Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Hillary Is Nice to Rahm in Her Bland New Memoir

The former Secretary of State once engineered Emanuel’s demotion in the White House, but now they’re a mutual-admiration society.

Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emanuel at Chicago Ideas Week, June 11, 2014 Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

When Hillary Clinton came to Chicago on her memoir/pre-campaign tour, she sat down with longtime colleague Rahm Emanuel as part of Chicago Ideas Week. And he obliged her not with ideas, but flowery praise. “This stage is usually graced by the elegance of ballet dancers,” Rahm, himself a former ballet dancer, gushed to Hillary, “and I would say it’s never been graced like this moment.” He also called Hillary, born in Chicago and reared in Park Ridge, “a Chicagoan at heart. And every time she returns to our city, our heart fills with pride.”

(That Rahm “lob[bed] softballs” at Hillary, in the words of Natasha Korecki, isn’t surprising. As unlikely as it seems, perhaps Rahm hopes to be tapped as her VP, or perhaps he hopes she doesn’t run and he can fill the void. Lynn Sweet wrote before the event, “Clinton’s team, I am told, asked for no restrictions in what Emanuel could ask. With Emanuel’s vast insider knowledge he has a unique ability to plow new ground.” Oh, well.)

The feeling is mutual, or at least the favor was returned. Hillary Clinton treats Rahm lovingly in his several appearances in Hard Choices, her memoir of her State Department years. (He owes his career, one could say, to Bill Clinton—not Hillary, but more on that in a minute.)

And it’s a bit unexpected. During Bill’s first term, Rahm proved brilliant at raising money, but Hillary saw him as alarmingly long on aggressiveness and short on maturity, and engineered his demotion. One wouldn’t know that from Hillary’s bland description of Rahm in Hard Choices, in which she neglects to mention any hint of friction between them. “Rahm was famous for his forceful personality and vivid language,” she writes, but she was far better on the Harris stage with Rahm when she observed, presumably off the cuff, “he is his own form of an energy source. I’ve often thought if there were ever a blackout in Chicago, have Rahm hold some kind of cable and Chicago would electrify again.”

Clinton writes that COS Rahm “offered a friendly ear and an open door in the West Wing, and we talked frequently.” Interesting, but the subject and tone of their “frequent” talks—as Obama’s COS, Rahm had a foreign as well as domestic portfolio—are not to be found in the pages of Hard Choices. (Politico reports that a manuscript of Hard Choices was “…sent to the White House for review before it was printed.”)

There’s a funny story in Hard Choices, told before, of Hillary’s reluctance to accept Obama’s offer of the Secretary of State’s job.  Hillary, as she writes it, called to tell the president-elect no. Rahm took the call knowing her purpose and told Hillary that Obama was in the bathroom, or toilet, or can. (I’ve heard all three words, and others, used.)  Typical of why Hard Choices cures insomnia is Hillary’s description of the event: “Incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel pretended the President elect was indisposed when I tried to call to say no.” Indisposed?

It’s marketed as a memoir of Clinton’s four years as Secretary of State—the tale of her visits to 112 countries consuming nearly one million air miles. But having slogged through its 600-plus pages, I can confirm that this is a campaign book, the launching pad for what, until this week’s gaffe-prone media tour—two days of it spent in Chicago—seemed like the kickoff of Hillary and Bill’s inevitable return to the White House.

Reliably liberal journalists such as ABC’s Diane Sawyer and NPR’s Terry Gross asked Hillary unexpectedly tough questions, which she answered clumsily or not at all. In a clueless reply to Sawyer, she described herself and Bill, on leaving the White House, as “dead broke,” seeming surprised that Sawyer might raise the fact that the couple had multimillions coming in book advances—$8 million for her first memoir, Living History (2003), and $15 million for Bill’s 2004 memoir, My Life. And oh, those speaking fees! Hillary collects approximately $200,000 per speech, with a reported $5 million in speaking fees since leaving the State Department in 2013, and, for Bill, $100 million since leaving the White House in 2001.

When Terry Gross asked her about the political component of her conversion to same-sex marriage, she attacked Gross, who, like Sawyer, wouldn’t back down—leaving the two reporters looking persistent and Hillary looking alternately cagey or angry.

With an initial printing of one million copies, Hard Choices is apparently selling well; it’s #4 on Amazon’s list—#2 last week—but its one-star reviews (392) out pace its five-star (175). (There could be a concerted campaign by Hillary haters to post pans, but, having read it, I think one star, perhaps two stars, is about right.) 

Posting for The New Yorker, John Cassidy writes that Hillary’s advance was “…reportedly in the range of fourteen million dollars,” and mistakenly—or with tongue in cheek—referred to the book as Hard Times. Had Hillary decided on that title she would have been borrowing from Charles Dickens; instead, perhaps inadvertently, she borrowed Hard Choices from Cyrus Vance, another former Secretary of State (under Jimmy Carter). Oddly, both books were published by Simon & Schuster. I guess no one noticed.

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