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SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: May 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Hillary Clinton | GOP | Trump | 2008 American Presidential Elections | Jon Favreau |

Karen Blumenthal
Edition: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781408879344
Pages: 450
price: Rs 599

Hillary Clinton is a divisive figure. Divisive in that she elicits extreme reactions from people who follow her and her politics. Questions can be raised to the effect that which politician does not? After all, Donald Trump has laid bare to whatever little flimsy cover of democratic values and human rights that United States of America ever boasted of. But he is hardly divisive. Even many of those who vote for him believe that he is straight out of a loony bin and that is where he belongs. Their support for Trump is more an organized angst against the GOP machinery than love for him per se.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is something else. She sounds so sincere even in her headstrongness that one stops and listens to her when she speaks. Because people know that what she does or says affects their life in ways no one can imagine. Last month, when she decided to address the annual gathering of America-Israel Political Action Committee, in spite of all my misgivings about the organization as well as her, I suffered the entire length of her address. Somewhere in-between, listening to her demagoguery and plain and simple bigotry, I started feeling sick. Really sick. But I continued. Why? Because here was a woman who could be the next President of the United States, and that affects us all.

The election season in the US has seen the sudden spurt of several books on the lives of all the aspirants, but none more than Hillary Rodham Clinton. Karen Blumenthal’s Hillary is supposed to address the teenage and young-adult crowd. Many of these young-adults will be voting for the first time in this year’s elections and it is necessary that they make informed decisions about who they want to see as their next President. This book serves the purpose to a point. The tone and tenor of this book is such that after a point, it is difficult to decide who is sponging off from whom, the book or the personality it is about.
Don’t misunderstand me. Of course, there is only as much information about a controversial life that a teenager should be exposed to. But this book is mostly a whitewash job. While it projects Hillary Clinton with all her strengths and achievements, stressing a tad too often on her fight against the prevailing sexism in the America of 60s and 70s, it goes bewilderingly mute over her failures and willful mistakes, some of which have destroyed  nations across the globe.

“Throughout her four decades in public life, Hillary has been described in ways, and held to standards, that differ hugely from those applied to her male counterparts. Her hairstyles and pantsuits have been parsed, critiqued and derided. Her warmth and likeability are regularly questioned. Now, as the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and just weeks from the first primaries, she faces a bigger question still: how ready is America – and its vocabulary – for a female president?” asks Blumenthal.

To her credit, Karen Blumenthal deals with the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal like a mature writer and informs about the incident to her young audience without omitting anything. “Not only was the president accused of having a relationship with an intern just six years older than Chelsea, but it was also alleged that Monica Lewinsky had kept a Gap dress that might be stained with his semen,” Blumenthal writes.

But such instances are few and far in between. She goes almost mum over her private email fiasco and her role in spurring up terrorism in Libya and Syria, something that proved instrumental in creating an environment where Islamic State was born and flourished. On the other hand the book successfully details her rise to power since her days in college to the deeply divisive 2008 American Presidential Elections. At several places, it is successful in bringing out her milder side. The side that made her so endearing to a vast section of American populace. Sample this anecdote from the year 2008:

“As president-elect, Obama admired her and appointed her secretary of state. Just a couple of days later, photos appeared on Facebook of Obama’s top speechwriter, Jon Favreau, dancing with a cardboard cutout of Hillary and “fondling” her cardboard chest. It was embarrassing, wholly inappropriate and, to many, outrageously sexist. According to one report, as Favreau debated how to apologise, he noticed he had a message from Hillary on his phone. “I haven’t seen the picture yet,” she said, “but I hear my hair looks great.”

On these occasions, the book achieves what it had set out for. Nevertheless, my problem exactly lies with what it had set out to achieve in the first place. The idea was never to present all the facts in front of the young readers and help them make an informed decision. The idea appears to be to present a very sanitised version of Hillary Clinton to the readers and ask them to choose her as their next leader. May be not in as many words. May be not in an explicit way, but definitely in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge manner.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017