Review

Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton

by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.

The
prologue to Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.'s book ends with two
ominous-sounding sentences: "For decades, Hillary and Bill Clinton,
along with a core group of friends and supporters, have told one
story. Now it is time for another."

Ouch! That tone of literary voice will certainly set off alarm
bells among Hillary Rodham Clinton's legions of admirers. Gerth and
Van Natta are both veteran hard-nosed journalistic hands. Jeff
Gerth was the point man at the New York Times in stirring up the
Whitewater controversy that caused the Clintons incredible trouble
before it blew over with no charges against them. They know where
and how to dig for facts and underlying documentation. In this book
they may acknowledge Hillary's strengths and strong points, but
they seem mainly intent on cutting her down to size as her bid for
the presidency picks up steam.

HER WAY is not intended as a comprehensive Hillary biography,
though it does adequately cover the basics of her early years. It
is more a study of her methods of political operation and an effort
to probe her way of thinking about the world, about politics and
about herself. The portrait that emerges is that of a powerful and
ambitious woman who brooks no opposition, never admits a mistake,
carefully constructs a public image that may or may not reflect her
real views and tries to ignore or suppress inconvenient facts that
may undermine that public persona. As the book ends, the authors
wonder who the "authentic" Hillary Clinton may be. It is certainly
a question worth asking. They don't seem to know the answer and
neither does the reader.

Gerth and Van Natta dutifully stir up the cold ashes of Whitewater,
Travelgate, Vince Foster's death, Hillary's commodities trading
fortunes, her work for the Rose law firm in Arkansas and --- of
course --- Monica Lewinsky. Their research is thorough, but there
is a snide quality to their constant tendency to find some angle,
fact or interpretation that reflects unfavorably on their subject.
(Example: If Hillary sidesteps a reporter's question about support
for improved auto fuel-efficiency standards, they add gratuitously,
"Michigan is an important primary state, after all.")

For purposes of the upcoming presidential campaign, the most
relevant part of this book is its detailed account of how Hillary
arrived at --- and subsequently tried to justify --- her vote for
the Iraq war powers resolution. This will surely be the deciding
factor for a large contingent of voters in 2008 if she is the
nominee. Gerth and Van Natta show that when Iraq first became a
contentious issue she seemed to side solidly with President Bush,
only drifting off toward hardnosed opposition as the strength of
antiwar sentiment began to build. This is a road traveled by a fair
number of senators in recent years, but the authors are quick
indeed to question Hillary's motives and paint her as
opportunistic. They fault her for being one of 94 senators who did
not read the full classified text of the famous National
Intelligence Estimate that cast doubt on the administration's
rationale for invading Iraq. Among those 94 members were several
others who later became candidates for President.

The overall impression created by this book is that two Hillary
Clintons exist --- one a carefully airbushed and spin-doctored
public woman, the other a real person driven by "raw political
ambition" who will do or say anything, crush any opponent and seize
upon any issue to get her where she wants to go. 

That may be true, but we just don't know yet. Well, we have 16
months to find out --- and I'm not sure that Gerth and Van Natta
are the most neutral of guides for the journey. They demonstrate
that they "know" Hillary Clinton better than you and I do, but
their own motives are not much clearer than hers.

Reviewed by Robert Finn (Robertfinn@aol.com) on January 22, 2011

Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton
by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.

  • Publication Date: June 8, 2007
  • Genres: Current Affairs, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 438 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316017426
  • ISBN-13: 9780316017428