Sleaze as political biography
Shastri Ramachandaran

The Truth About Hillary
by Edward Klein
Sentinel (Penguin Group)
Pages 305. Price $ 17.95

What is clear is that the book has a cause: to thwart a woman, Hillary Clinton, from appearing respectable and acceptable as a candidate for the presidential elections in 2008.

The Truth About HillaryPat Sajak, the American TV celebrity and host of the game show ‘Wheel of Fortune’ was once quoted as saying, " Political pornography is not unlike the sexual kind: difficult to define, but you know it when you see it".

He would know. In the US, politics as pornography is ever evolving with newer twists and turns that snag not just your eyeballs. The American public’s pursuit of erotomania for political purposes is peculiarly perverse, if not brutishly bizarre: they get obsessed with a President who sleeps around, but lose no sleep over a President who mandates slaughter and carpet-bombing of whole peoples and countries; they get petrified if their President so much as chokes on a pretzel but applaud when sanctions starve millions of children in West Asia to death.

The key to understanding this ever-unravelling star-spangled drama, according to a gem on the cover flap of this book, is: "Americans know that when it comes to political leadership, character counts far more than any policy position …" And then Edward Klein, creator of The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew it, and How Far She’ll Go to Become President, goes on to assassinate the character of Senator Hillary Clinton; and he does it in the crudest and sleaziest manner over 305 pages. By the way, Klein was formerly editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine and foreign editor of Newsweek.

It is hard to say whether the book will have the desired effect, as it has been trashed in sections of the American media for its errors and distortions. What is clear is that the book has a cause: to thwart a woman, Hillary Clinton, from appearing respectable and acceptable as a candidate for the presidential elections in 2008. Of course, the tar could come in handy before that to mar her chances in the Senate election in 2006. The book signals that it is now open season for mudslinging with an eye on the elections in 2008; that neo-conservatives have loaded their trucks with dirt; and that hatchet men are already at work, shovelling it out.

It is also clear that in the emerging tar-and-mar campaign, there are, and will be, no issues or policy but slander and calumny aplenty, especially if a woman chooses to run for President. Ideology would be merely a cover to reinforce prevalent prejudices against liberal values through personalised attacks of the kind in this book to stonewall debate and flatten discourse. Yeah, Hillary is a lesbian liar; anti-Jewish because she is not hostile to the Arab cause in West Asia, and did not cheer the boorish insult heaped on Yasser Arafat when he visited New York during the UN’s fiftieth anniversary; an untrustworthy wife because she is a feminist; and a treacherous feminist because she stood by President Clinton when the Republicans were baying for his blood; and, worse than any of this in recent decades, she was dowdy and unkempt while in college and didn’t shave her underarms.

Now wouldn’t that be enough reason to establish that Hillary cannot be entrusted with any public office? Just in case, it doesn’t stack up, Klein has more to offer: "More than any other figure in her (Democratic) party, she had universal name recognition, control over the party’s powerful money machine, the advice of the smartest politician in the party — Bill Clinton — and the support of millions of liberals, gays, lesbians, feminists, young people, teachers, journalists, trial lawyers, African Americans, and poor Hispanics and other minorities" (Page 243). Writing these lines, perhaps Klein overlooked the fact that this reads like a very politically correct commendation of Hillary’s candidature.

The truth, not an unfamiliar one, that Klein — not his compendium of distortions, mendacious assertions, innuendoes, adjectivised imputations — represents is the American majoritarian mindset: "Hillary was a lightning rod for larger questions about the role of women in America. Many men said they didn’t like her because she was a radical feminist. Many women said they couldn’t stand her because she was willing to tolerate abuse from her husband in order to stay in power".

This brings to mind the virulent animosity Geraldine Ferraro faced as the vice-presidential running mate of the Democratic Party’s Walter Mondale in 1984. Some 20 years later, the truth is that American women, even feminists, want a white, poster-boy, heterosexual WASP as President.

It would be ambitious to expect more than that, when the so-called unimpeachable, inside sources of Klein turn out to be such low life — former girl/ boyfriends of Bill and Hillary, homophobes, White House ushers, maids and helpers, Republicans, political fixers — and, of course, Richard Nixon. If there is a higher form of life in political America, one doesn’t come across them in Klein’s brave new work.