What’s So Controversial About What Happened?
Hey Don, this will be fun! We’ve got our own two-person book club to read Hillary Clinton’s controversial account of the 2016 election, What Happened.
First of all, I will never in a million years understand why this book is controversial. Clinton was the first woman presidential nominee in American history. She suffered the upset of a lifetime, maybe the country’s lifetime. She has some thoughts about it she’d like to share with us. I might have framed some things differently, but the book is mostly a lively, unflinching read. While it was painful to relive some of it—the steady leak of e-mail, whether from the DNC or her campaign manager; the mounting evidence that Russia meddled in the election; the frivolity of so much of the media coverage; and finally, election night and what followed—I can imagine writing the book has been cathartic for her. As Clinton repeatedly tells us, she replays all of this pretty much every day. Why shouldn’t she share it with us?
I’m also struck by the criticism that she’s not criticizing herself. I don’t get it. Sometimes the self-criticism is lacerating. Just a few examples:
Writing this wasn’t easy. Every day that I was a candidate for president, I knew that millions of people were counting on me, and I couldn’t bear the idea of letting them down. But I did. I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.
I blamed myself. My worst fears about my limitations as a candidate had come true. I had tried to learn the lessons of 2008, and in many ways ran a better, smarter campaign this time. But I had been unable to connect with the deep anger so many Americans felt, or shake the perception that I was the candidate of the status quo.
I go back over my own shortcomings and the mistakes we made. I take responsibility for all of them. You can blame the data, blame the message, blame anything you want, but I was the candidate. It was my campaign. Those were my decisions.
I also know that it was my job to break through all that noise and convince the American people to vote for me. I wasn’t able to do it.
I do recognize that my campaign in 2016 lacked the sense of urgency and passion that I remember from ’92.
I regret handing Trump a political gift with my “deplorables” comment.
The most interesting “mea culpa”—which is about policy, so predictably it hasn’t been hyped—is Clinton’s grappling with why the big, sweeping proposals of Senator Bernie Sanders caught fire and thus why her insistence on incremental change and her wariness of universal programs like Medicare for All or tuition-free college was a mistake—politically and policy-wise. As you’ll recall, she wanted to leave out the upper middle class and above from her tuition-free college proposal: