June 9, 2014
Get ready for a new round of Clintonmania.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s memoir of her four years as secretary of state is scheduled for release on Tuesday, and the tightly orchestrated hoopla has already begun.
A team of strategists from past campaigns — presidential campaigns, that is, not bookselling campaigns — has been recruited to smooth her path, and a “war room” is being set up to deploy surrogates against her critics. Early tidbits from the book have already appeared in Vogue (revealing that Clinton loved her mother) and Politico (revealing that she thinks the continuing Republican investigations of Benghazi are politically motivated).
There will be an old-fashioned book tour, but only after an ambitious television blitz: a full hour with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, a campaign-style town meeting on CNN and, most telling of all, an interview with Fox News, the network that has done its best to keep the Benghazi issue alive.
Her appearance on Fox is the best evidence that Clinton is serious about running for president. She wouldn’t put herself through the ordeal if it were just about selling books, especially since the first printing of a million copies has already sold out.
Let’s take Clinton at her word that she hasn’t decided to run for president. This kind of epic book launch will serve as a dry run for her rapidly growing pre-campaign organization and provide some measure of how good a candidate she is likely to be.
Best of all, there’s no downside. Clinton gets all the advantages of a presidential campaign (including national attention for everything she says) with few of the disadvantages — no traveling press corps, no need to disclose her family finances, no obligation to talk about subjects she’d rather avoid.
And the book’s subject is one entirely of her choosing: her steely leadership in times of crisis — or, as her title puts it, her ability to make “hard choices.”
But here’s the hard choice I’m interested in watching Clinton make during the next few weeks: Is she willing to tackle her negatives head-on, to get them out of the way before the campaign begins?
The passages featured last week in Politico suggest she may be. The leaked chapter deals with the most painful episode of Clinton’s tenure — the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans died — and in it, Clinton rebuts her critics with a sober recital of the facts.
“I will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans,” she wrote. “It’s just plain wrong, and it’s unworthy of our great country.”
But that’s just a beginning. She also needs to address other aspects of her time at State. How soon did she realize that her “reset” with Russia was failing, and why wasn’t she able to fix it? Why did she and CIA Director David H. Petraeus fail to persuade President Barack Obama to send military aid to Syria’s rebels, a rejection Obama has since reconsidered? How does she respond to critics who argue that she was too cautious to get much done? And, perhaps most important for the campaign, how does she plan to persuade war-weary Democratic voters to support her relatively hawkish views — more hawkish than Obama’s — on using U.S. military force?
Clinton also needs to say more about her 2012 health scare, when a blood clot near her brain took her out of action for a month — if not in the book, then in her media appearances. It was at least her second bout of thrombosis, and voters will want to know whether it’s likely to recur. But she may well draw the line at that kind of disclosure. Both Clintons have always been fiercely guarded about their medical records.
We can probably expect that the book will gently lay out some instances in which Clinton disagreed with Obama, and give some clues as to how she might be different as a president. Why? Because, if she runs, she would far rather be seen as reprising the Clinton legacy than continuing Obama’s.
The biggest question Clinton’s book blitz will answer, though, is the one that may be most important for both her and her party: How much has she learned?
As first lady, she was a prickly amateur who sometimes landed her husband in trouble. As a senator from New York, she did considerably better. But as a presidential candidate in 2008, she ran a ramshackle, disorganized campaign that failed against an upstart from Illinois.
Clinton has learned and grown and become a more polished politician in every job she’s had. The next few weeks may well turn out to be the first stage of her ascent to the presidency. Is she finally ready to run?
Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.