The Magazine

Hillary's History

From the July 7 / July 14, 2003 issue: Senator Clinton's opus.

Jul 7, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 42 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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And understand her stupidity. Now, Hillary's stupidity is of a Monday's-homework-done-on-Friday-night, 1,400 on her SATs kind, but nonetheless stupid for all that. She has lunch with Jackie Onassis, who "cautioned me that Bill, like President Kennedy, had a personal magnetism that inspired strong feelings in people. She never came out and said it, but she meant that he might be a target." Was Jackie talking about the grassy knoll or about a different kind of mons?

Hillary serves roasted eggplant soup and sweet potato puree to Jacques Chirac and doesn't get the joke when Chirac says, "Of course, I love many things American, including the food. You know, I used to work in a Howard Johnson's restaurant." After listening to Jiang Zemin explain that the Tibetans had been liberated by the Chinese, Hillary concludes, "I don't think Jiang . . . was being quite straight with me on Tibet."

Hillary failed the District of Columbia bar examination, but she passed in Arkansas--and "in the first jury trial I handled on my own, I defended a canning company against a plaintiff who found the rear end of a rat in the can of pork and beans he opened for dinner one night."

HAS "LIVING HISTORY" been dumbed down for its intended reader? Yes, assuming its author read it. I don't doubt that she wrote part of it, but no one seems to have read the final text. Otherwise, how to explain such sentences as, "The dominant architecture was Soviet-style socialist realism," or "Tom and I spent late nights wrestling over the fine points of legal interpretation" (a euphemism sure to be taken up by the British tabloid press), or this description of a 1992 bus trip campaigning: "Bill, Al, Tipper and I spent hours talking, eating, waving out the window." Which must have been a sight, though nothing compared with the trip to Russia when Hillary and Mrs. Boris Yeltsin "laughed our way through a day of public appearances and private meals with local dignitaries." I hesitate to think there was a logical explanation, but Hillary does say, "Ireland invigorated and inspired me, and I wished we could bottle up the good feelings and take them back home." It's been done before.

"Living History" arrived from the publisher with a seven-page executive summary (itself ferociously tedious) that indicates no one is intended to read this book. Of course, a couple of people had to. There is the junior associate--doubtless a strong, intelligent woman--at the law firm of Bland and Blander who slogged through every word to make sure nothing was actionable. And then there's me. Poor me. But, except for us, "Living History" suffers the fate of modern poetry, with an authorship of many and an audience of none.

Not that the book isn't supposed to sell. And I understand it's selling nicely. I do not begrudge Hillary and her publisher their profits. The money will allow them, per Dante, to visit the fifth cornice of purgatory, where avarice is atoned, whenever they can get family leave from the ninth circle of hell where they'll be eternally tortured for spreading false doctrine. The free market is a good thing.

The purchasers of "Living History" can count themselves benefited, also. They could have had Hillary as their legal aid defender instead of merely their senator. Her argument to the jury that "rodent parts which had been sterilized might be considered edible in certain parts of the world" would not be of much use in a felony narcotics trial, despite the admirable multiculturalism of the sentiment.

However, it says something unflattering about our era that prominent political figures--who used to write declarations of independence, preambles to constitutions, Gettysburg addresses, and such--now use the alphabet only to make primitive artifacts, like the letter-inscribed tablet that Charlemagne is said to have put under his pillow each night, in the hope he'd wake up literate. Conservatives, including most of the Founding Fathers, have always worried that the price of a democratic system would be a mediocre nation. But George Washington and William F. Buckley Jr. put together could not have foreseen, in their gloomiest moments, the rise of Clinton-style über-mediocrity--with its soaring commonplaces, its pumped trifling, its platinum-grade triviality. The Alpha-dork husband, the super-twerp wife, and the hyper-wonk vice president--together with all their mega-weenie water carriers, such as vicious pit gerbil George Stephanopoulos and Eastern diamondback rattleworm Sidney Blumenthal--spent eight years trying to make America nothing to brag about.

They failed. And that is, ultimately, what makes "Living History" such a good nonread. If they're going to throw the book at us, and the book is by Hillary, the republic will endure (and the Republicans will prevail). Plus, there's a bonus. "Living History" contains a surprise unmentioned, I believe, by other reviewers. On page 402 we are presented with a rare, possibly unique, portrait of the likeable side of Robert Mugabe: "President Mugabe said little during my courtesy visit with him in the presidential residence in the capital, Harare. He paid close attention to his young wife, Grace, while I made conversation with her, and he periodically broke into giggles for no apparent reason."

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.