Re-Living History

David McCullough has recently written the definitive popular biography of John Adams. Drawing upon Adams’s prolific collection of letters to his wife Abigail and his erstwhile political ally and adversary Thomas Jefferson, McCullough was able to recreate both the character and political genius of the thoughtful, honest and sometimes pompous and sanctimonious founding father. As McCullough explains it, his original intention was “doing a dual biography of Adams and Jefferson and their intertwining lives.” However, while McCullough had depth of both personal and political material with which to explore Adams, there was a wall hiding Jefferson the man. For example, Jefferson destroyed all the letters to and from his wife he could find. Moreover, listening to McCullough, one gets the impression that he simply likes spending time in the ethereal presence of Adams. Life is short and although it is impossible to study Adams without coming to an understanding of Jefferson as well, McCullough apparently would rather spend more of his time with Adams than Jefferson.

Invoking the same privilege as a reader, not an author, I beg forgiveness for not spending 576 pages with Hillary Clinton’s new book Living History. It is not that she is uninteresting. If I could gain an important insight into her political philosophy, perhaps I might be persuaded to live with her mind for a short period. I remain unpersuaded.

There are partisans who will parse the book and undoubtedly find passages of dubious credibility and Mrs. Clinton’s defenders who defend her veracity immune to the evidence. I fear the book will prove to be a long and tedious Rorschach inkblot test. The impression one has of Mrs. Clinton only be reinforced by the book. Mrs. Clinton’s detractors will find additional evidence to confirm their distaste, while her puppy-eyed followers will lap up her auto-hagiography. Book reviews will say more about the reviewer than about the New York Senator. I know myself well enough to not need to see my own reflection in Ms. Clinton’s ghost-written words.

Perhaps, Matt Lambash’s review had it right when he said that Living History is one long exercise in resume writing. Mrs. Clinton is using the book as a start to a long job interview with the American public to become president. There is a considerable history of political candidates writing books to kick off elections runs. Remember, Jimmy Carter’s book that asked “Why Not the Best?” Most people answered the question in the affirmative in 1980 by voting for Ronald Reagan.

Despite the history of pre-campaign books, do we really need to know about Mrs. Clinton’s appointment as co-captain of the school safety patrol? Anyone who would look back at that experience and conclude, “my new status provided me my first lesson in the strange ways some people respond to electoral politics” has a prism on the world that only allows the political component through. Perhaps a question that Americans will be forced to answer in a future Hillary Clinton presidential bid is whether they would like to be governed by someone who is still concerned enough about a school safety patrol election to write about it decades later. By way of contrast, Ronald Reagan eschewed school safety patrol politics and was a lifeguard who saved dozens of lives.

As much I or other Conservatives may wish to avert their gaze, Clinton’s star will glow for a long time, extinguished only when she is definitively defeated electorally. There was a time when some Democrats looked wistfully at Edward Kennedy as a president that could bring back the heady days of John Kennedy’s Camelot. Seeing weakness in President Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid, Edward Kennedy challenged Carter for the Democratic nomination. Democrats looked at Kennedy and balked. Since then, Kennedy has been confined to the Senate. Unencumbered by realistic presidential aspirations, he moved left to his natural and comfortable position in the political spectrum. Will this be Clinton’s fate? Perhaps Clinton will be defeated for re-election to the Senate by Rudy Giulliani. Perhaps she will be defeated in 2008 in a presidential bid. Perhaps she will be successful in a presidential run. However, only an electoral loss will stop this famous co-captain of the school safety patrol.

There you see evidence of my original proposition that Living History is merely a Rorschach test. I have not read Living History and I already have had my preconceptions about Mrs. Clinton definitively confirmed.

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