The What Happened Book Club

image of Hillary Clinton's book 'What Happened' sitting on my dining room table, with my Hillary action figure standing on top of the book, her arms raised over her head

This is the fifteenth installment of the What Happened Book Club, where we are doing a chapter a week.

That pace will hopefully allow people who need time to procure the book a better chance to catch up, and let us deal with the book in manageable pieces: I figured we will have a lot to talk about, and one thread for the entire book would quickly get overwhelming.

So! Let us continue our discussion with Chapters Fifteen and Sixteen: Election Night and Why.

* * *

I decided to combine these two chapters, because "Election Night" is a short one, and "Why" is a long chapter, but it's one that I don't feel terribly much like discussing in detail, and I thought I might not be alone in that assessment. (But if I'm wrong, have at it in comments!)

It's not that I don't think "Why," in which Hillary Clinton writes in detailed sections the various things she believes contributed to her loss, is an interesting or important chapter. To the contrary, I believe it's both! I'm just not especially moved to explore that territory again myself, having done so much of it already over the course of the last year.

I will, however, just quickly mention Hillary's rationale for the chapter, which I think is spot-on:
If it's all my fault, then the media doesn't need to do any soul searching. Republicans can say Putin's meddling had no consequences. Democrats don't need to question their own assumptions and prescriptions. Everyone can just move on.

I wish it were that easy. But it's not. So I'm going to try to explain how I understand what happened, both the unexpected interventions that swung the race at the end, and the structural challenges that made it close to begin with. You don't have to agree with my take. But counter with evidence, with a real argument. Because we have to get this right.
Damn straight. I have been yelled at many times over the past year for "relitigating" either the primary or the general election, when I have zero interest in doing that. I do, however, have a vested interest as a voter in what I want to be a functional democracy, not as a "bitter Clinton supporter," in examining failures to make sure that we don't repeat them.

So, I'm a big supporter of Hillary's "Why" chapter, even though I am personally more keen to discuss "Election Night."

It's one of the shortest chapters in the book, and was one of the hardest for me to read.

First, I have to highlight this bit, about the night before Election Day, because I WAS THERE!
I was exhausted but happy and enormously proud of my team. Standing with Bill, Chelsea, Barack, and Michelle in front of tens of thousands of people at Philadelphia's Independence Hall was one of the high points of the entire campaign. The President hugged me and whispered in my ear, "You've got this. I'm so proud of you."
That was an amazing night, and it is really thrilling to have been part of one of the high points of the campaign for Hillary. It was certainly one of the high points of the campaign for me!

image of the crowd at Independence Hall, with Hillary onstage, and Iain and me in a tiny red circle in the crowd
That's Iain and me inside that red circle!

This is the point in the chapter when I started crying (at least crying in earnest, because we all know I got choked up just reading the title "Election Night"):
It's quite something to see your name on a ballot. After twenty months, twelve debates, and more speeches and town halls than I could count, it all came down to this. All over the country, 136 million people were going to look at my name and Donald Trump's name and make a decision that would shape the future of the country and the world.
And now I'm getting all choked up again, just thinking about that day, and how moved and excited I was to be able to cast my vote for Hillary Clinton in the morning, and how devastated I was by the end of the night.

The other part of this chapter that really got me was the passage about how she wanted to end her acceptance speech, the one that she would never get to deliver, on a personal note:
Throughout the campaign, my mother's story had been an emotional touchstone. Her perseverance spoke to the perseverance our country needed to overcome its own adversity, as well as the long struggle for women's rights and opportunities. With help from the poet Jorie Graham, we had written a closing riff for the speech that made me tear up every time I read it. I want to share it here because, as you know, I never got a chance to deliver it that night:
This summer, a writer asked me: If I could go back in time and tell anyone in history about this milestone, who would it be? And the answer was easy: My mother Dorothy. You may have heard me talk about her difficult childhood. She was abandoned by her parents when she was just eight years old. They put her on a train to California, where she was mistreated by her grandparents and ended up out on her own, working as a housemaid. Yet she still found a way to offer me the boundless love and support she never received herself...

I think about my mother every day. Sometimes I think about her on that train. I wish I could walk down the aisle and find the little wooden seats where she sat, holding tight to her even younger sister, alone, terrified. She doesn't yet know how much she will suffer. She doesn't yet know she will find the strength to escape that suffering — that is still a long way off. The whole future is unknown as she stares out at the vast country moving past her.

I dream of going up to her, and sitting down next to her, taking her in my arms, and saying, "Look at me. Listen to me. You will survive. You will have a good family of your own, and three children. And as hard as it might be to imagine, your daughter will grow up and become the President of the United States."

I am as sure of this as anything I have ever known: America is the greatest country in the world. And, from tonight, going forward, together we will make America even greater than it has ever been — for each and every one of us.
That was the speech Hillary Clinton wanted to give, and the future for all of us she envisioned. Instead, we've got a president who wants to plunge America into toxic mud, and Hillary had to deliver a concession speech.

Which brings me to the last bit I'll share:
The speechwriters gingerly approached with a draft of a concession speech. I honestly wondered why anyone would want to hear from me ever again.
That breaks my heart into a million pieces.

I know it's apparent, given this series, not to mention all the other things I've written about being glad Hillary Clinton won't shut up and go away, but I'll say it again, anyway: I want to hear from Hillary Clinton.

And I do not consider having failed honorably at something a reason not to listen to a woman for the rest of her life.

That is a threshold I find entirely unacceptable — because it sets perfection as the cost of entry.

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