by Elisabeth Donnelly)
When HBO sent out the screeners for the third season of Veep, there was a goody inside: the book Some New Beginnings: Our Next American Journey, written by one Veep-cum-presidential candidate, Selina Meyer. The grand joke of the swag was this: you flipped through the pages and there was nothing on each page. The word-jumble jokes continued throughout Veep‘s Season 3 premiere: she signed copies of “her book that she didn’t write,” and she looked to the book’s inspirational mumble to find her position on some of the issues in latter episodes.
That’s part and parcel of all presidential (and presidential hopeful) biographies: they are mostly just a pit stop en route to several years of endless campaigning. Look at the difference between Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, which is a book written by a man who had no idea that he’d be President of the United States one day (it’s good, and real, and does go into detail about both depression and drug use), and The Audacity of Hope, which was step one in his presidential campaign. What does the title of book two mean, anyway?
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s second memoir, Hard Choices (very Veep!) is due out in early June. Unlike her previous book, 2004′s Living History, which served as a how-I-got-here story predating her 2008 primary campaign, Hard Choices is billed as a record of her time as Secretary of State, and how those challenges “drive her view of the future,” as, maybe, the first female POTUS.
A short excerpt from the book has been published in Vogue, and it’s wonderfully calibrated to tug at your heartstrings while being perfectly vague: Clinton discusses the life of her mother, Dorothy Howell Rodham. Her 90-year-old mother loved being at Chelsea’s wedding, and she loved being a grandmother… just like Hillary.
Dorothy managed to do all this while surviving the slings and arrows of a Gothic childhood (abandoned by her parents, abused by her grandparents, out on her own at 14): “I asked my mother how she survived abuse and abandonment without becoming embittered and emotionally stunted. How did she emerge from this lonely early life as such a loving and levelheaded woman? I’ll never forget how she replied. ‘At critical points in my life somebody showed me kindness,’ she said.”
That’s a sweet, sadly moving story of grace coming out of the worst circumstances. Hillary follows it by talking about a hard choice that she had to make, when her mother’s health was failing. She cancels a trip and rushes to the hospital, and she’s able to be present for her mother’s death. But it ends with some campaigning: “I knew if she was still with us, she would be urging us to do the same. ‘Never rest on your laurels. Never quit. Never stop working to make the world a better place. That’s our unfinished business.’”
So we learn a little bit about our next presidential candidate from this excerpt. But to be honest, sometimes I feel like I learn more about the issues that Hillary has to deal with regarding the general public by watching Veep, especially this season as Selina campaigns. Because she’s a woman, Hillary’s campaign will have to be able to handle the gender issues that will come up (again) this time around — and step one seems to be framing Hillary in softer, more relatable terms, so that the women who ditched her for Obama in 2008 can return in 2016. Obviously, looking at a presidential candidate’s memoir for substance is impossible, but there’s a hint of real feeling underneath all the vagueness here. It’s a shame, however, that the chance for an autobiography of one of the most interesting women of our time, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is wasted on “books” that are just steps in a campaign.