Clinton, or else


Maybe it’s time to cut Hillary Rodham Clinton some slack.

When What Happened, her new book about the 2016 presidential campaign, came out, so did the knives.

Followers of Bernie Sanders and other progressives in the Democratic Party complained that she blamed Sanders for her defeat and contended that she just should shut up and go away.

President Donald Trump and his amen chorus said she was blaming everyone but herself for her defeat and that she just couldn’t accept responsibility for her own failures. Then, in his typical classy, gentlemanly way, the president tweeted a visual joke about him hitting a golf ball that then strikes Clinton in the back, knocking her down.

(I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell you how proud it makes me as an American to know that we have a commander-in-chief who finds humor in attacking and knocking down a much smaller woman. And from behind, at that.)

These folks must not have read the same book I did.

In fact, I doubt they read it at all.

While Clinton does chide both Sanders and Trump within the book’s pages, the most scathing criticisms are directed inward, toward herself. What Happened reads less as a tell-all or an indictment than it does as a kind of cross between therapy and expiation. Perhaps the title should have had a question mark at the end, because one senses in reading that Clinton is trying to answer that question for herself.

What happened?

Perhaps the most poignant section is when she writes about her late father, who told her when she was growing up that, even if she did things he didn’t like, he never would stop loving her. She writes that she used to test him on that – in a teasing way – by asking how he would feel if she did this awful thing or committed that horrendous act.

He always assured her he would continue loving her.

“Once or twice last November, I thought to myself, ‘Well, Dad, what if I lose an election I should have won and let an unqualified bully become president of the United States? Will you still love me then?”

Much of the book is written in that spirit of self-recrimination – sometimes puzzled, sometimes regretful, sometimes angry.

She does note that former FBI Director James Comey’s surprise entrance into the race just days before Americans went to the polls had an adverse impact on her chances – and, given that Trump also was (and still is) under active investigation at the time, she doesn’t think that was fair.

I’d say she’s got a point there.

Clinton also argues that her gender played some role in the outcome. She writes lucidly about how different the expectations and challenges can be for women who seek leadership positions from the ones we have for men.

None of this should be a revelation.

Anyone who doesn’t believe misogyny still is a powerful force in American life is ignorant.

Or both.

I wasn’t thrilled with either presidential candidate last time around, in part because I was certain, regardless of who won, we’d end up right where we are – snarling at each other and unable to move forward.

But I’ve always had a weakness for defeated candidates, regardless of which party they belong to.

It’s because of what they must bear. Clinton writes, again and again, of all the people who helped her, who worked for her, who sacrificed for her campaign and who put their faith in her.

Her message – sometimes directly, sometimes as subtext – is that she knows she didn’t get the job done. She let them down.

Will you still love me then?

That’s why I say it’s time to ease up.

Hillary Rodham Clinton tried.

She failed.

She knows it.

And, as her book shows, that knowledge stings.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.


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