The reviews are in on Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton’s history of her four-year tenure as U.S. secretary of State. They are almost all positive. Her book sales are strong — number one on The New York Times bestseller list for three weeks in a row.
What is missing from most of the reviews is what the book reveals about Clinton the person. I can speak to that, knowing her since I was a senior and she was a freshman at Yale Law School when we first met in the fall of 1969.
First, to state the most obvious: Hard Choices is about Hillary working hard.
We have all read the data of her travels and meetings as secretary of State: 401 days on the road, one million miles traveled, 112 countries visited. The book depicts the results of that hard work, her enduring achievements as secretary of State, including her indefatigable personal shuttle diplomacy between Israel and Egypt, which led to a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinians in Gaza, saving countless lives; her determined negotiations with Russia, which led to a reduction in U.S.-Russian nuclear missiles with better verification; and her successful effort to obtain global cooperation imposing economic sanctions on Iran, widely credited with bringing Iran to the negotiating table regarding its nuclear weapons program.
Then there is Hillary the strong and decisive leader, who made difficult judgments based on the available facts, taking the risk that, with the wisdom of hindsight, she might turn out to be wrong. The most dramatic example, described in page-turning detail in her book, was her support of President Obama’s courageous decision to send in the Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden, a decision opposed by Vice President Biden.
Finally, the book conveys the positive global effects of her authenticity and likeability. In my view, one of Clinton’s most enduring achievements as secretary of State — maybe the most important — was the dramatic increase in positive perceptions of American leadership around the world during her tenure. In the last two years of the Bush administration, according to Gallup World Poll data, America trailed Britain, France, Germany, Japan and China in approval of its leadership. That’s right, behind even China. In 2011, after two years of Clinton as secretary of State, America was tied for first place with Germany.
Finally, several sentences in the last two chapters of her book convey core insights into the real Hillary Clinton that her long-time friends have understood over the years.
When Obama asked her to stay into the second term, she wrote that she “felt the tug of my ‘service gene,’ that voice telling me there is no higher calling or more noble purpose than serving your country.” But then made she made the decision to return to private life — “spending more time with my family, reconnecting with friends, doing the everyday things I missed.”
She also wrote poignantly about her thoughts at her mom’s funeral: “I looked at Chelsea and thought about how proud Mom was of her. Mom measured her own life by how much she was able to help us and serve others. I knew if she was still with us, she would be urging us to do the same. Never rest on your laurels. Never quit. Never stop working to make the world a better place. That’s our unfinished business.”
The first time I met Hillary Rodham in September 1969, we were standing in line to register for classes at Yale Law School. I asked her if she needed any advice on how to study and brief cases in her first semester at a fairly challenging law school. She said, politely, “no thank you,” and then asked: “Can you tell me where I can find the nearest legal services clinic?”
No, Hillary Clinton hasn’t changed through all the years: the importance of family and friends, the “service gene” as active today as I witnessed some 45 years ago, motivating her to “never quit — never stop working to make the world a better place.”
Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, Levick. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life.