It is telling that the title of Hillary Clinton’s memoir What Happened is two words framed as a sort of declarative statement rather than a question. The absence of the question mark suggests that the former Secretary of State has worked out the answers as to why she lost the US Presidential election a year ago. She is now ready to explain it all very clearly to us, and that is the reason she is over here on what should be a lucrative tour to promote her book.
Certainly, the women’s vote played its part, with 53 per cent of white women voting for Trump. Clinton puts this down firstly to a historic partisan quality regarding women and Republicans; secondly, the timing of James Comey’s letter about re-opening the case of her emails, a factor that she claims raised doubts in the minds of women (who apparently need to be more certain than men do about the moral rectitude of who they’re voting into power), and thirdly, that they were able to trust Trump more than her because, well, they just gave him a ‘lot of leeway’ and didn’t think that once in office he’d do what he was talking about doing.
There are, however, other questions to answer, ones that Clinton is less happy to address. Her recent misfortune with one of her metatarsals meant that many of her media appearances at the start of the week had to be aborted, though she was able finally to record an interview that was broadcast on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Tuesday morning. It wouldn’t be true to say that presenter Jane Garvey bottled it. That would imply that she really wanted to ask the questions but ultimately couldn’t summon up the courage. Garvey wasn’t interested. Her position as regards Hillary Rodham Clinton had long been made clear in the heavy trails and the build-up to the live interview that never happened. Her stance was one of reverence, awe, breathless admiration. One almost wondered whether the fawning interview took place with Clinton’s surgical boot resting on the shoulder of the kneeling Garvey as she paid homage to the figure whom she duly reassured was a ‘feminist heroine to many women’.
There may well be a lot of millennial women who describe themselves as feminists, third wave, fourth wave, or whatever oceanic swell we’re now up to, but the thing is they don’t really remember Bill. One-time Mr President. Hillary’s husband. They don’t remember how Bill looked straight into the camera in 1992 and told that big lie about the sexual nature of his relationship with the young, worshipful, doe-eyed intern Monica Lewinsky. Monica’s stained dress featured on quite a few news bulletins back then. There was Arkansas state employee Paula Jones who made claims of sexual harassment and to whom Bill made an $850,000 out-of-court settlement. There was Gennifer Flowers, the US model and actress with whom Clinton finally admitted having a sexual encounter. He had previously flatly denied it (during the presidential race) on the TV programme 60 Minutes. That was the excruciating interview when Hillary sat on the sofa by his side and responded about the allegations surrounding the Governor of Arkansas. She asserted with memorable indignation that she was not merely some ‘little woman’ just ‘standing by my man’ as per `Tammy Why-Net’ and that she was there because she loved him.
The interviewer missed a trick, sadly. It would have been good to hear exactly why her wifely love, the love of a governor’s wife, was to be taken so much more seriously than that of another kind of wife. What, Hillary, like the wife of a West Virginia miner, or a Detroit mechanic? Or that of a fishwife? That kind of feeble, uneducated ‘little wife’ whose marital commitment to her sexually opportunistic, cheating spouse is a sign of her essential weakness? Rather than nobility and strength as in your case, Hillary? Watching that interview all these years later gives one answer for sure as to why what happened happened. The masses for whom people like Hillary Clinton can’t ultimately help revealing their disdain and contempt aren’t so stupid that they can’t work things out before they go to vote. Voters don’t like being condescended to. They remember.
To be fair, Garvey had a bit of a go, even though she sounded as if she was writhing apologetically when she asked it. It was as if she was letting Clinton know that she had to pay lip-service to this pesky, awkward line of questioning but it could be answered quickly, she wouldn’t be pressed and they could move on and talk about other stuff such as sexism and the lack of female role models and toxic masculinity. Really bad things like that. Garvey asked ‘how much discomfort’ Clinton felt with regard to all the allegations about Bill’s sexual peccadilloes (my term, not Garvey’s, heaven forbid) and the fact that some said Hillary could have acted with more generosity to the women who came forward. Clinton batted this away on the grounds that it was all ‘years ago’ and it had all been dealt with and there were consequences and it was all ‘different’ from sexual harassment claims that go on now. Garvey’s voice was cowed when she asked ‘how different?’ Clinton was in ebullient form when she dismissed the question with the faintest irritation, repeating that it was ‘all investigated’ and much of what was claimed was ‘untrue.’
Previously, Garvey had raised the matter of ‘your great friend’ Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, the outfit that Clinton presumably would like to have hauled in for all that fake news malarkey that ruined the presidential dream she’d had for decades and for which she’d been forced to ‘stand by my man’. Clinton sidestepped this brief inconvenience by saying that Sandberg needed to ‘come clean’ and was apparently `trying to explain’. Garvey left it at that. She then brought up the matter of Harvey Weinstein, another friend of the Clintons, and a donor to Democrat coffers. Clinton said the money (not just to her, she clarified, but supporting all Democrats) was going to be given to charity. It was at that point, with breathtaking audacity, that she simply moved the focus and said we had Donald Trump ‘admitting to groping’ and that we ‘can’t let the spotlight just be on one man’s horrible behaviour’.
That’s right, Hillary, not when that ‘one man’, that Weinstein character, is one of your own. So much one of your own that it was he who stumped up the cash to cover Bill’s legal fees for the inconvenience with ‘little’ Monica. You need a distraction, don’t you? Move it back to Trump every single time you can. Move it back to all the ‘sexism and misogyny unleashed by Trump’. If you do it enough times, perhaps we won’t notice. The level of the tape-recorded locker-room chat of the White House’s current incumbent was bad enough. But you know what, Hillary, the integrity of the Oval Office was dragged through the mud quite a while before then. It involved someone close to home who was more than just doing idiotically repellent talk with jocks. To prove it, as regards President Clinton, there were lawsuits, out-of-court settlements and a dress that needed dry cleaning. It remains far from clear that Hillary Clinton has any idea ‘what happened’, even though the rest of us do.