Hillary’s choice

WAG’s own Ronni Diamondstein was on hand bright and early with her trusty sidekick, Toy Poodle Maggie Mae, for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent book-signing at Chappaqua Library.  To prepare for the event, she plunged into the new memoir. Here’s her review:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “Hard Choices” (Simon & Schuster, $35, 635 pages) is an intimate and heartfelt look at her days in the cabinet of President Barack Obama. Clinton has honed her storytelling skills since her last book, “Living History.” You can imagine yourself sitting down with her over a cup a coffee as she takes the reader inside her meetings and portrays the many world leaders with whom she has dealt.

Her voice is clear and strong as she recounts her time spent as secretary of state. The first chapter, “2008: Team of Rivals,” opens with, “Why on earth was I lying on the back seat of a blue minivan with tinted windows?  Good question.” She then proceeds to detail her clandestine meeting with then President-elect Obama at Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s home in Washington, D.C. which she says was like “two awkward teenagers on a first date.”

Setting the scene for what was to come, Clinton describes meeting Secretary of State Dean Acheson on the eve of her 1969 graduation from Wellesley College. (His granddaughter, Eleanor, was one of her Wellesley classmates.) Clinton was about to deliver the first student commencement speech in Wellesley history, while Acheson was just finishing his memoir “Present at the Creation,” about his role in President Harry S Truman’s administration, which would ultimately win a Pulitzer Prize. The world was waiting to hear what Acheson had to say about the cold war policy he helped develop. But he presciently remarked to Clinton, “I’m looking forward to what you have to say.”

Her speech would garner national attention (in part because she criticized commencement speaker Sen. Edward W. Brooke for being out of touch). Who knew that 40 years later she would follow in Acheson’s footsteps and that 45 years later we would be waiting to see what she had to say about setting policies abroad for the United States?

Clinton travelled to 112 nations, more than any of her predecessors, and includes them all in this tome about her four years of hard work around the world.

Her strong organizational skills are apparent in the arrangement of the chapters by region. It’s evident that she’s quite the policy wonk. Clinton devotes an entire chapter to human rights, a cause near and dear to her that she refers to as “unfinished business.” She writes about her Methodist upbringing and learning to “embrace faith in action.” Clinton recalls her experience in Beijing in 1995 when she lead the U.S. delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women and delivered a speech to representatives of more than 189 countries as well as thousands of journalists and activists. Clinton writes that she discussed her objective with the then Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright:

“I want to push the envelope as far as I can on behalf of women and girls.” Working with her “talented speechwriter, Lissa Muscatine,” Clinton crafted a speech that was “simple, vivid, and strong in its message that women’s rights are not separate from or a subsidiary of the human rights every person is entitled to enjoy.”

Clinton is a work in progress. There are moments of introspection and honesty. She writes about her deep regret for supporting George W. Bush on Iraq in 2003, the tense moments during the capture of Osama bin Laden and the horror of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya and her responsibility for the safety of the nearly 70,000 people at the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

The sense of humor that she says is essential in politics comes through in her comment to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who claimed she caused demonstrations against him in the street: “I can just see people in Moscow waking up and saying Hillary Clinton wants us to go demonstrate.’’

In the epilogue, Clinton writes that in early 2014 she received wonderful news from Chelsea and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky:  She and President Bill Clinton are to be grandparents. They are both “beyond happy” and “unabashedly giddy” at the prospect.

Clinton addresses the issue of whether she will run in 2016–the most asked question.  She hasn’t decided yet. “The time for another hard choice will come soon enough.”

On her final trip abroad in 2012, she accompanied Obama. In the middle of a speech he was giving standing on the porch of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in Rangoon, Myanmar, the President asked, “Where did Hillary go?” and looked around for her.  She waved from off to the side and he said, “There she is,” and thanked her. In that moment, she reflected on how far she had come from that first awkward meeting with Obama at Feinstein’s home, and the partners they had become.

And at the book-signing on that sunshiny June day in Chappaqua, many left wondering where, and just how far, Hillary Rodham Clinton will go from here.

For more on Ronni’s day with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her fans, look for WAG’s August “Power Play” issue.

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