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What Happened Hardcover – September 12, 2017
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“What Happened is not one book, but many. It is a candid and blackly funny account of her mood in the direct aftermath of losing to Donald J. Trump. It is a post-mortem, in which she is both coroner and corpse. It is a feminist manifesto. It is a score-settling jubilee…. It is worth reading.”
—The New York Times
“What Happened is a raw and bracing book, a guide to our political arena.”
—The Washington Post
“The writing in What Happened is engaging — Clinton is charming and even funny at times, without trying to paint herself in too flattering of a light…. Ultimately, the book might be a historical artifact most of all — the chronicling of what, exactly, it was like to run for president as the first woman major-party candidate (and, yes, a Clinton as well). Plenty may disagree with Clinton’s opinions on what went wrong for her, but her story will still be an important part of that history when America looks back on the melee that was the 2016 election.”
“An engaging, beautifully synthesized page-turner.”
“Here is Clinton at her most emotionally raw.... While What Happened records the perspective of a pioneer who beat an unprecedented path that stopped just shy of the White House, it also covers territory that many women will recognize.... She demonstrates that she can mine her situation for humor.”
“A disturbing autopsy on the state of America today. What Happened is an urgent plea directed not only to those concerned about America’s capacity to survive, but also to all who are anxious about protecting America’s international contributions to human health.”
“What Happened is not a standard work of this genre. It’s interesting; it’s worth reading; and it sets out questions that the press, in particular, has not done enough to face.”
“The most useful way to read What Happened is as one last instance of Clinton doing what she calls her civic duty.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Contains... insights into Ms. Clinton’s personality, character, and values, and the challenges confronting women in politics.”
“This is an important book, and anyone who’s worried by what happened last November 8 should pick it up.”
About the Author
Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first woman in US history to become the presidential nominee of a major political party. She served as the 67th Secretary of State—from January 21, 2009, until February 1, 2013—after nearly four decades in public service advocating on behalf of children and families as an attorney, First Lady, and Senator. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother.
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A good 75% of the book has nothing to do with "what happened." Most of the book is HRC telling about her political career, her wonderful family, her mother, her wonderful life with Bill, how much she cares about people, especially children, her wonderful, hard-working staff, etc. This is fine but it's a lot to wade through to get to the meat of the book, and once you get to the meat, it's a pretty cheap cut.
HRC lays out a good case against FBI Director James Comey and against Russian "fake news" items that saturated social media and against the media for fixating on the non-scandal of her emails while ignoring her policies and plans for America. I came away from the book with a finer understanding of how these forces worked against her. She also has choice words for her opponent in the primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom she believes "gave ammunition" to Trump. She was less convincing on this front as virtually nothing Sanders said against HRC during the primary battle was new; his criticisms of HRC were general talking points before Sanders ever entered the contest.
The book whitewashes the DNC's actions against Sanders during the primary, actions that turned a good number of Sanders supporters (HRC continues use of the odious "Bernie Bros." epithet) against her. She blames Russian leaks of DNC emails for Debra Wasserman Shultz's departure but makes no mention of what was IN those emails that was so incriminating. HRC praises the hard work of Donna Brazile but fails to mention how Brazile was caught stealing debate questions (for the debate with Sanders) from CNN and then leaking those questions to HRC and not to Sanders.
HRC skims over her failure to deliver a simple, inspirational vision for America as Trump did for his supporters and as Sanders did for his. She talks of her many policies and issue statements and acknowledges that such things aren't as catchy for voters as Trump's and Sanders' rhetoric. This statement is literally one sentence long, and yet it reveals the main reason her campaign failed: She does not know how to inspire people to vote for her. She's proud of her campaign slogan, "Stronger Together," without recognizing how flat it falls compared with Trump's "Make America Great Again." She talks of a program she and Bill worked out to share investment income with all Americans, the way Alaska shares oil revenue with its citizens, and calls it "Alaska for Americans." My god, what a horrible name! But she doesn't see it. She's tone deaf when it comes to language.
She's also blind to the issue of optics. She acknowledges that her highly-paid and secretive speeches to Wall Street firms "looked bad," but she far underestimates just how negatively those speeches affected her image. She speaks in the book proudly of the designers she has designing her clothing, but seems oblivious to the way those very same clothes impact the unemployed formerly-working class people she admits to wooing unsuccessfully.
There is no doubt but that big forces worked against Hillary Clinton's candidacy, but major forces opposed Trump, also. What is telling in HRC's memoir and analysis are her own blind spots, her weakness as a campaigner who fails to inspire, her over-reliance on her status as "first female Presidential nominee from a major party" (53% of white women voted for Trump, but HRC doesn't examine why), and her refusal to acknowledge how the DNC, during the primary, alienated the progressive voters she would later need to win the general election. (Even here, though, we have figures now indicating that 12% of Sanders supporters went over to Trump, whereas in 2008, after HRC lost the primary to Obama, 24% of her supporters went over to McCain. In other words, Sanders supporters were still more supportive of HRC than HRC's supporters were of Obama by 2-to-1.)
So around and around we go. Some reviews state that HRC blames everyone but herself for her loss. I think this statement is a bit strong, but certainly she turns her back, at least in this book, to enough of her own failings and those of the DNC to earn the criticism.
So there is my review of "What Happened," as a Democrat, as someone who voted for Hillary Clinton, as someone who bought the book from Amazon and read every word.
1) It was MY turn
2) The campaign was absolutely impeccable..without any flaws whatsoever
3) It was everyone else's fault
I purchased this book in Kindle format and read the whole thing. I habitually purchase a lot of stuff from Amazon and have written a bunch of other reviews before this one. I have been a Democrat my whole life and have only very, very occasionally voted for Republicans or third-party candidates. I voted for Bill Clinton in both Presidential elections and voted for Hillary Clinton against Trump last year. I have met both of the Clintons a couple of times and spent several hours on a few occasions in very small, private parties where they were in attendance, a few years after they left the White House. I am not a fan of Donald Trump at all and oppose almost everything that he is trying to do. I used to live in Chicago but more recently have been living in the intersection of Iowa and Wisconsin (two states that very well could have gone Democrat in 2016 but of course did not). I saw both Sanders and Trump speak in primary events, and then went to Trump's "Thank You" event in Des Moines, just to try to get a handle on how people in the Heartland were thinking about him (since it seemed to me that the media were getting it totally wrong).
I think that there are some good things to be said about Hillary Clinton. I do think she is smart. I do think she is diligent and a hard worker. I do think that she really cares about children and about a few other pet issues. I do think that she has been attacked unfairly on a lot of occasions, and that being a woman has made things more difficult for her than they would have been if she were a man.
But still, this book seems to crystallize for me a lot of the problems that I have with Hillary Clinton at this moment in time, and the problems that I have with the Democratic party, and in general why I think that they are currently doing so badly.
Perhaps the biggest problem that I have with the book is that I believe that the title is misleading. Although Clinton does attempt in the book to explain why she lost the election, in the end, she really seems to have no idea.
If instead the book had been called "What Campaigning in the 2016 Election Was Like for Me," likely I would feel comfortable giving the book another star. Because that is pretty much solely what this book is about. That is, Hillary tells in detail what it was like to campaign for President (what she ate, where she stayed, who she met, what kinds of gifts she bought for family members, how much time she had to spend maintaining her appearance, what she said, how she made the decisions that she did, what her private reactions were to the things that happened to her). So if the goal of the reader is to learn more about Hillary Clinton, as a person, then perhaps this book is worth reading.
What the book does not do is to provide any reasoned or persuasive discussion on what I see as the key questions that political leaders need to be discussing with regard to the 2016 election and the current state of affairs. Such as: Why is it that both the Democratic and Republican parties nominated candidates with such abysmal popularity ratings? Why is it that the majority of people are so unhappy with both political parties? What is it about Bernie Sanders that makes him continue to be the most popular (by far) well-known politician in America? In what ways might the Democratic party change in order to be more likely to win elections? Or, in what ways might the Republican party change in order to prevent people like Trump from winning elections?
Clinton does not focus at all on any of these questions, except in the most superficial way. There is nothing on them here that has not already been hashed to death in the Washington Post (owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos) and other newspapers that I consider to be very strongly biased in terms of the Democratic party elites who chose Clinton to be their nominee.
In my opinion, the biggest question that Clinton does not discuss at all in this book is how much the Democratic party has turned all of its focus toward the goal of making rich people (like Jeff Bezos, no?) even richer, and giving crumbs to the rest of the population. Clinton avoids pretty much all discussion of this topic.
Instead, she spends a good chunk of the book criticizing Bernie Sanders and trying to figure out how she could have acted differently during the campaign in order to more efficiently do away with him. Not once in the book does she consider the possibility that perhaps the reason that Sanders was popular was because the Democratic party (as well as the Republican party) had focused too much of its attention on the 1% (or, more specifically, the 0.0001%) and had left the rest of the population out in the cold.
I'm not saying that I would have expected her to reach that conclusion. But it does not seem to be a question that even entered her mind, from what I can tell from the book.
In general, the impression that I get from this book about Clinton in general - in terms of her political life and her personal life - is that she believes she is right about everything, that she is very very defensive about the idea that she is right about everything, and that she is very slow to change in the face of new information.
Perhaps it is just because I am a lot more focused on diet than most people, but the idea of her eating an egg-white omelet every morning really seemed odd to me. Even the mainstream media seems convinced that egg yolks are not something to be concerned about and very well may be the best part of the egg, at this point.
Later, she says that when reporters get sick, she insists that they drink ginger ale and eat crackers, and sends the State Department doctor to treat them with Cipro and antinausea drugs. All of those are the LAST things that I would use if I got sick, and the idea of Hillary Clinton forcing them on me anyway makes me wonder what other kinds of outmoded, counterproductive things she would have tried to force on the American public had she become President.
Because if there is one thing that I think comes across in this book, it is that she thinks that her own viewpoints are the only legitimate ones. "One time, Liz brought something I hadn't tried before: Flavor Blasted Goldfish," she said. "We passed around the bag and discussed whether it was better than the original. Some of my staff thought yes, which was incorrect."
Of course, that was a joke, but like all good jokes, I think there is a lot of truth in it.
And that, if I were going to answer the question of "What Happened," that would be key to it.
That is, that for the average Joe in the Heartland, Hillary Clinton came across as basically saying, "I know better than you what you need, and I am going to force it upon you whether you like it or not. And if you don't like it, that is too bad. Because regardless of what you think of me, you cannot vote for Trump."
And that is just plain not a winning argument. Once you diss people in that way, they would vote for Satan himself rather than you, just because you have pissed them off in so doing.
I do hope that Hillary Clinton finds something constructive to do with the rest of her life, because I think that in the right position, she would have a lot to contribute.
But in terms of being President - I think that it was her hubris as well as her determinedly neoliberal focus that lost the election for her. And so it is just too bad that she is unwilling to see or incapable of seeing that in the discussion in this book.
But I wouldn't have encouraged her to publish it.
A good editor would have gone a long way on this project; either cutting it by 2/3rds of trite, yawn inducing drivel, or by passing on the book altogether.