From the depths of a profoundly disappointing political defeat in 2008 to the heights of running out front again for 2016 – that’s the arc political writers Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes trace in HRC, their new biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton. In an e-mail conversation with Monitor books editor Marjorie Kehe, Allen and Parnes answered questions about their book, Clinton’s tenure as US secretary of State, and – of course – 2016. Here are excerpts of their exchange.
Q: If Hillary Clinton runs in 2016, how will she be different from when she ran in 2008?
We expect that she will more fully embrace both the opportunity to make history as the first woman to win the presidency – she resisted that messaging last time – and utilize technology, particularly social media, as a tool for fundraising, communication, and political organizing in a fashion that resembles [President] Obama’s campaigns. Whether those turn out to be crucial changes or simply efforts to fight the last war remains to be seen. Then-Senator Clinton had trouble articulating vision in 2008, and though it’s very early still, she has yet to put forward a vision for 2016.
Q: What would be the biggest problem that she would face in 2016?
Winning. Don’t expect anyone to roll over for the most polarizing figure in recent American political history. Progressives are looking for a candidate to rally around in a primary. And, after eight years of President Obama – and her own new baggage in the last five years – she would face a Republican Party (if she emerged from the Democratic primary) that is boasting it has a “truckload” of opposition research on her.
Q: One reviewer accused you authors of having fallen in love with Clinton as you reported on her. Is there any truth to this charge?
No. We spoke to more than 200 sources, some of whom work for her, some of whom support her, some of whom are enemies on the political battlefield, some of whom are investigating her, and some of whom are disaffected former members of the Clinton circle. The book has been cited by her critics and allies alike.
For example, Republicans have seized on our revelation that she engaged privately in lobbying for “Obamacare” and offered strategic advice to the president’s top aides. They also have made hay over our detailed description of the way the Clinton operation tracked and punished Democrats who were seen as disloyal to Secretary Clinton in 2008. Democrats, on the other hand, have pointed to our conclusion that she was largely a competent manager of a major institution.
The truth is, we set out to report on her political comeback from depths of a devastating loss to the heights of running out front again for 2016. This was a period in which her career was on the upswing and the book seeks to report and explain that recovery with never-before- told stories, fresh insights from people who interacted with her (both allies and adversaries), and the public record. The New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times book reviewers all praised the reporting and analysis.
If the book read like a hit piece, it wouldn't have reflected either the public or private reality of her tenure at State.
Q: Your book describes a very warm friendship between Clinton and Joe Biden. Will that relationship survive 2016?
One of our favorite scenes in the book comes minutes after Clinton wraps up her 2008 Democratic National Convention speech, as Joe Biden races to find her in the depths of the arena. Finding her in a holding room, he clasps his hands and drops to his knees – grateful for the full endorsement she had just given to the Obama-Biden ticket. They ran against each other in 2008 without acrimony, and we would be surprised if they couldn’t do the same in 2016.
Q: What in your book might surprise readers?
There are several stories in the book that point to [Clinton’s] desire to do things behind the scenes that don’t match up with her public positioning. Albeit limited, her effort on health care – at a time when she was ostensibly not engaging in domestic politics – is a prime example. In another case we detail with fresh reporting, she praises an aide who ran afoul of President Obama’s declaration that America wouldn’t aid Iran’s “Green Movement.” She liked what he did and she told folks who wanted to fire him for the insubordination that what he had done was “exactly what we should be doing.”
Also, she’s got a pretty good sense of humor that can help disarm foes.
Q: If Clinton retired today, what would her legacy be?
Aside from showing that a first lady can be her own political force after the White House, we think it is in the human rights arena. In insisting that the world protect the rights of women, and later of gays and lesbians, as it does for others through international human rights standards, she has put pressure on other countries to observe the tenets of justice and egalitarianism that form the basis of American democracy.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.