Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Get It
That characterization, she insists, is “oversimplified beyond recognition.” She adds, “Unfortunately, the only way to pass the law was to also include measures that congressional Republicans demanded.” She makes similar excuses for her husband’s welfare reform bill, which deepened extreme poverty in the United States and perpetuated the Republican notion of an undeserving poor. “Finding the right balance between principle and pragmatism can be hard,” she explains. “Bill and I both believed that change was needed to help more people get the tools and support to transition from welfare to work, including assistance with health care and child care. But Republicans in Congress were determined to rip up the social safety net.” Don’t worry, though. The Clintons “lay awake at night, talking it over.”
Again, this was an election that occurred in the aftermath of the Great Recession. It came at a time of heightened distrust of a range of government institutions, whose compromises have not done enough to alleviate extreme income inequality or lift up marginalized communities. This is the intellectual age of Thomas Piketty, when everyone is aware of the mechanics that drove decades of stagnation under various administrations, including Bill Clinton’s. And yet Hillary Clinton seems unable to grasp that voters may have grown tired of realist politicians and their cynical pose.
All of this is exacerbated by the book’s proud one percent vibe. Long before she gets to the crime bill, she informs us that her campaign once partied in the Hamptons with Jimmy Buffet because “sometimes we just needed to have fun.” (Jon Bon Jovi and Paul McCartney reportedly “danced under the stars.”) She describes her “glam squad” in detail, well before before she tries to explain how she allowed Trump to destroy the Democratic firewall in the Midwest. She doesn’t mention the unpaid prison labor that kept her and Bill “well fed and taken care of” during their time in the Arkansas governor’s mansion, but she does tell us that Anna Wintour recommended her make-up artist.
What Happened’s most useful revelation has nothing to do with Russia or James Comey or Julian Assange. From the few interviews she has given since November, we already know that Clinton blames them for her loss. What we really learn from this book is that Clinton does not live in the America most of us inhabit. She wanted to be president of a country that does not exist. She is out of step with voters because she continues to believe in the myth of American exceptionalism, nearly a year after America proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that it is just as susceptible as any other country to tyranny, to tribalism, to the demons of our nature.
She is appalled that Trump would shrug at Vladimir Putin’s violent foreign interventions and say, “Well, America does a lot of killing too.” She says, “No previous presidential candidate would have ever dreamt of trashing our country like that or suggesting moral equivalency between American democracy or Russian autocracy.” This is undoubtedly true, but it doesn’t change the fact that Clinton considers Henry Kissinger a trusted adviser, that her family is awfully close to the Bushes, and that as secretary of state she was complicit in our own violent interventions.
She believes that America needs “love and kindness.” As evidence, she cites the way the families of the victims of Dylann Roof forgave him for shooting up a black church in Charleston, North Carolina. “One by one, grieving parents and siblings stood up and looked into his blank eyes, this young man who had taken so much from them, and they said: ‘I forgive you.’ In its way, their acts of mercy were more stunning than his act of cruelty.” But not all of Roof’s victims have chosen to forgive him. Clinton effectively silences them so she can advance pablum about something she calls America’s “spiritual void.