Before Watergate, Carl Bernstein was known among journalists as being a leftist son of blacklisted parents and a protege of the fellow-traveling journalist I.F Stone. When Watergate arrived, however, Bernstein became known as the epitome of the journalist speaking truth to power.
But when he is confronted by the specter of Hillary Clinton, his post-Watergate persona is abandoned, and the protege of the biased Stone takes over. Rather than dilate on the recollections even of friends from the 1960s who regarded Clinton as power-hungry, more interested in the nuts and bolts of getting into office rather than any New Left ideals of shunning contact with the contaminating establishment, Bernstein strains to find something impressive in such cold calculation. The best he can do is celebrate her intellect at the age of 20, evidenced by her ability to “speak in complete sentences”—a skill acquired by most people at age 5.
Instead, Bernstein sees emotional growth and development as the Clintons always have—as political success. Hillary’s personality has evolved, asserts Bernstein, and the proof is in her climb from First Lady to the Senate to Secretary of State. When Bernstein writes about her, he arranges the facts to show in her best light. But no amount of juggling information can hide the personality that both friends and enemies alike have found inhuman–disciplined, calculating, always careful not to take the wrong step politically.
In 1968, surely one of the most white hot years in American politics, she worked for both the Republicans and the Democrats, helping the former with canvassing door to door and the latter with position papers. All that is left to finish this process of working both sides was to find a position from both uniquely hers, and this equation, or more famously, this triangulation, would be completed with her marriage to Bill Clinton. Both meshed perfectly and it is telling how much political power is an obsession with both that the reasons Bill cites for marrying her involved her political acumen and willingness to work hard. The same thoughts ran through Hillary’s mind about the marriage; while most wives would be concerned with either saving or abandoning the marriage, Hillary, during the Lewinsky scandal, had her eye on how it will play in the Iowa caucuses, and whether now was the right time to run for the Senate.
When Pat Nixon in Oliver Stone’s laughable Nixon told her husband that the Watergate tapes aren’t about “you–they are you.” The same can be said of the meager output of released emails from her infamous private server. What was allowed for public consumption showed her at her most calculating; during the 2012 presidential election, when it looked like Obama was going to lose, she, smelling blood in the water, speculated online about her chances at the White House.
Bernstein has tried to be helpful in supplying her with ideas that she clearly has no interest in if they don’t get her elected. The result is as much a strain as his bragging of her complete sentences. Disregarding the first rule of journalism–to exercise clarity–Bernstein called her “an emotional conservative and intellectual liberal” (a meaningless phrase when examined: does this mean in her heart she is a traditionalist and in her head an iconoclast?).
If so, why does she get heated—reportedly—over the plight of black people but dumped Lani Guinier when she became a political liability? Or why did she attempt to channel Eleanor Roosevelt and yet retain the conservative Dick Morris for the purpose of keeping the poll numbers high for her husband? It seems that in both of these instances, the head won out of over the heart and the former was not a liberal, but a pragmatic one.
In The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Condon solves the mystery of the chief villain—the woman controlling both her McCarthy-like husband and her Chinese-programmed assassin son—and her seemingly confusing membership in organizations both left and right through revealing her personality. The logic of her membership becomes apparent as the reader learns of her power hunger and the political traction needed to achieve it.
It’s a pity that Carl Bernstein doesn’t have Condon handy when writing of Clinton, who for all intents and purposes is out of running for office. But still, there would be a good cautionary tale to be written about the dangers of almost electing someone so power-hungry.