LIVING HISTORY by Hillary Rodham Clinton Simon & Schuster, $28.00
THE WEEK PRIOR TO THE RELEASE of Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) memoir Living History was humorless Washington at its best. With their trademark tin ear for their own absurdity, cable punditocrats vied to see who could comment more definitively on a book that had not yet even been released--and thus, none of them could have read. Tucker Carlson, the conservative co-host on CNN's "Crossfire," even offered to "eat his shoes and tie" if Living History sells a million copies. (That the book sold 600,000 copies in its first week is apparently making Mr. Carlson a tad queasy.)
Every First Lady since Betty Ford has published a memoir within four years of leaving the White House, a fact that doesn't dampen conjectures that Living History is positioning Hillary Clinton for a 2008 presidential run. Aha--it's a sly grab for power! As Chris Matthews and Christopher Hitches decided. Imagine what she would do? (Why, everyone might get health insurance!) But what would the comments be if she hadn't written the book? Aha! A sure sign that she's running! Clearly she wants to distance herself from the White House scandals!
It is of course unthinkable that Hillary Clinton may have actually revealed something of her true self in Living History. As someone who knows Hillary personally--as I do every other living First Lady--I believe she does. Living History is not only a pleasure to read--an articulate, well-written, and detail-rich account of the Clintons's historic time in the White House that will hold up as a solid work of autobiography for years to come; it is also a book that conveys, with surprising candor, a quiet conservatism at the heart of a woman who has spent years in public life being vilified for her liberalism.
No previous First Lady assumed the position with a greater knowledge and interest in her predecessors than did Hillary Rodham Clinton. Yet while she learned a lot of biographical facts about the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Dolley Madison, Nellie Taft, and Mamie Doud Eisenhower (who, like Hillary, insisted on always using her maiden name), her greatest mistake in her first months as First Lady was that she missed the important subtext: Use covert symbols and methods to impart influence, and you'll get away with more--and with less criticism--than if you honestly disclose it. Intellectually, Hillary Clinton may have recognized that a First Lady's "power is derivative." But even after a lengthy Ladyship-training session with Jackie Kennedy days after her husband's inauguration, she did not...