Ernest Hemingway once settled a bet by writing this six-word short story—“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”
Review of “What Happened” by Hillary Rodham Clinton (Simon & Schuster, 512 pp., $30)
Now comes Hillary Rodham Clinton to best this feat of literary genius. The entire story of her election loss is offered on the cover of her new book in just five gulping words: “What Happened: Hillary Rodham Clinton.”Alas, a book publisher would never allow even the most prodigious of writers to tell a story in five words, so the next 469-pages shimmy the phalanx of copy editors, proofreaders, and sentencemen and somehow make it through.
The book is a pulp and ink microcosm of Clinton herself. A circumspect and erudite point-maker suffocated and slathered in focus-grouped fluff and self-help slop.
Pinioned by planning, Hillary’s core message is hydra-like, becoming at least 30 others by the time the blame is portioned out to any and all but herself and her haplessly hipster high command. There’s Russia, there’s email, there’s sexism, racism, a canter of progressive pieties and boogeymen—even mystagogue Alex Jones—but never the bruising reality of why Donald Trump is number 45. She even manages to spell Wisconsin as “misogyny.” Sack the proofreader, Mrs. C.
The hard-boiled message, once strained through limestone, laments democracy’s major flaw: everyone gets a vote. Those who weren’t “with her,” nor felt “stronger together,” are beyond redemption—“deplorable,” if you will.
In one revealing passage, we see Hillary confronting one of her potential kindred spirits—a young woman convinced, it would seem, of Trump’s nefarious plans to issue an executive order corralling fertile women into state-sanctioned sex slavery. The fan sheepishly admits she didn’t vote. Hillary’s derision for the subject borders that of mania, with each word goose-stepping across the page before cooling upon the realization that someone may be reading this. Hillary tickles the nonvoter with feathered disappointment, a rapid climbdown from the imminence of “Clockwork Orange”-style clamped eyelids.
But what afflicts Hillary is not her entirely her fault. She and her Belmont pals seldom pass through Fishtown. And clearly have no plans to take a detour.
Written in gluten-free, self-help style, What Happened could be titled “How to Sin Without Amends and Incense People.” But, like every work of that sadly burgeoning genre, the kernel of truth radiantly lacking is that of naked introspection.
Hillary’s gargantuan loss bears precipitously on her buckling popular-vote crutch. She may have wheezed 3 million more votes than Trump, but this security blanket must be snatched from the Great Mewl if the Democrats are to pull free of their self-inflicted morass. Trump won the popular vote in 30 states. Hillary’s “moral win” is owed to California, whom swathes of the hinterlands wouldn’t mind ushering into a Calexit.
Throughout the narrative of her book, Hillary’s smarts undo her. She is politically capable, motored, and cognizant. In her defense, the fabulist claque surrounding Clinton abets her unraveling. Unwilling to shoot from the gut, she hamstrings herself with Millennial-inspired maladies which trade shoe leather for data. With the coherence and collection of Thunderbird wine, she is rendered neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring. From tribune of the white working-class in 2008, to avatar of the Ruling Class; public defender of the putrid; town crier of the tony Taliban.
Like a pack-a-day smoker insisting his perforated lungs are resultant of juju trickery, Hillary cannot admit of the populist intifada which devoured her doomed bid. Three of the last four presidential candidates vowed to blanket Washington in napalm. Hillary offered hot sauce.
Bernie Sanders is proffered a pep talk, despite being the prizefighter horse-traded for the palooka, yet still unwilling to bear-trap Hillary’s throat when those meddlesome emails encircled their sender.
What happened? Well, 7 million manufacturing jobs left the United States in NAFTA’s wake, a social dysentery soundtracked by endless winless conflicts dealing death to thousands and maiming more, Wall Street lamsters hoovered up bailout cash, and millions saw their own American Dream foreclosed.
Has Hillary learned anything? No. The populist squall is reduced to a soupçon of white noise, while FBI Director James Comey’s investigation into her emails amounts to a “shivving.” She would have won, she lies, if not for meddling by that pesky Comey.
“This is what happens in George Orwell’s classic novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ ” writes one of Hillary’s word Sherpas, “. . . when a torturer holds up four fingers and delivers electric shocks until his prisoner sees five fingers, as ordered. The goal is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts . . . ”
What does she mean? Well, the clodhoppers left to shoot dope and trade food stamps in desolate post-industrial America should trust the experts who’ve shipped the jobs abroad and the bodies back home. Those with credentials like her own. Those with spreadsheets, and data, and white papers. Those with intricate knowledge of soppressata, capicola, and striata baguettes—“ham sandwiches” to you and me.
What happened? In this case, you can judge a book by its cover.