Full disclosure: I voted for Hillary Clinton’s husband twice in the presidential races, and I plan to vote for Hillary in November. I contribute money to Clinton’s campaign, and I regularly post material derogatory to Donald Trump on this blog. Additional full disclosure: My wife and her husband were in the same high school class in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

All that said, a few weeks ago I obtained a copy of Carl Bernstein’s book about Hillary Clinton, titled A Woman In Charge. This is the Kindle edition, now available at $1.99, just in time for the presidential campaign. I paid considerably more a few weeks ago. That’s what I get for being impatient. I’m not going to provide a comprehensive analysis of the book or of Clinton. This review will give you some of the flavor, of both the book and the subject. On occasion, as the election season warms up, I will salt some of my posts with additional excerpts from the book.

Up front, readers need to remember that Bernstein, along with Bob Woodward, wrote scathing news reports for the The Washington Post about President Richard Nixon’s Watergate debacle and his fall from grace. They pooled their resources and followed up with an equally scathing book about the affair, titled All The President’s Men. The book was the basis for a popular movie of the same name and starring Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein and Robert Redford as Woodward.

Of the two, Bernstein has been notably liberal while Woodward, a Republican at the time, likely voted for Nixon. So here it comes, just in time for the election cycle, a feel-good book about candidate Hillary Clinton. Not nearly.

Bernstein traces Clinton’s life from rough-as-a-cob middle class, suburban Chicago up through the highest reaches of power. And he does not pull any punches. Clinton is shown as an over-achieving student, perhaps driven by a massively critical and harsh father, Hugh Rodham. Her stellar rise is shown coupled with a dramatic shift from her father’s rigid conservatism and Republican politics to today’s liberal icon.

That shift can be attributed to the influence of Methodist youth minister Don Jones, who arrived at her church when Hillary was in the tenth grade, and also to Hillary’s experience while working for the Barry Goldwater campaign to disqualify black voters in the seamier parts of Chicago:

In Hillary’s junior year in high school, she and Betsy both became Goldwater Girls, assigned by local campaign aides to check for voter registration fraud in minority neighborhoods in Chicago. Hillary’s father raised no objection to his daughter knocking on doors in the slums to find out the registration status of voters whom the Goldwater campaign might be able to disqualify. Hillary’s territory included the new (and later infamous) Robert Taylor Homes housing project, bulldozed into oblivion as a symbol of poverty and racism eight presidencies later. She was a privileged suburban teenager seeing, close up, how thousands of poor black people lived, and it made a transforming impression.

Bernstein, Carl. A Woman in Charge (p. 31). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The coming together of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham was to politics what the collision of two galaxies must be in cosmology—history-making, earth-shattering, at times calamitous. Reading through the story of their life together, one has to wonder how it would have all turned out had Hillary gained better control of her political intransigence and Bill better control of his willie. Time and again when the two should have followed Bill’s political instincts (and those of wise advisors), they followed Hillary’s, leading to disaster. Time and again when Bill seemed about to gain political mastery, his zipper failed him. All the while scandal followed Bill, political missteps followed Hillary.

The dynamic duo made their first mark together in the Arkansas statehouse, where early good intentions seemed to end their run at a single term. Bill’s grand scheme to improve Arkansas infrastructure, near the bottom rung among the states, suffered a horrendous backlash when he tied the program to a vehicle tax scheme that shafted the state’s downtrodden to the benefit of its elite. Back in office after sitting out a two-year term, Hillary scored her first triumph:

Hillary’s preparation for her assignment (as in Washington with health care) was exhaustive, her expertise made almost as sharp as that of professionals with years of experience. She researched the curriculum of every Arkansas school district and traveled the state to attend public hearings. Hillary said she kept hearing stories about grossly incompetent teachers who could hardly read or spell.

Ultimately Hillary would prevail in the political battle for education reform. It would be her greatest achievement in public life until she was elected to the U.S. Senate, though the substantive results fell short of the grand expectations of her plans. And the methodology she employed to win the battle, and the lessons she and Bill took away from the experience, would haunt the Clinton presidency and doom health care reform from the start.

Bernstein, Carl. A Woman in Charge (pp. 171-172). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

An aside here. I grew up in small town Texas—remember, Texas borders on Arkansas. Things may have changed since, but back then in Texas, Arkansas was a punchline. No place was figured more backward than Arkansas. Which explains this:

THEN HILLARY RODHAM became Hillary Clinton, as she had vowed never to do. Changing her name, which seemed to signal to voters that she was changing her attitude, was as essential to Bill Clinton’s future as apologizing for the car tag fiasco. Or, as Jim Blair said about the name change, Hillary “would sacrifice some of her principles to keep political expediency.” Hillary talked to Hubbell about why she now thought changing her name was important. “We had a long conversation that day, and I understood a lot more about her afterward,” he said. “There was the notion of retaining her own identity, which she had submerged in coming to Arkansas, and the conflict of interest sensitivity she felt as a lawyer. And there was something closer to the bone. It hurt her that people would think she didn’t love her husband. It hurt her when people asked what Chelsea’s last name would be. It hurt her that people in Arkansas didn’t try to understand her as much as they wanted her to understand them. But the name had become an issue, and she was prepared to change it to help her husband.”

Bernstein, Carl. A Woman in Charge (pp. 165-166). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Yes, to voters in Arkansas, that Hillary retained her father’s name would mean the difference between success and defeat in the election—this being today written by a person married to Barbara Neuser.

Surprise, surprise! The main thing holding Bill and Hillary back from running for the presidency to succeed Ronald Reagan was Bill’s willie. They figured there was no way they could mount a campaign with Bill’s most recent Arkansas escapades still cooling down. With the help of independent candidate Ross Perot in 1992, the pair ascended to the highest rung, where more disaster followed.

Hillary’s notorious intransigence is cited for the failure of the Clintons’ signature health care initiative. Unwilling to compromise when Republicans made overtures, she saw her cherished initiative go down in flames under vicious attack from Republicans and even from Democrats. The Democratic losses in the 1994 election were traced back directly to the President’s wife. She pulled back totally from politics and almost completely from public life for the duration of their tenure. But it was during this time Hillary’s popularity soared across the globe and even in American politics:

Hillary had learned (or so she said later) from her health care experience that the tone and pitch of her voice often worked against her when she felt strongly about an issue. (She attributed this to women being subject to criticism if they showed too much feeling in public.) The Chinese, ultimately, blacked out her speech on official state radio and television, but her message was startlingly forceful and clear to her hosts:

It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are girls. It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution. It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small. It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war. It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages fourteen to forty-four is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes. It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation. It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.

Her twenty-one-minute-long oration ended with a plea that the delegates return to their countries and demand action to improve opportunities for women— in health, the law, politics, and education. Now there was an agonizingly long delay before the translations were completed (delegations from 189 countries were in attendance). Hillary anxiously awaited the audience response. Suddenly there was something approaching pandemonium as hundreds in the hall leaped to their feet and began a long-standing ovation for the first lady.

For the rest of her time in China, Hillary was mobbed by those who had heard the speech, both in Beijing and at a huge meeting of nongovernmental organizations in Huarirou, whose conference— to coincide with the smaller official U.N. assembly in Beijing— had been moved by the authorities to a distant city.

“It kind of legitimized her as an ambassador for those issues,” said her speechwriter Lissa Muscatine, who had accompanied Hillary and worked on the address. After two taxing years, and for the first time since her trip to Capitol Hill when she had charmed the committees of Congress that were to consider, and eventually help bury, health care reform, this was the first widespread positive recognition she received.

Bernstein, Carl. A Woman in Charge (pp. 437-438). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What you are going to get from Hillary Clinton as President is a leader with philosophies based on a radical, almost pathological, Christian mindset. Bernstein sees her history of intransigence derived from a self-righteousness ordained by God. He concludes:

As Hillary has continued to speak from the protective shell of her own making, and packaged herself for the widest possible consumption, she has misrepresented not just facts but often her essential self.

Great politicians have always been marked by the consistency of their core beliefs, their strength of character in advocacy, and the self-knowledge that informs bold leadership. Almost always, Hillary has stood for good things. Yet there is often a disconnect between her convictions and words, and her actions. This is where Hillary disappoints. But the jury remains out. She still has time to prove her case, to effectuate those things that make her special, not fear them or camouflage them. We would all be the better for it, because what lies within may have the potential to change the world, if only a little.

Bernstein, Carl. A Woman in Charge (p. 554). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The book came out in 2007, depriving us of Bernstein’s insights into more recent Clinton controversies. I have already remarked on some of these. More will come between now and November. Keep reading.


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