Even before the official publication of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s newest book, one thing was clear: It would take a herculean blast of luck to pry anything unintended out of the former secretary of State, now hawking the book in myriad TV interviews with a smile on her face, uttering the title “Hard Choices” as much as possible but saying little of consequence.
Soul searching or cone-of-silence breaking is not the Hillary way. Unlike her husband, Bill, whose worst moments have come when discipline waned, the past and potentially future presidential candidate appears almost always to be in control.
That can make her, at times, seem more than a little inauthentic.
ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, in an interview that was released drip by drip in advance of her one-hour special Monday night, asked Clinton about the millions in speech fees she has earned, in addition to the far larger amount that her husband, the former president, had brought in.
“We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” Clinton replied. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.”
Perhaps she intended to commiserate with the down and out. But the Clintons were no middle-class family in extremis. Bill Clinton’s salary as Arkansas governor was limited. (That was among the reasons the Clintons gave for investing in the Whitewater real estate development that made them targets of a grand jury and an independent prosecutor in the 1990s.) And the Clintons did leave the White House with abundant debts, mostly to lawyers (another legacy of the 1990s).
But President Clinton left office more than 13 years ago, and more than a decade before Hillary Clinton began her whirlwind of speeches. Both have written books that earned them millions, on top of his presidential pension and her Senate and secretary of State salaries. No one forced them to buy two large homes, one in Washington and the other in New York.
If that part of the interview clanged a bit, however, there has also been evidence of deftness born of 40 years in politics.
Asked about the concussion she suffered at the end of 2012 that has led Republicans to question her fitness for office, she swiftly brought up Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential candidate known for his fitness regimen as much as his conservative positions.
“I ran into Congressman Paul Ryan at the inauguration last year, and I had read he was this great athlete,” she said, repeating a story she had earlier told People magazine in an interview for their cover story. “ I said, ‘Congressman, did you ever have a concussion?’ and he said , ‘Oh, yes.’ He said, ‘ I had several, I think three; the last one was serious but my mother was smart enough to make me stay in. ‘“
In two sentences, she managed a defense against criticism of her age and the impact of her injury, using a popular Republican two decades younger. She took only one sentence to remind viewers of the partisan background of Karl Rove, the former advisor to George W. Bush who implied weeks ago that Clinton had suffered brain damage when she sustained her concussion.
“I know he was called ‘Bush’s brain’ in one of the books written about him,” she told Sawyer, as if waving away a gnat, “and I wish him well.”