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So Is It Worth a Book?
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Twelve
by Brian S. Wise
4 June 2003

Can Hillary Clinton's book possibly be worth all the recent controversy?

Controversies involving a writer’s integrity exist only to remind the three dozen people who are interested in them that whoever is thought wrong or corrupt is so only because of the positions they occupy.  The news that Hillary Clinton has not written her book (Living History, Simon and Schuster) has taken on a brief life of its own, among both liberals and conservatives, all of whom have intimate knowledge of their own biases, but virtually no knowledge of publishing.
Judith Regan took to the O’Reilly show late last week to say, Well, Rush Limbaugh didn’t actually write either of his two books, and what of it?  Some people can write, most people cannot; and since publishing began there have been those who have been brought in to assist those who have a message, if not this particular talent.  Point taken, but Limbaugh has never claimed he pounded out either of his books.  (“I chose as my collaborator John Fund …. John’s primary role was to interview me on tape, then write the first draft from the transcripts of the interviews.”)  And neither, to the best of my knowledge, has Hillary Clinton.
But what is being suggested is that, for an eight million dollar advance, someone could sit down and write their own book, a point many serious writers find hard to disagree with.  (In fact, far greater books have been written for far lesser advances, if any.)  After all, if we are to believe she managed It Takes a Village in the midst of her duties as first lady, what exactly kept her from dedicating serious energies to this, her pre-presidential run autobiography? 
Ah, and Mr. William F. Buckley, Jr. has the answer in correctly suggesting that just because Hillary Clinton did not herself sit for endless hours and type draft copy after draft copy, it is not the same as saying she did not work on the project significantly.  “[In] the manuscript assembled for her, she had to run her eyes over four or five times as much material as has finally been collated to form the book that will appear in the stores. And of course it is entirely conceivable that here and there she wished to add a paragraph or two in her own hand. And absolutely predictable that here and there she applied a blue pencil to scratch out in her own hand a paragraph or two she does not wish to see published.”  Yes.  Hers could not have possibly been an eight million dollar effort, and Simon and Schuster will lose a boat load of money, but here it can be said, and it does happen only very occasionally, that this columnist is defending a Clinton.  This sort of book writing is common practice.
The more genuine concern is, Did Hillary Clinton do anything significant enough (other than lie and obstruct; you know, the usual) to justify this much disorder and promotion?  What are the odds she will say anything significant, given the fact she would like to start running for president five years from now, and wants to avoid casting another shadow on that campaign, no matter how small?  Simon and Schuster is holding out hope, because that is the entire exercise book publishing is predicated upon … another publisher once held out hope that the first 25 years (or so) of Monica Lewinsky’s life story was worth a lot of time and effort, even given that the most interesting thing she ever did was take the leader of the free world in her mouth.  (Really now, the girl has filled her entire life with only one fascinating topic, affairs with married men.  What else is she going to talk about for two hundred and fifty pages?  Shoes?)
First ladies, in particular first ladies of large, meaningful presidencies, have relevance because they have stood so close to history, and have unique perspectives, provided they tell the truth.  Hillary Clinton cannot admit to, or sufficiently explain, most of the things we would find most interesting for exactly the same reasons Eleanor Roosevelt could never openly admit to being a part-time lesbian or a socialist: being first lady is not all she wants to do with her life, and the absolute truth will be avoided in the name of future forward progress.  (Mrs. Roosevelt was a columnist, and not a good one.)
So is it worth a book?  Instinctively, one wants to say “no” without even taking a sideways glance at the thing, and that is my position until solid evidence (possibly the Time magazine excerpts to be released next week) proves otherwise.

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