Book of the Month Review – November

RAINBOW REVIEWS ‘LIVING HISTORY’ BY HILLARY CLINTON

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This week America goes to the poll to elect its 45th president. The race is being keenly contested by former First Lady and Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton and business tycoon and TV producer, Donald Trump. In August, Trumps Book Trump 101 was the Rainbow Book Club Book-of-the-month. This month, the book club is reading Hillary Clinton’s Living History. Veterant journalist, Lindsay Barrett, wrote a review of the book for the Rainbow Book Club. Read and join the conversation on social media or at our monthly reading at Meridien Hotel, Port Harcourt on Saturday 26th November at 3pm

A LIFE OF BEING MORE THAN A WIFE by Lindsay Barrett

Although the author is certainly one of the most famous figures on the world stage today it would not be far-fetched to also describe her as one of the least well-known and most misunderstood individuals in the international political arena. This contradictory perception has arisen because her profile as an active politician has been so intertwined with the fact that she first came to global prominence as the wife of President Bill Clinton of the USA that the tendency has been to regard her first and foremost as an ambitious spouse rather than a leader in her own right. This comprehensive narrative of a specific period of her life in politics, the eight years that she spent as First Lady, is an effective revelation of the profoundly held views, values, and unique characteristics that have shaped her career. The work that she undertook as the wife of the President is revealed to have been motivated not so much by her desire to gain a position in the hierarchy of office-holders as by a commitment to drive the process of reform in certain areas of concern that have attracted her interest right from her youth. While this claim is made by almost all politicians whether true or not, in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s case it rings especially true because her achievements and commitment are evident for all to see. In the early chapters of this narrative she tells the story of her family background with candour and compassion and convinces the reader that her decision to serve the cause of women’s rights and the welfare of the underprivileged, and the child in American society preceded her marriage.

It emerges that their marriage became a partnership of mutual concerns very soon after it was contracted. The way that they decided on the sharing of responsibilities between husband and wife, at least in her telling of it, suggests a truly modern liaison that, right from the start, was an alliance of equals. When Bill made it plain that his major ambition was to be in elective public office her support was not only total but collaborative and she became one of his most effective advisers and strategists. When he won the Governorship of Arkansas for the first time she participated in the campaign not as a passive partner but as an active and definitive originator of programmes and objectives that the candidate promised to put in place after victory. When the election was won it was immediately obvious that she would be a part of the Governor’s team not as a trophy wife trotted out for social occasions but as an official. This set the tone for the long journey that lay ahead of the Clinton’s as Bill first lost an election after one term and then, helped enormously by advice from his wife came back to win several successive terms as Governor of the state. This dramatic turn of events led to Bill Clinton gaining the reputation as the “Comeback Kid” of southern Democratic politics and also consolidated his wife’s role as his best and most determined political ally. Her stewardship of major policy initiatives developed by her husband’s administration especially on health care and education served as an apprenticeship for the future as his eligibility for higher office increased.

This narrative makes it obvious that the Clinton’s built the political machinery that carried them to the White House as a joint project. In fact according to this account there were many points in the journey where Hillary took initiatives that went against her husband’s wishes because she felt that these were necessary to shape a new direction in the political arena and to enhance her husband’s chances of success. According to her account of their joint initiative Bill Clinton’s most remarkable quality might very well be his consistent support of her own independence. According to her the important appointments that she was given were not sought by her but were rather insisted on by her husband who knew the resistance he would face but was willing to defend his choice because he was convinced of her ability to do the job. However the consequences of some of these decisions were not always without problems. It was when their initiatives ran into problems that the true strength of their alliance was tested and proven. Narrating the roller coaster ride that the Clinton Presidency turned out to be gives the book a special quality of suspense and adventure and Hillary’s narrative style which is notable for the immediacy and detailed recollection of its content serves the purpose of confirming the credibility of the story as well. This book is not only an important record of vital times it is also an exciting introduction to profound changes in the role of women in modern political affairs.

This comprehensive and extensive recollection of a period of American history in which she played an important role is the best guide to an understanding of Hillary Clinton’s effort to become the first female President of the USA. It is a revelatory exposition of her concentrated focus on unleashing the potential of women, as well as overcoming the obstacles that women have had to overcome, as they attempt to use the political systems that they have inherited to achieve progress. She identified her main objectives very early in her professional career and the evidence unearthed by this story of her life as a political wife indicates that she was much more than that. In considering her matrimonial decision she appears to have thought carefully about the direction in which her life would be dragged and decided right from the start that the result would be worth the sacrifice. Towards the end of the book she reveals that at times her resolve was sorely tested by challenges, some of which are notorious, and which she deserves accolades for not shying away from writing about. For example the famous Monica Lewinsky affair and the attempt at impeachment of her husband that it caused is treated in detail. Throughout the book her devotion to her husband is a leitmotif that serves as a core value even while her self-confidence and willful political independence cannot be ignored. This makes the story of the emotional distress that she had to confront when it emerged that her husband had betrayed her trust in him at least that one time particularly devastating. But even then she rallied to his support because her pragmatic political instincts proved to be stronger than any other motive in her life. This book is a testimony to the fact that Hillary Clinton is much more than a political wife and has the experience and the wisdom necessary to take over the mantle of leadership on her own terms. The Rainbow Book Club has made it the November book of the month because whatever the outcome of the American presidential elections it makes for timely and exciting reading.