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The two lead families of the Democratic Party hate each other. Edward Klein documents why and how in this entertaining and fast moving book. It's a good political beach read.
It's mostly about three elections: that of 2008, where Barack Obama came from behind to knock off front-runner Hillary Clinton for the nomination, with charges and countercharges of race-card-playing in the South Carolina primary; 2012, where Bill Clinton made a whizbang nominating speech for someone he can't stand and Hillary drank the Kool-Aid in agreeing to lie about Benghazi - `it was a spontaneous riot caused by a video' - to seal Obama's reelection; and the 2016 election, where Obama promised Clinton he'd support Hillary in exchange for their carrying his water, then reneged on it.
There are tons of details and fly-on-the-wall accounts of conversations. The Clintons come off much better than the Obamas do. We know most of the Clintons' dirt already and, as a nation, don't seem to care too much, but meanwhile they seem to have a clue about how to run the country, while the Obamas don't. Barack Obama comes off as narcissistic, lazy, and shielded from reality by advisor Valerie Jarrett, effectively the shadow president since 2009.
I get the feeling the Clintons shrewdly used this book to get their version of events into play. Klein found leakers near the Obamas who are unhappy with them, but many Clinton sources appear to be lifelong friends seemingly given the green light to talk for this book - people who wouldn't jeopardize their relationship to do so. And for many of the quotations, there would be no question in the Clintons' minds who had given them - people party to conversations where only one or two others were present. So it stands to reason the anonymous sources don't mind the Clintons knowing.
The Clintons, heavily covered for over 20 years, may realize there isn't much that can hurt them that hasn't already been printed. We all know about Monica, Clinton's womanizing, the financial scandals dating back to Arkansas days, Hillary's temper and so on. And a lot of the inside poop here is either flattering - Bill Clinton as political mastermind, say - or humanizing. It's remarkable that the Clintons stay together after all they've been through, but they seem politically fascinated with each other. And it's remarkable how many times Hillary initially tells Bill off about something, only to agree later that he's right and go ahead with it. Quite cute, say, is the anecdote about how Bill convinced Hillary to "have some work done" on her face after leaving the State Department, by first doing it himself.
The new news is the medical stuff. Hillary's health problems have been more serious than generally noted. And Bill's heart condition is serious; Klein quotes his doctor, by name, telling him the disease is progressive, i.e. it will continue to get steadily worse. Bill's obsession with sealing his own legacy by putting Hillary in the White House has become single-minded. It's suggested this is the primary thing he wants to get done before he dies.
The Obamas seem more on the defensive and more paranoid. You don't get any sense of Klein's sources spinning the narrative back in their direction. Barack comes across as a narcissist stemming from a deepset insecurity about his lack of experience pre-presidency. He's someone who doesn't read much beyond popular novels but thinks he's brilliant. He's visibly bored with the dull business of running the country. He doesn't prepare in advance for big international conferences, who he'll meet and what they'll talk about; he figures he'll just wing it. Detractors (like Hillary) call his administration "rudderless".
He's threatened by Bill Clinton, who not only isn't intimidated by him but tries to lecture him. (There's a priceless account of a dinner between the two couples - the strained conversations, Obama ignoring Clinton by reading his Blackberry under the table, Obama sneaking out and coming back a while later smelling of cigarettes.) He's shielded from much by Valerie Jarrett, who surrounds him with sycophants and upon whom he relies too much. She has her own room in the presidential quarters and is the only outsider who eats with the family. He thinks he can move the world with his speeches.
You see Obama good at campaigning and manipulating, but not much else. Michelle more or less invites herself and friends to Oprah Winfrey's Hawaii estate for a joint birthday party, in part to draw her back into the Obamas' camp and keep her out of Hillary's. The weeklong stay goes fine, but Oprah resists any political rapprochement, and even starts promoting Hillary not long afterwards.
Obama picks Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg (a third Democratic family as powerful as the Obamas or Clintons) as ambassador to Japan, a way-too-late thanks for Kennedy family support in 2008 - and, apparently, just to get her halfway around the world from Hillary's candidacy.
It amazes me that the Obamas would work this hard to undermine their own party's frontrunner for the 2016 nomination. The Clintons will have raised a billion dollars for the run.
There's lots of dirt about both couples. Bill still womanizes intensively; you wonder if he'll die `in the saddle' like Nelson Rockefeller did. A guy with a bad heart condition?
His penthouse over the Clinton Library in Little Rock is his bachelor pad - Hillary avoids Little Rock - and effectively the Playboy Mansion South, the scene of many swinging parties. Klein suggests that the town not only shields its favorite son from scrutiny, but that its women, married and single alike, line up to sleep with him. Klein quotes one person saying Clinton will hit on married women even in front of their own husbands. (You'd think in Arkansas this would get a man shot, but then most other men there don't enjoy lifelong Secret Service protection.) He and Hillary lead separate lives, talking daily on the phone but rarely in each other's presence, and Hillary tells friends he'll have little presence in her White House should she be elected.
Klein notes some presidential couples become closer in the White House, where they finally have physical proximity after years of separation on the campaign trail, but this didn't happen with the Obamas, who are effectively estranged. Michelle Obama, of whom White House staffers are terrified, will burst in suddenly on her husband if he's in a room with other women; she's suspicious of him, believing he'd like to emulate Clinton's ways. Her post-White House plans, according to this book, don't include him. She and Valerie Jarrett, who plans to follow her, envision a high life of globetrotting funded by wealthy donors where they sit on corporate boards and don't have to do much work.
Barack Obama wants to retain control of the party, but Bill Clinton already sees him losing his clout and political capital.
The real question mark goes back to Bill Clinton's health. If he dies - a guy with this bad a heart condition? Waitresses and Little Rock matrons, think about it - some think Hillary, relying upon his advice forever, may not go ahead with a presidential run. It often sounds like more his obsession than hers, other than the first-woman-president thing. The family foundation's reins have been handed to Chelsea, in part to take pressure off Bill, and she is being positioned as his replacement as Mom's closest advisor and confidante. Others think Chelsea would encourage her mother to run if Bill dies because it's what he would have wanted. You get the feeling that Hillary, for all her ambition, doesn't have all that much fire in the belly - that it's Bill who's given her the vision, encouraged her, pushed her, made her see a path through obstacles, and been willing to fight battles large and small where she would have been more inclined to go along, get along and acquiesce.
Truly surreal is the ending. Bill tells an appalled Hillary, in front of friends, exactly how to stage his funeral if he dies before the election: what to wear (widow's weeds), where to do it (Arlington, he's a former commander in chief.) If properly done, he said, the video footage will be worth a couple of million votes." Not for nothing do they call him the smartest political mind of his time.
PS The day before I filed this, I saw a story online at Business Insider quoting an unnamed Clinton confidante attacking this book as lies, all lies, nothing but lies. The story didn't specifically rebut anything or cite any specific error in the book; it reprised a finding of an error in one of Klein's previous books. It suggests to me, though, this book is right, if the attack against it is as unspecific as "lies, lies, nothing but lies." Perhaps the Clinton camp is doing some preventive public fulminating so that they can deny the unflattering or unfavorable parts of it. I still think they planted a lot of this.
The same day, the Wall Street Journal had a front page story about Hillary distancing herself from the Obama administration. This is exactly what the book says she would do - it's half revenge, and half good politics, as seen by Bill Clinton, with the Obama administration in a tailspin on any number of fronts.