By John Diaz
San Francisco Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle says “What Happened” contains anecdotes that will be alternately uplifting and heartbreaking to Hillary’s most ardent supporters.
San Francisco Chronicle
On the second page of “What Happened,” Hillary Rodham Clinton accepts responsibility for her loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. “I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.”
She then proceeds to spend many of the next nearly 500 pages apportioning blame on others for the result of an election that she was so confident of winning.
She had spent the closing days of the campaign polishing her victory speech and devouring memos on the impending transition.
“There had been no doomsday scenarios playing out in my head in the final days, no imagining what I might say if I lost,” she says of election night. “I just didn’t think about it. But now it was as real as could be, and I was struggling to get my head around it. It was like all the air in the room had been sucked away, and I could barely breathe.”
Clinton is hardly alone in her shock, or in the struggle to assess how a man she described as unqualified, immature and even dangerous became leader of the free world, which helps explain why “What Happened” shot to the top of the best-seller list in its first week.
“What Happened” contains anecdotes that will be alternately uplifting and heartbreaking to her most ardent supporters. Detractors will seize on ammunition for affirmation of her sanctimony and inauthenticity.
Yes, there is no shortage of score settling and excuses in this book. But let’s face it: The book would be much less interesting — and, frankly, less honest — without her sometimes caustic airing of grievances.
Most of the pre-release excerpts focused on what she said about culpability of others in her defeat: the elbow-throwing of her opponent in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders; a news media preoccupied with her emails and insufficiently focused on policy or Trump’s flaws; the double standard applied to women in politics; the hesitancy of a devout supporter, President Barack Obama, to adequately warn Americans about the threat from Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Most pointedly, Clinton faults the actions of FBI Director James Comey. His Oct. 28 announcement that he was reopening the email probe, she wrote, was a fatal blow at a time she was gaining momentum.
“Even if Comey caused just 0.6 percent of Election Day voters to change their votes, and even if that swing only occurred in the Rust Belt, it would have been enough to shift the Electoral College” outcome, she writes.
Clinton correctly anticipated that “What Happened” would engender criticism about her raising myriad factors that worked against her, from “the audacious information warfare waged from the Kremlin” to the “deep currents of anger and resentment” in American culture.
“I understand why some people don’t want to hear anything that sounds remotely like ‘relitigating’ the election,” she writes. “People are tired. Some are traumatized. Others are focused on keeping the discussion about Russia in the national security realm and away from politics. I get all that. But it’s important that we understand what really happened. Because that’s the only way we can stop it from happening again.”
As with any politician’s account of a campaign, “What Happened” is less than the definitive word on what really happened in 2016. Accounts by journalists and historians in the mold of Theodore White (his “Making of the President” series set the standard) tend to be richer in revelation, more illuminating in context and more thorough in scope. The best of these accounts carry no impulse to try to rationalize or rewrite a campaign narrative.
Clinton was decidedly selective in her apportioning of blame.
For example, she was highly critical of media coverage, especially the comparative volume given to Trump and the fact that his offenses and miscues “rarely stuck,” as she put it.
It is certainly true that the outrage, gaffes and vitriol of the Trump campaign was news and, in normal times, would have been a liability. But it also important to note that Trump was subjected to more fact checking and critical analyses than any nominee in modern times.
Besides, Clinton did herself no favors by severely rationing her media accessibility. She did not have a news conference for the first eight months of 2016; she declined invitations to meet with editorial boards of most major U.S. newspapers, including The Chronicle. It’s disingenuous to complain about inattention to policy positions while passing up opportunities to subject them to public scrutiny.
One of the favorite conservative talking points about the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election is along the lines of, “Vladimir Putin didn’t prevent Hillary Clinton from campaigning in Wisconsin.”
She attempts to serve up answers for her loss in a Democratic-leaning state. She cited a new voter ID law as well as polls that suggested she was comfortably ahead, perhaps because Trump voters refused to participate.
As with her rationalization of her use of a private email server as secretary of state, Clinton’s explanation of her Wisconsin defeat is a bit too long, a bit too deflective, a bit too at odds with her repeated claim that “I blame myself” for Trump’s election.
For those who long for what might have been, Clinton offers a look at the closing riff of the victory speech she expected to give on election night. It brought her to tears every time she read it. She had hoped to speak of her dream of going back in time to be with her mother, abandoned by her parents at age 8, on the train to California to live with her grandparents.
Clinton imagines taking the 8-year-old Dorothy Rodham in her arms.
“Look at me. Listen to me. You will survive,” a president-elect Clinton would have said in her victory speech. “You will have a good family of your own, and three children. And as hard as it might be to imagine, your daughter will grow up and become President of the United States.”
With the publication of “What Happened,” those words, those dreams — and those tears — can now be shared. The answer to the question of “what really happened?” remains elusive.