By DOYLE MCMANUS
Was this book necessary? Hillary Clintonâs anguished, angry memoir of her presidential campaign, âWhat Happened,â was unveiled today, complete with television appearances and a 15-city lecture tour.
Other Democrats have been dreading this moment for months.
âI love Hillary,â Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota, said a few weeks ago. âI think she has a right to analyze what happened. But we do have to move on.â
A backward-looking slog through the disappointments of last yearâs campaign is not what most Democratic politicians want to dominate the news this fall.
And that, judging from the many excerpts that have leaked, is exactly what Clintonâs book is: a long and dutiful post-mortem on how she lost to an unqualified blowhard who was even less popular than she was.
Clinton doesnât spare herself from blame. She admits mistakes large and small.
âItâs fair to say that I didnât realize how quickly the ground was shifting under our feet,â she writes. She acknowledges that she never came up with a theme as compelling as Trumpâs âMake America Great Again.â
But she doesnât spare anyone else from blame, either. Her list of the guilty begins with James Comey, Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin, all justifiably. Less justifiably, she also blames Bernie Sanders, and even â in smaller ways â Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Her decision to relitigate her bitter primary battles with Sanders has especially distressed other Democrats because it rolls a grenade into their not-yet-successful efforts to reunify the party.
The independent senatorâs attacks on her big-dollar fundraising made it easier for Trump to paint her as âCrooked Hillary,â Clinton complains. âI donât know if that bothered Bernie or not.â
Sanders â who, as luck would have it, is on a book tour of his own â fired back. âSecretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country and she lost, and she was upset about it and I understand that,â he said last week. âBut our job is not to go backward. âŚ I think itâs a little bit silly to keep talking about 2016.â
This, of course, is a gift to Trump and his conservative allies. Theyâd like nothing better than to make Clinton the public face of the Democratic Party again â especially since her approval rating in the polls, at 30 percent, is even lower than the presidentâs. Fox News Channel is giving the book launch lavish coverage, including segments re-examining the controversy over her emails.
Clintonâs excuse: âI had to get this off my chest!â she writes at one point, an explanation that pretty much covers all 512 pages.
But most losing presidential candidates donât write books about the experience. And the ones who do normally wait a decade or so before ripping the bandages off their wounds.
Mitt Romney didnât do it after 2012. John McCain didnât do it after 2008. (As he noted last week, âYouâve got to move on.â) To find a loser who did memorialize his defeat, you have to go back to Richard M. Nixon in 1960 â not a model you might have expected Clinton to emulate. Thereâs a reason for that. Airing grievances, even when theyâre justified, rarely shows anyoneâs most appealing side. For losing candidates, even in arguably stolen elections, the tradition has been stoic silence.
It would be one thing if Clintonâs book delivered new insights about what went wrong. But it doesnât. Every one of her explanations has been hashed out already.
Hereâs the pity: She could have written a different book â a book that briskly summarized the lessons of her loss and suggested a path forward for the causes she loves. It wouldnât have been a bestseller, but it might have been more useful. Needless to say, the relatively brief, forward-looking part of Clintonâs message has been swamped in media coverage by all the juicy score-settling.
Clinton appears to intend her book to be a vehicle for her re-emergence onto the public stage. âThere were plenty of people hoping that I, too, would just disappear,â she writes. âBut here I am.â
She has set up a new fundraising organization to support progressive causes and serve as her platform. (Itâs called âOnward Together,â a name even less inspiring than her campaign slogan, âStronger Together.â)
But after all her reflection, she still hasnât quite figured out what went wrong.
âWhat makes me such a lightning rod for fury?â she writes. âIâm really asking. Iâm at a loss.â
With that question unanswered, she might have been better off stowing âWhat Happenedâ in a desk drawer. The lesson sheâs learning is a harsh one: After a disastrous election, even the supporters of a defeated candidate may not be eager to have her around.
McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
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