Hillary's Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign

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9780684873022: Hillary's Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign

It was without precedent. In July 1999 Hillary Rodham Clinton hit the campaign trail -- the only sitting first lady in the history of the United States ever to seek public office. In her quest to become a New York senator, the nation's most polarizing woman would have to hold her own in the hurly-burly world of New York politics. In this irreverent, probing, and keenly insightful book, political columnist Michael Tomasky exposes the fascinating inner workings of that race. Hillary, he reveals, was neither a gladiatorial tigress nor the unreconstructed flower child conservatives so deeply feared. Constitutionally unable to embrace what Tomasky calls "the politics of personal narrative" and to bare her soul before the voters, she instead presented herself in a tradition of nineteenth-century women reformers religiously bent on problem solving. But would that play in a media capital that savored scandal and demanded that politicians parade their personalities? For Hillary, disaster would always be one step away. Reporters turned out in record numbers to record her every misstep -- from the time she forgot to leave a tip for a waitress at a New York diner to her kissing Suha Arafat. And those were the sympathetic ones. The New York Post, a Murdoch property known for trumpeting its conservative sympathies, did its best to inflame the leagues of Hillary-haters nationwide. Primed for a duel of titans with the irascible Rudy Giuliani, Hillary watched the mayor withdraw from the race amid a flurry of tabloid revelations, to be replaced by hyperambitious young congressman Rick Lazio. And all the while a devastating series of polls and focus groups revealed that many women -- from disenchanted Baby Boomers to suburbanites -- loathed her. (Asked what she would do if she were Hillary Clinton, one test subject said she'd "put a bullet to my head or start drinking.") Here then is the witty, barbed month-by-month chronicle of how Hillary made the transition from "cosseted first lady to flesh-and-blood candidate": the surreal crises; the angry rifts among advisers over her image; the hovering presence of a scandal-plagued husband and president. And finally, here is a brilliant and lasting analysis of the vast and thorny world of statewide politics, with portraits of New York politicians of all stripes -- from Al Sharpton to George Pataki -- who sought to reshape the race for their own purposes. Filled with trenchant observations about liberalism and its antagonists, this is a rollicking tale of hardball politics in the nation's fiercest arena. It is also an illuminating portrait of that most guarded of candidates, now New York's first woman senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Review:

There is no shortage of anti-Hillary Clinton books on the shelf--authors ranging from conservative critic Peggy Noonan to pop psychologist Gail Sheehy have offered volumes that must make fans of the former first lady gnash their teeth. New York magazine columnist Michael Tomasky provides something of an antidote with Hillary's Turn, his sympathetic chronicle of Hillary Clinton's successful election to the Senate in 2000. This is not a biography, but the story of a candidacy. Readers interested in the nitty-gritty of New York State politics will enjoy learning how Mrs. Clinton "cobbled together a coalition of urban minorities, Giuliani Democrats ... and white upstaters that, in the post-Reagan age, we've been told it was impossible for a Democrat to achieve." Much of Hillary's Turn is given over to an almost day-by-day treatment of the campaign, from its shaky beginnings to its surprising margin of victory on Election Day. And all the controversies surrounding Mrs. Clinton receive full attention: running for office in a state where she had no roots, insisting that she really was a Yankees fan, kissing Yasir Arafat's wife on both cheeks right after she gave a speech that dubiously blamed Israelis for using "poison gas" against Palestinians, and so on.

Tomasky is clearly taken by his subject: "I was fascinated by the very fact of her normalness," he confesses, following an interview with Mrs. Clinton. "Here before me was the most polarizing woman in America.... She wasn't enigmatic or brittle; she had enthusiasms and a playful side." She likes archaeology! And The Flintstones! Tomasky goes on to insist that "she has been misinterpreted ideologically [and] that she has been mischaracterized personally." Conservatives may guffaw when he writes that her "liberalism ... is far more oriented toward fixing a problem than changing the world"--but only if they haven't read the preceding pages, in which Tomasky shows Mrs. Clinton to be a fearsomely disciplined campaigner who really did seem to care about issues that concern New York voters, such as dairy compacts and utility regulations. After reading Hillary's Choice, admirers of Mrs. Clinton will find themselves admiring her even more, while detractors will appreciate anew what a formidable opponent they have. In short, this is an excellent book about an important campaign, and an even more important politician. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Michael Tomasky is a columnist at New York magazine, where he has written "The City Politic" column since 1995. His work has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Harper's, The Nation, The Village Voice, Dissent, Lingua Franca, George, and GQ. He is the author of Left for Dead, a study of the intellectual collapse of the American left. Born and raised in Morgantown, West Virginia, he lives with his wife in Brooklyn.

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