Eine Kleine Biographie

I have read the Hillary book by Ed Klein, which has been heavily dumped on by conservatives, and understandably. In terms of political impact it is not a takedown but a buildup. Dick Morris says its sensational charges will only “embolden” her. They will certainly tend to inoculate her against future and legitimate criticism and revelations. The book is poorly written, poorly thought, poorly sourced and full of the kind of loaded language that is appropriate to a polemic but not an investigative work.

Here are some significant things about Mr. Klein’s book: It comes from an establishment journalist who’s had his professional ticket punched at the New York Times magazine and Newsweek. He has no conservative bona fides; he says he is and appears to be essentially apolitical. This is an anti-Hillary book by the MSM. It has been heavily promoted not by a conservative publication but by Vanity Fair magazine, which published a big fat juicy chapter in its famous “Deep Throat” issue. Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair’s editor, is the author of an anti-Bush book, passionately opposed to Iraq, and no one’s idea of a wing-nut. (Mr. Carter also bought serialization rights of Gail Sheehy’s book on Hillary, which managed to be both accusatory and politically sympathetic.) Previous successful Hillary books were written by Barbara Olson, Joyce Milton, Dick Morris and me, righties all, and David Brock, who had not a philosophy but employers. The Klein book looks to be a big success in terms of sales (350,000 first printing). This suggests there is a big market for a Hillary biography.

Mr. Klein’s problem is that he assumes the market is conservative and conservatives are stupid. They’re not, actually. They want solid sourcing and new information that is true.

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Here is something good about the book. Klein treats Hillary as if she were a man. Remember the stories that said Dan Quayle was a cocaine salesman? That George W. Bush was a coke-sniffing, girl-chasing lush? That John F. Kennedy was a coke-sniffing, girl-chasing cynic? That Lyndon B. Johnson had a roving eye and held meetings with aides as he sat on the toilet? This is hard-guy politics: Run for office and we’ll throw everything we can that will stick and things that won’t stick too. Mr. Klein’s book is in this tradition. It treats Hillary as she has claimed she wants to be treated: not as a special case but like everyone else; not as a minority, not as a woman. Mr. Klein isn’t scared by her sex.

Mr. Klein’s central theme is not original. Hillary Rodham, committed left-wing operative and college radical, recognizes the raw talent and promise of the crude, yearning, cynical and attractive Bill Clinton. She marries him, and each receives something from the arrangement. She ties her wagon to a star and will rise to power with him; he receives ideological ballast, which he perceives as moral ballast, from a woman his equal in ambition and his superior in self-governance.

They rise. He compulsively chases women and is politically popular if unserious; she makes money, networks and burnishes their movement credentials. She knows of his philandering and looks the other way. They achieve the presidency and come in time to be seen as main-chancing Ivy League grifters.

Hillary ClintonHe is a sentimental liberal who’ll do what he has to do to maintain his viability in the system; she is his ideological soul, and somewhat zany in her assumption that the United States of America elected her as co-president and desires her to redesign its medical system. They both have a degree of genuine human charm. He was truly warm, at least for a while and at least until he got bored. She was genuinely funny, with a quick wit and an ability to listen.

In the presidency he floundered and she flailed. Then he moderated and she disappeared. Then he embarrassed the country, she joined or led the coverup, they were found out, and she emerged as a patient, loving wife who stood by her man. (For those who’d enjoy an excellent fictional gloss on their story, see Charles McCarry’s “Lucky Bastard.”)

This is, essentially, the story Mr. Klein tells. It has been told before and will be told again.

But he ignores the Rosetta stone of Hillary studies, the senior college thesis she wrote on leftist organizer Saul Alinsky and how to change the American political culture, which her alma mater, Wellesley College, obligingly continues to suppress on her request. There is little on the Rose law firm. There are canned and seemingly cut-and-paste cameos of Hillary aides who are shady and bad because they are Hillary aides.

There is a certain disconnect. Mr. Klein famously suggests again and again that Hillary is, was or will be homosexual. He dwells on this, it seems, to further bolster the charge that the Clinton marriage was from day one a political deal and not a serious and traditional emotional bond. But he also seems to suggest a serious romantic relationship with Vince Foster.

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The real problem with Hillary biographies is that the picture they paint, if it is true, is difficult for a normal person to believe. No one could be that bad. No one who has risen so high in American politics could possibly be that bad. To believe is to go to a dark place.

And the charges seem so at odds—so utterly at odds—with the nice, smiling woman who calls abortion a tragedy and enjoys speaking of how much she prays. This is the problem all Hillary biographers have: It’s too grim to believe. To believe that her story as presented by the books so far is true is to believe that she has clung to a premeditated plan for 40 years, that she is ruthless in the pursuit both of her own ambitions and of a deep and intractable leftist political agenda. And that she found her equal in a partner sufficiently hardhearted to stick with the plan, and the secrecy, and the weirdness. It’s too over the top. It seems hard to believe, not because it isn’t true but because it isn’t likely, usual, expected. It isn’t the kind of biography we are used to in our leaders. That is her great advantage.

What is needed is a big and serious book by respected reporters who can dig, think and type, and whose sourcing standards are high and unimpeachable. Will that happen? It would be big if it did. This book is not that book.