Books

Hillary Clinton’s autobiography seems destined to join her husband’s - in a bin marked ‘Free’

A review of Hard Choices: A Memoir, by Hillary Rodham Clinton. The endless clichés and pseudo-details make her sound more reptilian than she probably is

21 June 2014

8:00 AM

21 June 2014

8:00 AM

Hard Choices: A Memoir Hillary Rodham Clinton

Simon and Schuster, pp.688, £20, ISBN: 9781471131509

Last year a Washington-based journalist called Mark Leibovich wrote This Town, a book whose thesis was, roughly, that Washington-based journalists are terrible people. Leibovich’s book exemplified a trend among self-described Beltway insiders who decry as venial and insipid the trivialities they spend their lives reporting.

Sounds a bit precious, I know, not to mention suicidal. But it’s supposed to be waggish and endearing and ironical. The latest victim of this coprophagic tendency is Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton’s third book. Barely a week after its publication, with over a million copies in print, it has already been written off by the hacks who spent months doing potted F.R. Leavis numbers on the title and dust-jacket, microanalysing every sentence in the excerpts and leaked chapters carefully spooned out by the Clinton mafia.

Oh, well. Someone has to review it. It’s a book, after all, and in the months and years to come we will grow accustomed to seeing its grey bulk, first in airport newsagents, then in public libraries, and finally in second-hand bookshops, like the one in which I found my (signed) copy of Bill Clinton’s autobiography — in a bin marked ‘Free’. Best get familiar, one thinks.

Hard Choices is a memoir of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state under Barack Obama. It is organised not chronologically but thematically, with groan-inducing obviousness, around the ‘tough decisions’ she claims to have taken during that time, most of them involving places like Dakar, Ulan Bator, Astana and Port Moresby.


At first glance we have what reads like a bold generic experiment, the first world- travelogue-cum-management-tips tome. Really, though, this is a book about politics, specifically one about elections. It begins in 2008, with Clinton losing to Obama in the Democratic primary, and ends more or less now, with her being coy about whether she’ll run again in 2016.

Her opponents will say that the book is self-exculpatory. She certainly makes no bones about telling us how cynical her Republican opponents are, or congratulating herself for having wanted to arm Syrian rebels. (There is quite a lot here about what a nasty piece of work Bashar al-Assad is but nothing about why, in 2011, Clinton was so eager to impress upon a television audience of millions her belief that Assad was probably a ‘reformer’.) That’s a narrow reading. What we are meant to take away from Hard Choices is what a thoughtful, enlightened, forward-thinking, globally engaged, not necessarily politically ambitious citizen of the 21st century she is. Not to mention prudent and above-the-fray and committed to LGBT rights, and above all compassionate. Oh, and healthy too. It doesn’t work.

If literature is, as Martin Amis memorably put it, a ‘war against cliché,’ then in Hard Choices literature has its Little Big Horn. With Mrs Clinton we are forever ‘walking on eggshells’, looking for the ‘silver lining’, doing our best to think ‘broadly’ in a world of ‘unbelievably long’ journeys, ‘gruelling’ schedules, ‘complex’ or even ‘increasingly complex’ relationships. Every ‘partnership’ is ‘close’ and ‘rewarding’; ‘talks’, ‘dialogue’ and the lot are uniformly ‘fruitful’ and ‘pay dividends’; ‘ground’ is always ‘gained’, never lost. Even when a ‘situation’ — the Syrian civil war, say — manages to ‘worsen’ somehow, it is always ‘as expected’.

Clinton’s ghosts have written a book for people who don’t have much experience of books. In fact, they have written a book for people who don’t have much experience of people, at least not in such non-rarefied contexts as breakfast or private conversation. Early on we read about two quarrelling State Department employees who make peace and begin spending their weekends ‘strategising over eggs and hot chocolate’. Are they eccentrics? Extra-terrestrials? Or have our authors, faced with a boring anecdote about occasional chats over, say, decaf coffee, simply tweaked a word or two?

Elsewhere we are told that ‘over a private lunch in the Yellow Oval Room on the second floor of the White House’ Clinton spoke with Michelle Obama ‘about how the new First Family was settling in and her plans to combat childhood obesity through healthier eating and exercise’. Does anyone, I wonder, have conversations like that? ‘Hi, Michelle.’ ‘Oh, hello, Hillary’. ‘So, then, how are things?’ ‘Not bad.’ ‘What are you up to?’ ‘Not much. Just planning to combat childhood obesity through healthier eating and exercise, you see.’ Pseudo-details like these and hundreds of others meant to humanise Clinton end up making her sound more reptilian than she probably is.

Hard Choices is a long, calm, boring book. It left me with the urge to be wicked. I wanted to put something menacing on the turntable and turn up the volume. I wanted to steal a child’s ice-cream cone or kick a kitten. I wanted to light five or six slow-burning cigarettes and throw them in the outgoing postbox with my neighbours’ postcards and utility bills. Motor vehicle theft, arson, even murder occurred to me.

So far I have resisted all these temptations save the first, and anyway Holst doesn’t really count as menacing. But Mrs Clinton isn’t going away. Give it two years, hundreds of knowing articles from the usual suspects in the Washington Post about her robotic equanimity, and who knows? In 2016 I could end up voting for her opponent from a prison cell.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £16. Tel: 08430 600033

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Show comments
  • Mike

    Free, well almost.

    A few years ago I was in a ‘dollar store’ in Florida and saw a DVD about Obama and his life for a dollar. I couldn’t resist the temptation and bought it for our close friends who were hardly Obama supporters. To this day they have kept it for posterity and we still joke about it. Its still in its wrapper so maybe it might be worth something one day as miracles do sometimes happen.

    • pedestrianblogger

      In my local Poundland, the British equivalent of the “dollar store”, there is available for purchase an example of a narrow literary genre: political hagiography written, apparently, by twelve year-olds and intended for the consumption, apparently, of five year-olds. The subject of this book is the same, sainted Obama and his image (tie-less, shirt-sleeved, radiant with mindless optimism) adorns the dusty dust-jackets.

      The number of copies on the shelf never seems to diminish but I doubt if many of the shop’s customers know or care who Obama is and Poundland is hardly a Mecca for bibliophiles. I am sometimes tempted to become the first person to buy one but, having dipped into it, the prospect of owning a work of gushing praise of this dreadful man, written by someone with a vocabulary of no more than five hundred words, seems very unattractive and my pound is usually spent instead on a packet of treats for my cat, Elsie, or a tin of lighter fuel.

    • pedestrianblogger

      In my local Poundland, the British equivalent of the “dollar store”, there is available for purchase an example of a narrow literary genre: political hagiography written, apparently, by twelve year-olds and intended for the consumption, apparently, of five year-olds. The subject of this book is the same, sainted Obama and his image (tie-less, shirt-sleeved, radiant with mindless optimism) adorns the dusty dust-jackets.

      The number of copies on the shelf never seems to diminish but I doubt if many of the shop’s customers know or care who Obama is and Poundland is hardly a Mecca for bibliophiles. I am sometimes tempted to become the first person to buy one but, having dipped into it, the prospect of owning a work of gushing praise of this dreadful man, written by someone with a vocabulary of no more than five hundred words, seems very unattractive and my pound is usually spent instead on a packet of treats for my cat, Elsie, or a tin of lighter fuel.

      • logdon

        The Poundland Barack Obama is Baraco Barner.

        • Mc

          The Poundland Obama is also the UK’s President.

          • logdon

            I’ll remember that one. Perfect.

  • tjamesjones

    Funny. As much as I don’t like Democrat politicans, from this distance they seem mostly harmless. But in the presence of such worthiness I totally understand the desire to embrace subversion.

    • ‘mostly harmless’: I’ll laugh all the way to the Funny Farm on that one!

  • And to think that trees had to die for this.

  • Colin Griffiths

    Venal?

    • John Galt

      Banal

      • michigan1209

        Urinal ?

  • John Galt

    Come on! America deserves a woman president. After all women have been persecuted for centuries and stuff.

    The America of today which voted Barrack Obama into power not once, but twice, deserve nothing better than Hilary Clinton.

    • Mike

      If you’re a masochist !

    • michigan1209

      Apparently rightly so ?

  • samuelafugglas
  • samuelafugglas
  • mariandavid

    Nonsense – turgid but no more than any number of political biographies. Better written than Gates, at least as frank as Cheney’s, but not as open as (surprisingly) that of Rumsfeldt. I do dislike political narcissism masquerading as a review.

    • The Masked Marvel

      I do dislike political narcissism masquerading as a memoir.

      There, fixed that for you.

      None of the others were writing the book to prepare battlespace for a presidential run. For you to say that Hillary’s book was “surprisingly” less open as Rumsfeld’s reveals you to be seriously misinformed and misguided. Lying and triangulating is even more second nature to this woman than it is to Blair.

      • mariandavid

        Nicely done – a very, very fine turn of phrase!
        Though I disagree with you – looking at this from Canada I have to say that Hillary has managed to a considerable degree to rise above the sordid, greedy politics which, alas, characterizes Washington today. Criticisms of her policy are fair but there seems (again a personal view) very little to justify the sustained, acidic, surrealistic hatred that pours out of certain sections of the US electorate.
        And I am not sure why writing a book in preparation for an election is worse than writing books attempting to justify the incompetence one displays while in office. In passing forgot in my rush to cite the very worst of these – that of Bremer, the ludicrously incompetent administrator of Iraq.

        • Amanda

          You’re just the kind of believer the Clintons rely on. Gawd help us. ‘Very little to justify’: are you kidding? Well, you’re a believer. How about this as one tiny clue, in which innocent people were allowed to die: Benghazi. Never mind the Clintonian/Obaman communist commitment to dire equality above all, no matter what it costs us in freedom (with themselves as the rich exceptions, of course!).

          • mariandavid

            I suppose were I an American conservative that kind of nonsensical equating of middle of the road Democratic party belief with communism would make sense. But out here in the real world we can tell that Clinton and Obama are merely centrists who would fit happily into conservative parties in Europe, Australia and Canada – or even at times into the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom. Communists – rubbish – you have no idea of what real communists do.

          • Amanda

            That’s a good one — got any others? Obama is the hardest-Left president of any in the history of America. He is a radical, as is Clinton. I see you also ignored the Benghazi travesty — as well you might. The phrase ‘blood on hands’ comes to mind. As for what ‘real communists do’, don’t be a patronizing arse. And as it happens I’m a classical liberal, with two other citizenships besides American. Doesn’t pay to assume, Marian, when you don’t have the facts.

          • mariandavid

            Radical to you – a somewhat mild liberal to the rest of the world. After all his Obama Care has been fact in all other democracies for 50 or more years including those who consider themselves conservative. Perhaps with your multiple citizenships you might note that American definitions do not match those employed in the rest of the world

        • The Masked Marvel

          On the contrary, Hillary Clinton is the epitome of the sordid, greedy politics which characterizes Washington today. You should not ignore reality simply because she’s a woman. One of the latest revelations is in Ed Klein’s new book where he claims that Hillary was against lying about that YouTube video being the cause of the attack on Benghazi. Yet she went out a few days later and lied about it to the faces of the victims’ families. Told a brazen lie straight to the faces of grieving families, simply out of political expediency. There is a very large amount of evidence with which to justify the negative comments. A very, very large amount. No need to get to her policies at all. The BBC may love her, but it’s full of deluded lefties and people who think she should be President simply because “it’s time for a woman”.

          Before you start praising her, Can you name a single accomplishment of hers as Secretary of State?

          • mariandavid

            Oh please – there are valid criticisms of Hillary, but to cite Ed Klein’s book as a source is beyond the reasonable. I cannot recollect a work that was more criticized for its bile that that, both by right and left, except of course its target audience – the already convinced that Hillary was not merely a democrat but Satan reborn in female form

          • The Masked Marvel

            What did you make of her recent interview with a very sympathetic Diane Sawyer where she refused to take responsibility for what happened in Benghazi and passed the buck downwards? Is that the sort of leadership quality you admire? Or her absolutely dishonest waffle to an equally sympathetic Terry Gross about when and how she came to publicly support homosexual marriage?

            You can’t actually name a single one of her accomplishments, can you?

          • mariandavid

            My take on this Benghazi mess is that two events happened at the same time. One being the widespread uprising over the threat by that lunatic Texan pastor to burn the Koran’s (and what I might ask in passing has the right done about him – someone far more credibly a deliberate cause of American death – instead of its pompous, public pursuit of politicians. Nothing of course) and a simultaneous hidden planned attack on an US consulate compound.
            Therefore I am utterly unsurprised that there was confusion. What I do object to is that instead of pursuing the obvious issue of lack of protection and failure to respond, the attack has focused on the confusion. But of course confusion can be tagged somehow to a presidential candidate, while failure leads to non-politicians such as the military. But at least Obama has managed something which Bush consistently failed to do – capture yet another Muslim leader of an atrocity against the United States.
            Um – do you know what the function of a Foreign Secretary or a Secretary of State is? It is not to achieve and aggrandize but to prepare the ground on which the government – in this case Obama – can take action, and genuinely successful foreign secretaries are team players, which Hillary to her credit (considering her previous relations with Obama) certainly was. She is far closer to the correct role of a Secretary – exemplified by Shultz under Reagan, instead of the divisive arrogant ‘I did it all’ version exemplified by Kissinger under Nixon.

          • The Masked Marvel

            This avoids my points entirely.

          • mariandavid

            Apologies – I thought I had. Since I had not seen either interview I could not comment on those, so instead answered your last question. But to try:
            – the US not being a parliamentary democracy does not subscribe to the precept of a minister/secretary of state being accountable for all of the actions of his/her subordinate. Were she in Canada or the UK she would presumably have resigned, but as the US (since Andrew Jackson) has abandoned the idea of a professional civil service she has no such obligation. That being the case she has no responsibility – the fault lies with the Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, the various security services etc etc. It was not her responsibility to supervise the identification of enemy agents in Benghazi nor to provide adequate protection for the consulate. She was responsible for authorizing the establishment of a consulate there and, if permission was asked, for allowing an ambassador to act there. But that is all. As for the mistaken announcements – I did cover those; they seem to me to be to be an understandable error, especially as almost the entire world press (including those with correspondents present in Benghazi) initially assumed the attack was related to the imbecilic American Christian. Now that the Obama (Clinton) administration has managed to capture the leader of the attack more will become public, especially as they have sensibly ordered an effective civil trial rather than a messed-up military one.
            And I cannot comment on the homosexual issue – sitting to the north of the US in a city which is in the middle of its Pride Week I am simply baffled at the contortions America staggers into over the issue and somewhat angered at the way it is dragged into politics.

          • The Masked Marvel

            That is brilliant, I must say. Very clever. No need to list a single accomplishment, just state that it wasn’t ever her job to accomplish anything. Hillary lying to the victims’ parents is not an understandable mistake. It is a lie. We know from the email trail that she knew before then that it was not true. She lied for political expediency.
            Who drags the homosexual marriage into politics, exactly?

          • mariandavid

            I wonder if just only now and then you political zealots would think about how utterly out of touch you are with the real world? Here we are with endless hordes of terrorists charging across half the Middle East, Muslim extremists raping and murdering in Africa from the Atlantic to the Nile, the Caucasus schools of terror pumping out prospective suicide-bombers trained to operate in the west and with the Taliban on the way back to where they were before 9/11.
            And what do you and the rest of your ilk fuss about: “”Why did the State Department tell the parents of victims of Muslim terrorists the name of the wrong bunch of Muslim killers.”” Really – how petty and trivial this all now is.

          • The Masked Marvel

            Ad hominem. And a straw man, which doesn’t even make sense to me. Which wrong bunch of Muslim killers are you talking about?

            If you can’t really defend Hillary Clinton on her own merits, please leave it there and don’t resort to attempting to disparage your opponents out of spite.

          • mariandavid

            The whole sordid debate and attack circles around the difference between the reporting of the attack(s) being:

            – an impromptu result of a Muslim extremist organized attack using the “Innocence of Muslims” as a cover, or

            – the actual attack by Ansar-al-Sharia

            Initially Clinton and other Americans assumed the former, backed up by Libyan authorities and seemingly confirmed by a similar attack on the US Embassy in Egypt by such protestors (conveniently forgotten that of course). Later evidence confirmed that Ansar-al-Sharia was responsible but also suggests that there was some connection with the Egyptian attack.
            So Clinton and the State Department (and by the way the Defense Department) thought the former bunch of fanatics were the cause while it fact it was the second bunch of Muslim fanatics. After some time and confirmation corrections were made – although I suspect that knowing which bunch of bastardly fools were killers helped not the families of the dead Americans.
            We know that Clinton herself was not involved (nor should she have been involved) in the protection issue. That was under the purview of Defense and the CIA, whose role in all this has been virtually ignored (because of course they are not running for office).
            As I say a pile of nonsense triggered solely to diminish the stature of a possible candidate for president.
            And I have no interest in defending Hillary – she’s yours not mine – all I objected to was the trashing of her book. Which also I normally care nothing about – except when the pages of the Spectator are used to rehash the more ugly habits of American politics.
            And by all means have the last word – I am off to matters that matter.

          • The Masked Marvel

            That simply isn’t true. Initially – before any public statements were made by the dangerously inept Susan Rice or released by the State Dept. – they knew full well what this was. There was even a gesture towards admitting it in Obama’s Rose Garden speech the following day. The woman lied, you must face this.

            She’s not the leader of the free world you’re looking for. Honestly.

          • mariandavid

            And in equal honesty:
            If you track the info stream and assumed that obtained was at once made known to the SoS and the rest you would be right. But instead it appears that there were multiple reports, some delayed by the CIA (of course just to muck things up for a time it appeared that the attack on the CIA differed from that on the Consulate) all of which suggested that the attack was due to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video. And it turned out that this was the case – that the attack was in response to the video, just as the State Department and White House briefings had said.
            BUT the difference was that the initial statements said it was an impromptu anti-video attack, while the reality was that it was a planned anti-video attack. Now this is indeed an error to be criticized, but (and I will admit and you can fault me for this) it is not exactly a significant or earth-shattering one. Especially as it now turns out that the delay in identifying the truth was in large measure the fault of the CIA which was obviously desperate to divert or hide the fact that it had placed its agents in full view in a hostile city.
            I suppose that as an outsider I am much more concerned than you are with actions taken in error than with statements made in error. Which is perhaps why I am more tolerant of the Obama/Clinton foreign policy than you are. Certainly it is obvious that they have managed to kill more Muslim terrorist leaders and followers and disrupt far more plans than did the utterly ineffectual Bush administration. Perhaps unfairly, I tend to judge Clinton in those terms and therefore obviously have a different opinion.
            Of course my favorite leader of the free world is Merkel

    • Amanda

      It’s ‘Rumsfeld’, idiot.

      And if you dislike political narcissism, how on earth can you stomach an operator like Clinton? Don’t answer: I know: wilful blindness.

      • mariandavid

        How rude – perhaps you should leave the courteous pages of the Spectator and instead spew your bile on some less forgiving site like Human Events, though even there the accidental addition of a ‘t’ is not usually cause for vapid, childish rage.

        • Amanda

          Just speaking truth to power, Marian, and saving the world one blog post at a time ; )

  • Mc

    “I wanted to steal a child’s ice-cream cone or kick a kitten”.

    You’re going to have Yasmin “Alibaba” Brown, the NSPCA and the RSPCA all over you for threatening cruelty to children and kittens.

  • It is already not selling well here in America and Canada. She is a psychopath

  • Amanda

    Does the book ever mention Benghazi? I wonder why not. The one thing that ought to torpedo Obama — if the press were not fully in the tank for him — and certainly should torpedo his Sec of State at the time: Hillary Clinton. And why was she Secretary of State? Because she was an Arkansas lawyer that happened to marry Slick Bill. What a terribly sad joke.

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