By William Urban
As of this writing Edward Klein’s Blood Feud, The Clintons vs. the Obamas is selling ahead of Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices. That is easy to understand. One audio-book chapter of Hard Choices was offered free to all listeners. Let’s say that Hillary does not have a future career as a reader. I almost fell asleep, which is understandable. Reviewers say that there isn’t much in the book to keep anyone awake. Certainly nothing new in it. And the book tour has become the literary equivalent of the ObamaCare rollout (or the long ago presentation of Hillarycare).
Klein, in contrast, is very reader-friendly. Twelve point type with generous margins and one and a half spacing allows the eye to race quickly to the end of each short chapter, enticing the reader to lay the book aside easily, then pick it up again when time allows. His style is breezy, his many quotes to the point. I read a number of reviews by progressive critics — far from debunking the comments, they read like advertisements. Maybe that was just the reviewers, who so obviously form into a protective cordon around every Democrat president (except maybe Jimmy Carter) that their judgment has been affected.
Klein has taken hold of two of the most interesting families of our era, very complex individuals without the close family members who used to be the embarrassment of Democratic presidents. Republican presidents don’t have brothers and sisters who lend themselves so well to vicious gossip. Who remembers either mother of Obama or Clinton? Or their fathers? Or siblings? Anyway, don’t worry. Klein ignores them.
Klein gives us a classic tale of political rivals who hate each other but cannot make that public. The Clintons consider Barack Obama an amateur (a quote that gave Klein the title of his last best-seller), while the Obamas disdain their rivals’ willingness to make compromises rather than push harder toward making the United States into a more equal, greener and less warlike nation. Each wants, in short, a nation that would allow people like them to rise to the top, except that, being at the top, they don’t want to share the pinnacle with anyone. There is a lot of egotism here, too much for the two families to co-exist.
But wait, there’s more! The Clintons also dislike and mistrust each other. The Obamas also. Separate bedrooms for both families, separate vacations, and plenty of yelling. Barack Obama gets the worst of this, because Michelle is joined by Valerie Jarrett to browbeat him into making decisions, to criticize his reluctance to look into the details of any program or policy, and his eagerness to get out on the golf course or just give a speech. Obama is also losing his control over the media. By refusing to give real interviews and by repeating obvious untruths, he has offended reporters as deeply as he did supporters and donors by ignoring them once the election was past. Oprah, for example.
Nowhere was this truer than his relations with the Clintons. In early 2012, according to Klein, Obama’s re-election seemed doubtful. His two principal advisors recommended ways to turn this around. David Pfouffe (pronounced Fluff, but meaning hard-as-nails political savvy) said that they had to turn to the Clintons; Valerie Jarrett would rather lose than ask for help.
In the end Obama reluctantly reached out. The unspoken agreement was that Bill Clinton would campaign for the president in 2012, if he would campaign for Hillary in 2016. Valerie Jarrett went along, but only after vowing that once the election was over, all promises were off.
The campaign was melodramatic, and Clinton probably made the difference. At least he thought he did. And also, perhaps, Obama did. Thus jealousy was added to the many disagreements on policies and tactics. And, as Jarrett had recommended, Obama quickly cut the Clintons out of the party’s future as best he could.
Already there was blood in the sand — Benghazi. The true story is complicated, but at its heart was a CIA program to recover weapons from Libyan jihadists and deliver them to Syrian rebels. This was very close to Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal that had brought him so close to impeachment. Obama tried to get Hillary to go on the talk shows to explain that the ambassador’s murder was not by al Qaida, but by demonstrators against a video. Bill, however, said that the story was so obviously false that it would destroy her chances in 2016. So she declined. Obama then asked Petraeus, who said that the talking points were untrue. Finally, the president got Susan Rice, who was jealous that Hillary had become Secretary of State instead of her. The rest is history, except that the story was put on back pages until the election was over.
Since then the relationship became worse. Hillary had disagreed with many Obama policies, but she went along because Bill warned her that she would be blamed for destroying the party if she spoke her mind. After the election she shared her thoughts with close friends and colleagues who were willing to speak with Klein as long as he didn’t mention their names.
The Obama inner circle is much smaller and much tighter, but there are many Democrats out there who think that he has made hash of the presidency. These folks may not like or trust Hillary, but she’s the only candidate out there who can beat any Republican yet to be named.
Republicans will probably enjoy the book except for the feeling that we have reached a political low rivaling the Julio-Claudian emperors of Rome. Not quite so, of course, but not a pretty picture. Democrats will have to decide whether they want to back a winner or someone who could attract only left wing zealots, or even whether the whole business isn’t too discouraging to look into more deeply.
I won’t tell you about the last chapters, since that would spoil everything. Anyway, Klein’s predictions for the future are worth the price of the book. Let’s just say that between incompetence and unpleasantness he will come down for Hillary every time.
Review Atlas (July 17, 2014), 4.