Not a Good Week for Hillary Clinton

First, there was this. Then, there was the fact that Diane Sawyer–of all people–laid into Clinton over Benghazi (in the event that you do not recall, Benghazi has been deemed not to be a scandal, nope, no chance whatsoever that it might be a scandal, nothing to see here, move along, don’t worry your pretty little heads about this story, darlings). And then, there is the fact that her book . . . well . . . it isn’t so good:

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s new memoir “Hard Choices” officially launches Tuesday morning, but it’s already being savaged by critics for being overly cautious and, as a result, uninteresting.

“TRUTH BOMB 1: ‘Hard Choices’ is a newsless snore,” Politico’s Mike Allen wrote in his Monday-morning newsletter. He went on to describe the book “written so carefully not to offend that it will fuel the notion that politics infuses every part of her life.”

“In this book, like in ‘The Lego Movie’ theme song, everyone is awesome!” Allen quipped.

The New York Times’ book-review section seemed to agree with Allen’s assessment.

“There is little news in the book,” The Times’ Michiko Kakutani wrote Sunday. “And unlike former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s rawly candid memoir ‘Duty,’ this volume is very much the work of someone who is keeping all her political options open — and who would like to be known not only for mastering the art of diplomacy, but also for having the policy chops to become chooser-in-chief.”

The New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner didn’t think Kakutani was hard enough on Clinton. In a piece criticizing The Times’ review, Chotiner panned “Hard Choices” for its “dullness and lack of critical energy.” Slate’s John Dickerson called it “the low-salt, low-fat, low-calorie offering with vanilla pudding as the dessert. She goes on at great length, but not great depth.” The list goes on.

To be sure, Hillary Clinton is out to win the presidency, not a Pulitzer (please, let us not pretend that she is not running). But I am glad to see that others have noticed the startling lack of depth to her book, and to her public thoughts. I recognize, of course, that Clinton’s “everyone is awesome!” stance is meant to maximize her chances of winning the presidency, but (call me a dreamer, if you must) I also think that it is useful to point out that when it comes to Clinton, there is surprisingly little there there.

More on Clinton’s book:

. . . Over nearly 600 pages, she gives a grand tour of American foreign policy as seen from the communications operation of the U.S. State Department. There are dozens of pages devoted to singing the praises—and naming the names—of the people she worked with and the things she accomplished. There are hundreds of pages of history, recounting the major events of the last five years in a useful, matter-of-fact voice that would be well-suited to a high school textbook. There are some wonderful admissions and asides, like her habit of digging her fingernails into her hand when she gets sleepy at meetings, or the time when former French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared, while watching a traffic jam of motorcades after a frustrating day of summits in Copenhagen, “I want to die!”

There are also carefully constructed personal recollections of some of the hard choices she made, like her support for the Osama bin Laden raid, with which President Barack Obama agreed, and her support for arming the Syrian rebels, with which Obama disagreed. But as often as not, the hard choices are so polished as to lose their edge. She admits to a shouting match with the former CIA director over whether or not to authorize a particular drone strike, but on the subject of her approach to drone strikes in general she offers only diplo-babble fortune cookies. She agrees with Obama that the strikes raised “profound questions,” and writes that it’s “crucial that these strikes be part of a larger smart power counterterrorism strategy that included diplomacy, law enforcement, sanctions, and other tools.” Got it?

There are other hard choices she clearly runs away from making. After mentioning the controversy over the National Security Agency’s mass collection of domestic phone records without a warrant, she offers a puzzle instead of a position: “Without security, liberty is fragile,” she writes. “Without liberty, security is oppressive. The challenge is finding the proper measure: enough security to safeguard our freedoms, but not so much (or so little) as to endanger them.” Even the NSA will struggle to decode that one.

She devotes an entire chapter to the need to take on climate change, imploring policy makers to save the world in the most vacuous language of policy making, which keeps rearing its head throughout the book: “Building a broad national consensus on the urgency of the climate threat and the imperative of a bold and comprehensive response will not be easy, but it is essential.” But she makes no mention of her position on the Keystone pipeline, which is arguably the most central domestic climate change issue she faced, and which coincidentally divides the Democratic Party.

Perhaps there is no reason to expect more from a politician in mid-stride. Barack Obama’s first book, Dreams of My Father, was widely hailed as a deeply personal literary work in its own right. The book he wrote before his 2008 campaign, The Audacity of Hope, was a far inferior list of policy maxims, Republican bashing and feel-good utopianism. But assuming she continues her campaign, Clinton has a problem to solve that Obama never had before he ran: She must convince voters both within and without the Democratic Party that she is a real person people can believe in, not just a political brand that is repolished and reintroduced to the public at regular intervals under the soft lights of a primetime television interview.

When it comes to the book, it may be safe to say that life is imitating the Onion: “In a particularly open and honest moment, Clinton reveals that she disagrees with Obama about some things and agrees with him about others.” Yeah, there appears to be a lot of that in Clinton’s memoirs.

And finally, there is this:

At Wednesday’s Rahm Emanuel-Hillary Clinton show for her book tour, she was responsible for another unforced error.

“I actually write about Rahm in the book,” Clinton said. “I asked him not to read it before we sat and did our interview! But it was in the very first chapter, the chapter I rightly call ‘Team of Rivals’ because that’s what it was in the beginning. A senator from Illinois ran against a senator from New York just as had happened way back with a senator from Illinois named Lincoln and a senator from New York named Seward. And it turned out the same way.”

Maybe Hillary is not ‘ready’ as Lincoln was never a senator because he lost that election to Stephen A. Douglas.

Imagine the headlines if “George W. Bush” were substituted for “Hillary Clinton.”