“The Seduction of Hillary Rodham,” Part One

Peter Schweizer’s new blockbuster, Clinton Cash, has sent Hillary Clinton’s backers into overdrive as they attempt to find holes in Schweizer’s formidable research. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check out our interview with the author.

Media Matters is leading the charge against Clinton Cash. Ironically, its founder, David Brock, once wrote a book about Hillary Clinton. He called it The Seduction of Hillary Rodham.

At the time — 1996 (pre-Monica Lewinsky, by the way) — Brock was a hero to some conservatives. He had broken the “Troopergate” story, in which Arkansas state troopers described how they arranged sexual liaisons for then-governor Bill Clinton. He had also placed Hillary Clinton at the center of the White House travel office firings scandal. Most importantly, Brock had written The Real Anita Hill, a powerful defense of Clarence Thomas.

Some conservatives expected Brock to write a scathing attack on Hillary Clinton. They were disappointed.

As Brock said in his preface, he wanted to approach Hillary as “neither an icon nor a demon, but a real person.” “What is needed now,” he wrote, “is neither name-calling nor ‘gotcha journalism’ but an effort to understand the partnership” between the Clintons.

Reading The Seduction of Hillary Rodham almost 20 years later, it seems to me that Brock mostly succeeded in writing a fair-minded account. The effort left him a bit stranded. Liberals still disliked him and his stock with some conservatives fell.

Brock cured the problem by abjectly apologizing to the left for his past “sins” and by taking up the hatchet against conservatives. The Seduction of Hillary Rodham might well have been his last attempt at fair-minded journalism.

Although not a hatchet job, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham does not go easy on Hillary Clinton. Here is Brock’s statement of what I consider the book’s theme:

Through [her] marriage, Hillary has seen not only the heights of political triumph but also the depths of personal defeat. It was Bill Clinton who bought her into contact with the gritty money-politics of Arkansas, entangling her in a web of unsavory associations from which she attempted to distance herself — first in Little Rock, then in Washington — but which followed her to the White House and ultimately wreaked havoc on her life and reputation.

Because she has been forced to make hard compromises to protect both her marriage and Bill’s political future, Hillary’s struggle to preserve her dignity has become the central drama of her life. . . .

Hillary’s story is that of an intelligent, talented, ambitious, and very determined woman who nevertheless succumbed to powerfully seductive forces — philosophical, political, and personal.

These include the easy moral certitudes of the Christian left; the fashionable instrumental legal doctrines disseminated at Yale Law School; the situational ethics and power-based political philosophies of a certain strain of 1960s radicalism; the dangerously tempting belief, instilled by influential mentors, in the beneficent potential of government as a force for social progress; the frictionless ease of manipulating the levers of power in a corrupt one-party state; and the idealized vision of a new kind of political partnership with her husband that proved impossible to realize.

Above all, she has repeatedly succumbed to the seductive attraction of Bill Clinton himself, perhaps the most articulate, beguiling, and empathetic figure ever to emerge on the American political scene.

One can debate whether Brock is too inclined to shift the blame for Hillary’s difficulties to her husband. But today, with Hillary Clinton far more “entangled in a web of unsavory associations” and her “dignity” far more compromised than 20 years ago, it’s fair to ask, in Hillary’s words: “What difference at this point does it make?”