“Hillary, I love you. But please go away,” reads the headline of the Los Angeles Times’ response to Hillary Clinton’s new book on the 2016 election, “What Happened.” Vanity Fair went with “Can Hillary Clinton please go quietly into the night?”
These aren’t the reviews any author wants to see about their book.
It is a sentiment echoed by many articles, blogs and social media posts. People, it seems, do not want to hear anything more from former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The wave of criticism “What Happened” has generated is unsurprising considering that the book is authored by a woman who once inspired criticism by using hairspray— Drudge Report decided her coiffed bob was a wig.
Conservatives who have spent the last few decades professionally attacking Clinton have predictably chewed over every detail of the book, the tour and the accompanying interviews. The most common charges leveled against Clinton are so elastic that the narratives almost weave themselves. She’s charging a premium for VIP access to her tour—typical, money-hungry Hillary. She discusses sexism—of course she would play the ‘woman card’ again. These are the sorts of attacks that are leveled at Clinton with clockwork regularity.
The nature of the criticism by Democrats, however, is much less conventional. Though writing a post-mortem book has been a common practice among losing candidates from Senator Bernie Sanders to Governor Mike Huckabee, people seem remarkably angry that Clinton has dared to speak up. Some have complained that Clinton’s book, with its jabs at Senator Sanders, the media and others, is too divisive to publish right now. Others are simply still exhausted by the toxic and prolonged 2016 election cycle and have no desire to relieve it. Yet, this doesn’t seem to fully explain the level of resentment that the existence of “What Happened” has inspired. Clinton’s political future is no longer tied to that of the Democratic Party. Those who only supported her out of party loyalty no longer have to do so. Misogynistic attacks on Clinton’s voice, appearance and family life have dogged her career; perhaps those who have secretly yearned to tell the “nagging shrew” to “stop lecturing” finally feel unfettered and permitted to do so.
Other former allies do not object to Clinton speaking up but don’t like what they hear. Among those who are willing to forgive the existence of the book and address the content, the most common complaint is one of blame. Why doesn’t Clinton take all of it? Why is she so willing to pass it around? Vanity Fair’s article, “A Brief List of People Clinton Blames for her Election Loss,” is not particularly brief. People are quick to point to flaws in Clinton’s campaign as proof that the only person she should blame is herself. President Trump himself naturally couldn’t resist chiming in, tweeting, “Crooked Hillary Clinton blames everybody (and everything) but herself for her election loss. She lost the debates and lost her direction!” Pundits, for what it is worth, generally agreed that Clinton was the victor of the three debates, a viewpoint supported by her post-debate bumps in polls.
The idea that Clinton is solely at fault for her loss ignores the fact that in a contest as close as the 2016 election, there are a multitude of determining factors. The Washington Post reports that according to experts, a mere 107,000 of voters in three key states, or less than a 10th of a percentage point of the total voters, decided the election. Clinton might have won if she had focused more on an economic message, but she also might have won if her gender hadn’t activated the ambient misogyny ingrained in our culture, if Senator Sanders hadn’t provided a figurehead for grassroots progressives to coalesce behind, if the media had run fewer stories about her email server or if any number of other aspects of the election cycle had been different.
These factors, all of which Clinton discusses in “What Happened,” are more challenging to address because they lack an unlikeable villain to blame. Misogyny is such a diffuse and difficult-to-pinpoint force that many refuse to acknowledge that it exists. Sanders, who certainly never intended to aid President Trump, is still the darling of a significant wing of the Democratic Party. An unprotected e-mail server is a legitimate scandal worthy of press coverage, and it is difficult to delineate where and how and when enough became too much. Reading about, acknowledging and discussing these factors is complex and painful; it is far easier to discount them and talk about Wisconsin. Better that Clinton quietly swallows our collective national shame and then completely vanishes, taking the shame with her.
Ultimately, it is this unwillingness on the part of Clinton to be a silent receptacle for our guilt that is fueling the unusually resentful response to “What Happened.” Democrats do not like her talking about the many external factors that affected her campaign, preferring to maintain the belief that a flawed candidate was the campaign’s only fault. Republicans do not like her talking—full stop. “What Happened,” much like its author, is a lightning rod for censure that reflects as much upon its critics as the object of criticism.