Saturday 24 March 2018

Weighty tome indeed, but Hillary's tale isn't over yet

Hillary Clinton with a copy of her book in New York. Reuters
Hillary Clinton with a copy of her book in New York. Reuters

Allison Pearson

THEY say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but what about its weight? If you struggle to hold it in one hand and get cramp holding it in two then that book is telling you something about itself. It's saying, "Look out, I'm a work of some heft not to be lightly dismissed." If ever a book deserves to be called a tome it is 'Hard Choices' by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At a stupefying 596 pages, 'Hard Choices' contains Clinton's reflections on her time as US secretary of state. The book claims to be about the past, but really it's about the future. At 66 years of age, the author is a former first lady and a former secretary of state. Although she has yet to declare that she will stand, in 'Hard Choices' Clinton makes clear that her interest is not in being a former anything, but a future president of the United States.

As a consequence, the poor woman cannot look back in languor. Even the book's title seems to have been chosen for maximum dullness because to be witty or provocative would be proof that Clinton, being female, was essentially unserious.

Not for Hillary the wry, retrospective chuckle over some work prank or a delicious bitchy jab at a ghastly colleague. On the contrary, every person Clinton has ever worked with is praised. The one individual Clinton can't bring herself to celebrate unreservedly is Hamid Karzai. Quite clearly, Hillary thinks the President of Afghanistan is a dirty rat who made her life hell by switching allegiances overnight. "He seemed to blame Americans more than the Taliban for the violence in his country. That was hard to stomach," Clinton admits. It's as damning as she allows herself to get.

One reason often given for bright women failing to break through the glass ceiling is that they simply will not suck up to people they despise. Cultivating good relations with people you despise is practically the job description for secretary of state. Thus, we see Hillary having to adopt diverse strategies for dealing with misogynist dinosaurs.

To a revealing extent, Clinton's personal journey – from thin-skinned, politically correct Democrat to ruthlessly flexible secretary of state – mirrors her country's changing approach to global leadership. Soft and hard power, masculine and feminine, liberal and conservative must walk hand in hand.

By and large, 'Hard Choices' has been unfavourably reviewed in the US, where one commentator dubbed it "50 shades of boring". Certainly, there are long passages where you may find yourself having to pinch your arm. But beneath its strenuously statesman-like surface, 'Hard Choices' tells us what it takes to evolve from a clever, passionately idealistic young feminist into a broad tough enough and cynical enough for the highest office.

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