Barrelhouse Reviews: The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Sonya Huber

Review by Wendy Besel Hahn

 

As a Bernie supporter, a healthcare reform activist, and the granddaughter of a socialist who fought against the Nazis, Sonya Huber is uniquely poised to write The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Huber is not my father-in-law’s political pundit, but rather writes to people “who have been alive and of voting age since the 1990s.” I’m her target audience—a forty-something, suburban soccer mom who first voted for Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election—looking to explain my vague allegiance to Hillary.  During an election cycle in which political coverage often comes across as a farce, it is refreshing to read a sincere exploration of a complicated political figure.

With over 250 footnotes in a concise 188-page text, Huber examines Hillary Clinton’s evolution from her early political life as a Republican at Wellesley College to her current role as presumptive nominee for the Democratic National Convention. There are moments when the research overtakes the commentary, but for the most part, Huber navigates her readers through great breadth and depth along the journey offering balanced views on her subject.

In her first chapter, Huber states, “looking at Hillary is like staring into a set of angled dressing-room mirrors and seeing images of the United States cast backward into themselves into infinity. Hillary’s face represents all of what we want to escape and cannot, or all the hopes we had that were partially realized or were outright crushed.” Moments like this keep Huber’s writing accessible.

Unfairly or not, President Bill Clinton’s record is often ascribed to Hillary. Several early chapters focus on how his position as a “New Democrat” led to watered down healthcare reform, stringent crime legislation resulting in mass incarceration, compromises on welfare reform that further separated the haves from the have-nots, and don’t ask don’t tell legislation for gays in the military. Huber teases out these “legacies” with an eye for understanding how Hillary Clinton might lead as President of the United States.

Huber tackles meaty topics related to Hillary’s political life independent of her role as First Lady of the United States. Chapter titles include: “Hillary is a Woman, and That’s Apparently a Problem”; “Is Hillary a Feminist?”; “Hillary is a Capitalist”; “H is for Hawk”; and “Foreign Policy Nightmares and Quagmires.”

Readers looking for mere sound bites will be sorely disappointed as Huber presents evidence and comments on the nuances involved in political life.  Some of her most astute observation relate to voters themselves:

Ultimately, the tension of the 2016 primary season had to do with the large-scale push to find an “outside” candidate. More than half the U.S. wants off the ride, and many were drawn to Sanders or Trump for that reason. These days, American politics is best understood not in a Right vs. Left spectrum but as a quadrant, with top left and right being comfortable with insider politics, money in politics, corporate interests and lobbying. Clinton resides in the upper-left. The electorate, I would argue, is U-shaped, and a surprising number of working-class and middle-class men at the bottom of the of the U in particular see themselves as equally pulled to Trump or Bernie Sanders.

Despite her criticisms of Hillary Clinton and her previous vote for Sanders during the Connecticut primary, Huber clearly states she will cast her ballot for Clinton in November with this caveat: “ No one should confuse a vote for Clinton with support for every single one of her positions or actions; that’s not what a presidential election has ever meant. The choices are too narrow. No matter what happens, our next job is to keep up the level of political engagement—with respect and dignity for all—that will help us develop a livable future.”

Aside from Huber’s voice and perspective, part of what makes The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton unique among books on political figures is its origin. Eyewear Publishing, an independent press based in London, England, created the series Squint Books: Brief Books for a Busy World. Squint’s other titles include, but are not limited to, Bernie Sanders—The Essential Guide by Okla Elliott and Donald Trump—The Rhetoric by Oliver Jones.

When anything and everything seems fair game, isn’t it fitting that Huber’s book offers a way into American political discourse with the support of a British publishing house?


Wendy Besel Hahn has an MFA from George Mason University. Her articles and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Redivider, and Front Porch Journal. She is working on a memoir about growing up non-Mormon in Utah titled Gentile Among Saints. To read more of her work, please visit her website: www.wendybeselhahn.com.