pollster-researcher Peter Hart, who skillfully explained that the brilliant, highly capable and committed candidate was viewed by many women as removed from them by “a glass curtain.” (Query to Hillary’s campaign leadership: Why were’t you listening?)  

In What Happened Hillary repeatedly shares the torment of her loss — letting others down — how much she cares, as well as her lack of understanding about why people do not respond to her and see her true nature.   Her pain is palpable, but her reasoning, though surely holding obvious truths, omits an essential part of the story — the destructive lapses she and her campaign leadership were responsible for. Because of this complete omission, with every expression of blame, she digs herself a deeper hole: Yes, Bernie Sanders detracted from her; Jim Comey’s decisions and timing constituted a horrific blow; President Obama’s advise to keep her cool may have backfired; hatred and distrust of women is a given; Russian political leadership knows no ethical limits (and if President Obama had shared what he knew, it could have helped Hillary); running as a Democrat for a continuing third term was risky business; and men can get away with ethical lapses more easily than women (so what else is new?).

Regardless of the above, Hillary would have won every necessary woman’s vote and then some if she understood the meaning of connection.  It was painful to read that her misunderstanding of this essential person to person (aha, I get her – I understand her) identification, leading to caring and then unyielding support, propelled her to offer a description of the Clinton marital bedroom, which really was none of our business.  Nor was the couple’s routine of “good mornings” and “good nights.”

Consider how women would have rallied around her if:

When she was ill and near collapse went to Chelsea’s home, Hillary, upon leaving her daughter’s home, would have told us:   “I would like you to know that I have pneumonia, am on big time antibiotics, and with a little rest will soon be fine.  Your caring and concern will also go a long way to help me, and I am thankful for it.”  Instead, Hillary writes in her book (p. 101-2), “I ended up having to parade in front of the cameras after leaving my daughter’s apartment – where I had gone to rest – to reassure the world that I was fine.”

After her husband cornered Attorney General Loretta Lynch on her plane, Hillary told us, “Well, you can imagine the bad night Bill and I had after I learned about this!  It looked awful.  But I really believe that absolutely no ethical boundaries were crossed.  Still, it should not have happened, was unfair to Attorney General Lynch, and I apologize for both Bill and me.”  Instead, in a convoluted explanation, we find (on p. 112) that Jim Comey is to blame for Bill’s judgment lapse, which harmed Hillary as well as Attorney General Lynch: “Comey has...pointed to the fact that Lynch and my husband had a brief, unplanned conversation on a tarmac…when their planes happened to be next to each other.  Nothing inappropriate was said in any way, but both of them came to regret exchanging pleasantries that day because of the firestorm that happened. (italics and bold print mine).” (Query to to Hillary: Who initiated this firestorm?)  

When Hillary’s blackberry fiasco involving national security issues was exposed, she had immediately shared, “I was wrong. Every woman’s life has so many moving parts.  In an attempt to make my life easier, I failed to understand that I was selecting an inappropriate shortcut.”  Instead we are faced with a 32 page chapter entitled “Those Damn Emails,” which concludes (p. 323): “The further we get from the election, the stranger it seems that this controversy could swing a national election with such monumental consequences.”

Hillary Clinton took a nap in the afternoon of election day believing that she would wake up the first woman president of the United States. The Clinton campaign leadership was so sure of this win that they stopped  polling in individual states a month before the election.

On election night I was more furious at Hillary’s campaign leadership for inexcusable lapses than I was at her.  And after I read What Happened, I became incensed at her editors for not insisting that to reach those who did not recognize all she had to offer it was necessary to let go of rationalizations — and just talk to us.  Yet, here’s the upside:  The women who most strongly supported Clinton were women ages 18 to 29.  Hillary’s What Happened will no doubt serve as their political guide in far more instructive ways than its author ever imagined.

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