Hold the bus: One more Hillary Clinton book

THE CASE AGAINST HILLARY CLINTON By Peggy Noonan ReganBooks 181 pp., $24

There is enormous economy in the first 10 pages of Peggy Noonan's book on Hillary Clinton. Read them and forgo the 181 that follow. They pretty much cliff-note what you're in for.

From a member of the Reagan speech shop that created years of truly great lines comes this repetitive grouse about what a fake Hillary Clinton is.

Even if you agree with her argument - that Mrs. Clinton is the continuation of an opportunistic brand of politics devoid of conviction - "The Case Against Hillary Clinton" is too catty to enjoy.

The book's other problem is its place in line. For the consumer of popular political writings, it's at the tail end of a list of negative books that suggest the depth of Clinton fatigue.

From "Hillary's Choice" to "Hell to Pay," more than two dozen books about Mrs. Clinton or the first couple have flown from publishers' printers like fireflies.

This one doesn't provide the biting insight offered by David Maraniss ("First in His Class") or the insider feel from Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward ("The Agenda").

Instead, we get an internal reverie - written largely while in pajamas, Noonan revealed to the Associated Press - of why she doesn't like Mrs. Clinton (doesn't hate her, she insists, just doesn't like her), and why Mrs. Clinton has no place in the US Senate.

"To me she seems like an odd thing that happened to us," she writes.

After dedicating her book to Eleanor Roosevelt, presumably both Noonan's and Mrs. Clinton's adviser in the next realm, Noonan imagines Senator Clinton's victory speech this coming November.

Noonan's scene setting, especially here, is impeccable. We're transported to the stage by a writer who's traveled years and miles on hotel-grade carpet in convention halls with the scent of Salisbury steak and peas heavy in the air.

But instead of just a few over-the-top pages watching Mrs. Clinton's every disingenuous facial expression and word, Noonan stabs at the scene page after page like she's just cornered a thawed chicken in the kitchen sink. It's catharsis for the bitter outsider looking in.

The faux drama is intended to highlight just how evolved Mrs. Clinton is in the game of politics. At that imagined podium is the latest version of the ber-woman Campaigner 8.0. Noonan suggests Mrs. Clinton is uniquely Democratic in her willingness to say and do anything to be elected.

And all of us should resent her, Noonan asserts, because "she does not seem as big as the emotions she engenders. She lacks historical heft, is not a person of real size and authenticity."

Noonan also uses others to take Mrs. Clinton to task. New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) doesn't like the Clintons for their ideologically devoid centrism and middle-of-the-road policymaking that cut welfare programs more than he wanted.

In beating Mrs. Clinton with both liberal and conservative sticks, Noonan smacks her own credibility. A Republican administration, for example, would have cut welfare programs even further. The Clinton plan altered it less dramatically than Ronald Reagan or even George Bush would have.

Noonan writes several fictional accounts in the course of this book, leaving readers to imagine her at her laptop, in her pajamas, being fed material by an angry, partisan version of Ally McBeal's dancing baby.

In the end, Noonan's book is a one-woman speaking tour, the counterpoise to Mrs. Clinton's listening tour. It's "a book that can be read aloud in bed," she has said to couples split on the topic. But, in fact, couples buying "The Case Against Hillary Clinton" for that purpose might want to consider also ordering John Gray's "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" while they still have Barnes & Noble online.

Unless your marriage is like James Carville and Mary Matalin's, this isn't light reading material to take to bed.

* James N. Thurman is a Monitor correspondent in Washington, D.C.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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