Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Book Review: A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein

I know this wasn't on my "coming attractions" list, but I had to post it--especially since it was far too long to post on Goodreads, even after I had chopped, quartered and skimped. So, here it is:

I enjoyed reading Bernstein's book. However, it does not truly rise above the straight, banal presentation of the facts that describes so many other biographies. In my opinion, a truly great biography should cover the facts, of course, but over and above that should draw an important conclusion--something well-supported by the facts yet revolutionary. This did not happen in "A Woman in Charge."

Although the title clearly suggests that Bernstein is playing the late-capitalist-feminist card, the actual content of the book disproves that. HRC is not portrayed as the strong, emotionless, and calculating woman that the general public sees--in fact, Bernstein skirts dangerously close to Bay Buchanan's far-out-of-the-mainstream view that Hillary is weak, flawed, and almost megalomaniacal. This, certainly, is not what Senator Clinton wants us to believe, and it is probably far from the truth. Not that Bernstein is actively trying to make this impression, but especially while trying to portray the disarray the Starr investigation threw the First Family into, he emphasizes that Hillary was a bucket of tears, and that on Vince Foster's death she had a "serious emotional breakdown." This may well be the case, but the way Bernstein portrays it makes it seem almost sexist, as if Bernstein expects this of a woman.

That I was left with this impression could easily be due to Bernstein's peculiar relation of his facts and opinions. His writing is dry, crisp, and emotionless. I suppose Bernstein thinks his sacred reputation as "non-biased" is on the line, and he attempts to safeguard it by never giving an emotional view. In reality, however, I was surprised by the bias, and --to use his word--the "animus" that affects his writing like a plague.

While I was reading, I endeavored to mark the most outrageous hypocrisies for future reference. (In all fairness, there were not many.) Perhaps the most outrageous appears at the top of page 274. "His [Dick Morris's] testimony must be judged through the filter of his animus." This is undoubtedly a true statement; that is not what makes it hypocritical. Dick Morris is a partisan hack, almost as bad as the liberal media believes him to be. Bernstein knows this, of course. The interesting, the awful thing about it is that Bernstein fails to add a similar disclaimer to ANY of his other quoted sources. [It's interesting to note that Dick Morris WAS interviewed willingly by Bernstein, along with twenty or so others.] Notably, the author interviewed Robert Reich, one of the traditional white liberals in Bill Clinton's cabinet, Terry MacAuliffe, an infamous Clinton fundraising stooge and former chairman of the DNC, and George "I don't know" Stephanopoulos. In his "Note on Sources," Bernstein cites Stephanopoulos's "All Too Human" as "notably even-handed and candid." This is, of course, hypocrisy of the highest order. Stephanopoulos is just as much of a partisan hack as Dick Morris. And it was his journalistic colleague--not Morris's--Dan Rather who was fired from CBS for his falsified evidence impugning Bush's draft record.

Bernstein toes the party line on the Starr investigation, calling attention to the fact that he and all his colleagues were white males. It is, if I may say so, typically liberal to flash the race and sex get-out-of-jail-free cards.

The line that Bernstein takes on Clinton's "wrongdoings," from Whitewater to Travelgate to Monica, is interesting. As far as the "Clinton women" and draft-dodging are concerned, Bernstein states the facts manner-of-factly, no pun intended: Clinton WAS a draft dodger, and he DID "have sexual relations with the woman, Ms. Lewinsky." However, from there, he follows the tired old defenses to the letter. The Clintons' financial mishaps and miracles he staunchly defends with various excuses, perhaps because he knows that no one cares anymore about what happened to an obscure real-estate venture in Arkansas called Whitewater.

George H.W. Bush's Willie Horton campaign ads might have been below the belt: they are, as Bernstein says, "a classic example of negative campaigning." However, they most certainly did not have "clear racist overtones." In Wisconsin (well, everywhere) we have a word for things like this, and it fits like a glove: outrageous. The fact that Willie Horton was black was purely coincidental: what's not coincidental is that a convicted murderer raped and killed again while on Governor Dukakis' charming vacation program for convicted criminals, the "furlough." If there was any doubt in my mind before that Bernstein is just the sort of partisan hack he appears to despise, there wasn't anymore.

"The unprecedented campaign against a sitting president and first lady, well-organized and increasingly effective, continued." Bernstein is, of course, talking about the Clintons, but if you subtract the "wife" clause, it could just as easily apply to George W. Bush. [Unlike Hillary, Laura Bush has the sense to stay out of the spotlight. The mainstream media would tear her apart with a zest they could never show against Hillary.] Now we have the endless, pointless, baseless Plame Wilson fiasco, Walter Reed and Katrina blamed on the president [Global Warming is a very effective tool of the Democrats: it lets them blame natural disasters on Republicans.]

In the rear of the book, there is an acknowledgments and sources section. It's rather long, but one section is his sources "per chapter." It interested me to see that there were about the same amount of sources-per-chapter as Ann Coulter's much-maligned writing. Far be it from me to dispute the gact that Coulter is a partisan hack, but it's interesting to note that her works have as many sources as his. Now how does THAT tally with the difference in their reputations?

I'm growing tedious (and tired) so I will close. Bernstein is an enjoyable writer, and he can cleverly assume the guise of a neutral bias (perhaps that's why he has a Pulitzer Prize and Ann Coulter doesn't.) Even though I dislike MANY things about it, "A Woman in Charge" is still a worthwhile, and even enjoyable, read. Bernstein is, however, not the bipartisan saint he wishes us to believe. As he said himself, "His testimony must be judged through the filter of his animus."


your mother said...

The link to this from goodreads didn't work - you might want to check it.

You gave some good examples in your review. I thought your conclusion that it fell short of being a great biography because of it's failure to draw a conclusion was interesting. What do you think the thesis of the book was?

Sola Gratia said...

*sigh* you're such an English major, Mom. :)

I fixed the Goodreads link. Thanks for telling me.

I'd say that the thesis of "A Woman in Charge" was to protect Hillary from the baying hounds of the Far Right. Not that it was very defensive; I'm just being facetious. I'm sure Bernstein was trying to present a palatable biography: something that admits wrongdoing selectively, but flatly denies or skirts over some of the more pressing allegations. For example, Bernstein does not even MENTION Clinton's alleged drug use; perhaps because he couldn't find a good defense--or perhaps because there isn't one.

Your Conscience said...

wow mos, your long winded. i didnt understand most of it, but that is a good thing... i think...

sweetggirl said...

DUDE!! No WONDER it didn't fit on goodreads,LOL. I didn't even read it. I just saw how long it was,LOL.

Anonymous said...

As I read "A Woman in Charge," a larger question emerges: Is Hillary's life story an evolution of someone grounded in principals, but whose principals have been corrupted by some key event in her life? Today her values seem to have a fluid quality that swirl around the subject of a desired result, and then the value demonstrated and declared as valid is the value that gets her the desired result. Was the key moment failing the Washington Bar Examine? Denial of personal failure is a legitimate character flaw and consistent with not learning from one's mistakes as pointed out by Bernstein.