Hillary’s Hard Choices Is Hard To Praise, Say Critics

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Boring. Politically correct and eager not to offend. Devoid of critical thought. Not insightful. Of little news value.

Those aren’t assessments of Hillary Clinton, the person. But they are assessments of her new book, Hard Choices, an in-her-own-words revisiting of her time as President Barack Obama’s first-term Secretary of State ghostwritten by Ted Widmer. Hard Choices releases today, but advance reviews of the book by critics and pundits alike have been dismissive — at best.

POLITICO’s Mike Allen went off on the book, calling it a “newsless snore.”

TRUTH BOMB 1: “Hard Choices” is a newsless snore, written so carefully not to offend that it will fuel the notion that politics infuses every part of her life. In this book, like in “The Lego Movie” theme song, everyone is awesome!

Allen also quotes a Republican acquaintance who read the book and found it less than compelling. “Honestly, it is so vanilla and picked over. They leaked out the very few interesting anecdotes in the [656] pages to make it seem more interesting than it is… There is no insightful Obama stuff beyond the ’08 part that’s been discussed a lot already.”

Slate’s John Dickerson had trouble finding scintillating-sounding adjectives to capture the book’s (evidently) essential tepidness. “Clinton’s account is the low-salt, low-fat, low-calorie offering with vanilla pudding as the dessert. She goes on at great length, but not great depth,” he wrote. “Even Condoleezza Rice, one of the most loyal [George W.] Bush aides on the planet, was more candid in her memoir about the inside workings of power relationships than Clinton.”

Then there’s The New York Times, the authoritative voice for so many literates seeking a North Star to guide their general well-roundedness. Here’s what The Times’ Michiko Kakutani had to say:

There is little news in the book. And unlike former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s rawly candid memoir “Duty,” this volume is very much the work of someone who is keeping all her political options open — and who would like to be known not only for mastering the art of diplomacy, but also for having the policy chops to become chooser-in-chief.

“Hard Choices,” like Mrs. Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, does not evince a grand, overarching foreign policy vision, as Henry A. Kissinger’s 1994 book “Diplomacy” did. Rather, Mrs. Clinton displays a pragmatic, case-by-case modus operandi.

And that’s considered praise. New Republic’s Isaac Christopher griped that The Times’ review is too sunny; that it is, in fact, not “a ‘book review’; it’s a press release.”

“Keeping all her political options open” is the book’s likely endgame for Clinton. Other pundits more explicitly connect the strategic dots between the timing of the book’s release, its relative political banality and the ticking of the clock as it winds toward the 2016 Presidential campaign season.

Reporting not on the book itself but its role in laying some groundwork for a Hillary 2016 candidacy, POLITICO’s Todd S. Purdum explains how the book can, maybe, win a few Hillary converts by showing Hillary at her best — while simultaneously pulling double duty as the vehicle for critical research into voter demographics:

She has 100 percent name recognition, prohibitive political support in the polls — and more money than most ordinary people could ever dream of. So why does Hillary Clinton need another book, much less one that’s pre-sold a million copies and dominated news coverage even before its official release?

The answer: Her forthcoming book tour and the attendant multiplatform media blitz are about everything but the book and the bucks. To begin with, the rollout of “Hard Choices,” which officially begins Tuesday, presents a perfect way to gather priceless retail consumer data that can later be put to political use.

…Personal appearances will drive book sales, which could eventually drive voter turnout, and Clinton has data resources available to her in the age of social media that Powell and his would-be backers could only dream of.

“They can really take advantage of all these new tools with her, because she has a huge social media following,” said Gretchen Crary, a veteran book publicist who now runs February Media, her own public relations and marketing firm. “Authors really should take a page from politicians’ playbooks, because you build an audience the same way you build a constituency: You have to go to these anemic coffee klatches where three people show up, and turn them into your ambassadors.”

But the little people have to like the book for that to happen, across the country, thousands of times over.

More problematic for the Hillary 2016 pep squad, the little people have to want to read Hard Choices in the first place.

“[E]ven if the book is a guaranteed best-seller (the initial printing of 1 million copies has already sold out to retailers), some in Clinton’s circle nevertheless confess a certain anxiety about sales,” wrote Purdum, “if only because the book’s commercial performance will inevitably be viewed as yet another straw poll of Clinton’s political prospects.”

Don’t say we didn’t do our part: Here’s where you can rush out to buy Hard Choices.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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