Attempting to uncover the real Hillary Clinton
By Steven Martinovich
There is perhaps no greater polarizing public official in America today, U.S. President George W. Bush excepted, than New York Senator Hillary Clinton. She has raised a record amount of money for a front running presidential campaign yet a recent poll suggested that just over half of Americans would never vote for her. Even Democrats, it appears, are divided on the possibility of another Clinton presidency given the strong race that a junior senator from Illinois with no political record is running.
Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.'s Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton is an exploration of Clinton that surprisingly, given the authors' pedigrees – one is a New York Times reporter while the other formerly of there, tends to be a less than positive portrayal of the presidential candidate. Covering her entire life all the way up to events earlier this year, Gerth and Van Natta attempt to find out who the real Hillary Clinton is.
The big details about her life are by now well known. It won't come as a surprise that before attending college Clinton considered herself a Goldwater Republican, becoming a Democrat while at Wellesley College. Her legal career wasn't a terribly impressive one outside of serving on the Nixon impeachment committee. Clinton only really seemed to find success when Bill Clinton began to rise up the political ranks, serving as his advisor, most effective campaigner and occasional firewoman when a scandal arose.
With that in mind it is not a surprise that Her Way spends much of its time on the Clinton presidency and her time in the Senate. Gerth and Van Natta chronicle her failed attempt to institute mandatory health care, her response to the Lewinsky scandal and how she managed to accrue such power in the Senate so quickly. Readers are treated to their in-depth coverage of Clinton's confusing array of positions concerning the Iraq war and her possible agenda if she is ever elected president.
It is clear from Gerth and Van Natta's treatment that Clinton has some admirable qualities. She is undoubtedly intelligent, ambitious and determined. Unlike her husband, she is generally disciplined. For all of her positive attributes, Gerth and Van Natta don't shy away from exposing the less savory aspects of her character. The Hillary Clinton that also emerges from Her Way is a woman who is arrogant, incapable of accepting blame, fond of following public opinion, no stranger to misquoting herself and others and being less than straightforward when under pressure. It is perhaps no great surprise that Clinton is disliked as intensely by some as she is so beloved by others.
Ultimately Her Way is a failure because we really don't know much more about the private Clinton than we did before. Given the paucity of contemplation in Clinton's own autobiography, perhaps that isn't a surprise. Clinton is – according to friend and foe alike – a carefully controlled person that even those who have called her friend for years don't fully understand. Considering how few of her associates are willing to go on the record in opposition to her wishes, it may be that we may never really know who Hillary Clinton really is and Gerth and Van Natta may be forgiven for failing to unearth the real women.
Conservatives will doubtless be annoyed that salacious minor scandals and some of her rumoured character deficits aren't fully explored and liberals will be irritated by the authors' careful going over of her artful statements and votes on Iraq, among other of her foibles. Despite that, however, Her Way is still a worthy addition to the body of work exploring Clinton because it does underline what we already know, that Clinton is an extraordinarily ambitious woman who wants to change the world – sometimes by any means necessary. Americans will have a chance next year to decide whether they agree with her vision.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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