Monday, April 24, 2017

"Shattered": A Slog of a Reading Experience

 It's not until the end of their gossipy rehash of the doomed Democratic presidential campaign that the authors of Shattered finally get around to dishing out their biggest scoop.  RussiaGate was the brainchild of Hillary Clinton herself. Her campaign has never really ended at all, because it was just one subsidiary of the Clintons' vast financial and political global empire.

So once she got past the brief shock of "conceding gracefully" to Donald Trump, Clinton was back in campaign mode with a vengeance. Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen write:
On a phone call with a longtime friend a couple of days after the election, Hillary was much less accepting of her defeat. She put a fine point on the factors she believed cost her the presidency: the FBI (Comey), the KGB (the old name for Russia's intelligence service) and the KKK (the support Trump got from white nationalists.)....

"She wants to make sure all these narratives get spun the right way," this person said.

That strategy had been set within four hours of her concession speech.
 Clinton operatives got right to work in Brooklyn headquarters. "For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument."

And thus does Hillary's campaign as a sort of empress in exile continue. After a much-publicized sojourn in the woods designed for purposes of humanization, she has emerged as the face of Resistance,Inc. Still not learning the lesson of what happens to an anointed presidential candidate who abandons the working class, she's restricted her emergence only to those locales where the rich and famous gather. Her most recent event was, ironically enough, at a Tribeca Film Festival discussion about saving elephants.

I'm a person who can never quit a book once I'm past the midway point, so I spent much of the weekend reliving the depressing slog that was the Hillary Clinton coronation crusade. If you happen to enjoy reminiscing about the pettiness and backbiting and divide and conquer tactics of any office job you've ever held, then this book will truly resonate. Shattered has the same dull throbbing effect as discordant church bells echoing through the Slough of Despond.

  To get Hillary's minions to talk to them, Parnes and Allen promised each of them total protection and anonymity in order to elicit maximum invective and optimum dirt. The authors are quick to confess that on the numerous occasions when they purport to know what their sources were thinking, they mean that their sources actually told them what they were thinking. You'd think that stream-of-consciousness was a whole new literary device in nonfiction political writing.

If their thought-narrative explanation is true, then the gossipy sources of Shattered include not only the hired help, but such luminaries as Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Obama, for example, "thought" that Hillary looked sick and terrible at the Democratic National Convention. Bill "thought" that Donald Trump was lowlife scum for bringing Bill's female victims to one of the debates. Bill, alone out of all the clueless people who appear in Shattered, had bad vibes about his wife's chances from early on. He correctly thought, in several sentences and over many pages, that the election was going to be a repeat of Brexit. He comes across as one of the few intelligent people in this whole literary slog, as a matter of fact.

Hillary herself is directly outed as a source for the book via this passage:
'I'm no longer a candidate or public official,' she thought. I'm not going to be the leader of a party in the future. I want to exit with grace - and do it quickly.'
And we can assume that her next unspoken thought was to come out of the woods after the shortest possible decent interval in order to force an exhausted public to relive the campaign into eternity and beyond.

Shattered is being widely praised (and maligned, as the partisan case may be) as a scathing exposé of Hillary Clinton and her cadre of grasping sycophants. But the book only scratches the surface of the rot, delving as it does mainly into gossip and character attacks. There is no reporting on such dirty Party tricks as the herding of Vegas casino workers into one huge venue to force public bloc voting in the Nevada caucus, and the later purging of voter rolls in the New York primary. There's no reporting on the scheme to bypass campaign financing laws by directing her donors to contribute to state parties, which then rerouted the cash right back to her. The authors, who so ably burst the bubble in which the Democratic nominee and her campaign resided, themselves write from deep within the bubble of establishment Beltway journalism. Their previous book about Clinton's reign as Secretary of State, for example, was so fawning to powerful actors that it was considered "required reading" for Washington insiders.

No wonder that People on the Inside were so ready, willing and able to anonymously spill their deepest and nastiest guts and thoughts to this reporting duo. It must have helped immensely that co-author Jonathan Allen is a revolving door alumnus himself, swirling at various times between working for politicians and covering them as a Beltway journalist. At one point, he ran former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz's congressional PAC. Since DWS is treated harshly in this book - even her curly hair is witheringly mocked - I can only assume that the experience ended as badly for Allen as the experiences of many a Clinton operative given leave to speak off the record, in the spirit of operative solidarity.

And it does get nasty. Campaign Manager Robby Mook, for example, seems to have been universally disliked.

"He was more interested in "maintaining the castle than winning the war," an unnamed somebody groused.

And Mook wasted no time in neutralizing the worshipful founders and volunteers of the Ready for Hillary super PAC once their free services were no longer required. "As one Democratic insider familiar with Mook's thinking put it, 'When you're done with a condom, you throw it out.'"

Throughout the book, Hillary herself wobbles between two stereotypical roles: victim and bitch. Her heart really wasn't ever in it, we're told at the outset.The only reason she ran was because she thought nobody else in the party could win. Her big mistake was then to assign too many cooks to one curdling pot.

There were so many actors and so many servants that "Clintonworld looked like a traffic jam on a Venn diagram, with so many interlocking and concentric circles that it was next to impossible to determine who was in Hillary's ear."

She "had set up rival power centers everywhere. And no one had enough authority to make the others play nice. Nor was anyone empowered to both enforce Hillary's will and tell her when she was wrong without fear of reprisal."

As a further indication of their own Washington media insularity, Parnes and Allen dutifully toe the line in parroting the disdain which the establishment had and still has for Bernie Sanders and his supporters. He is once again stereotyped as an old coot with the cheap suits and the wild hair and the flailing arms. The phrase "pie in the sky" is the common descriptor of his campaign platform throughout the book. Just because they aim to tell the whole unvarnished truth about Hillary Clinton doesn't mean they want to do any favors for Bernie, whose fans are characterized throughout the volume as "dead enders" and "haters."

In the chapter "Feeling the Bern," the co-authors just can't resist indulging in the usual silly false equivalency. When you adhere like a tick to the extreme center, there can be no discernible difference between the radicals of the Tea Party and the radicals of Occupy Wall Street:
"They scapegoated different segments of society -- immigrants on the right and bankers on the left, for example." 
Yep, those poor Wall Street tycoons take just as much undeserved crap as a sub-minimum wage farm worker or restaurant line cook.

Allen and Parnes are also careful to disguise the lobbying career of Minyan Moore, one of Hillary's "Super Six" cabal of unpaid secret campaign overseers. While working for the campaign, Moore continued her employment with Dewey Square, a notorious astroturf operation responsible for crafting such sleazy initiatives as Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson's Fix the Debt initiative to cut Medicare and Social Security. The authors don't inform their readers about this fact, because generalized political corruption is not a part of their chosen narrative. Instead, they describe Dewey Square as a public service organization.

Once I got past the chapter on Bernie, I started to read with a more critical eye. It dawned on me that Parnes' and Allen's main self-assigned task was to critique a candidate who failed to protect the endangered Neoliberal Project for the benefit of the establishment. Hillary wasn't as suitably proficient as Barack Obama. She failed to co-opt the rabble. Once I received that epiphany - that the authors of Shattered have no beef with the actual oligarchic system -  their tell-all tome lost much of its muckraking luster for me. It became a slog, something to be gotten through.

This is not to say that are no masterful barbs and illuminating goodies to enjoy during the rehash of this memory lane trip through political hell. The following anecdote, about an August 2015 conference call in the wake of Hillary's private email server scandal, left me both laughing and wondering who to despise more: the Clintons, or their spineless careerist minions:
Hillary's severe, controlled voice crackled through the line first. It carried the sound of a disappointed teacher or mother delivering a lecture before a whipping. That back end was left to Bill, who lashed out with abandon. Eyes cast downward, stomachs turning - both from the scare tactics and from their own revulsion at being chastised for Hillary's failures - Hillary's talented and accomplished team of professionals and loyalists simply took it.... It was hard to tell what was worse -- getting hollered at by Bill or getting scolded by the stern and self-righteous Hillary. Neither was pleasant. 'You heard him,' she admonished 'Get it straight.''
It was an astonishing moment -- and one that would stick in the minds of Hillary's aides for the rest of the campaign -- for two reasons. First, Hillary was already inaccessible to most of her own staff, preferring to communicate through Abedin. So, a phone call featuring both Hillary and Bill was a real rarity. But more important, the scapegoating tone and tenor revealed that the Clintons were either living on another planet or at least having emotional and intellectual difficulty coming to terms with the reality that only Hillary was culpable and only Hillary could turn things around.
Her economic message wasn't getting through, her aides realized, because she hadn't told the truth to the public about her emails and she was under federal investigation.
From hippies scapegoating Wall Street tycoons to Hillary scapegoating the hired help: will the inhumanity never cease? As Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri is quoted as whining, "We (Clinton and her staff) aren't ever allowed to have nice things!"

Another surprise, for me at least, was the extreme and paranoid lengths to which both the Clinton and the Sanders camps went to ensure that the Philadelphia convention we saw on TV was totally different from what really went on in the Wells Fargo arena. A special "boiler room" was set up so that "every time a Bernie supporter raised an anti-Clinton sign, a whip team member in the convention hall could relay the message quickly to the boiler room. The team there would send a note to Bernie and Hillary aides on the floor, who would ask the person to take it down. The flash-speed communications network would turn out to be a major factor in transforming what was a tumultuous convention into a unified one on television."

Remember all the times the crowd began chanting "USA! USA!" at inappropriate times during Clinton's acceptance speech?  What many of us suspected at the time was all too true: it was an orchestrated performance to drown out the hecklers.

The tacit message in Shattered is that if the Democratic establishment wants to find successful candidates to keep the neoliberal dream alive, they'll have to be more like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama than Hillary. According to Parnes and Allen, this is where Hillary so abjectly failed:
She had to explain why the turn-back-the-clock promises of politicians like Sanders and Trump were empty and why voters' anger had to be converted to a commitment to policies that would bring their communities into the future. It was a bank shot compared to a vow to end trade and resurrect coal jobs. Bill was a much better explainer  than Hillary, but she had to do something to bridge the distance between what she thought these voters thought they wanted and what Hillary believed would be best for them."
She failed to convince the ignorant rabble about their overlords' core beneficence. She failed to convince enough of the people enough of the time to allow themselves to be co-opted in the service of elitism. She wasn't a genuine enough huckster.

And she had, and still has, the unmitigated gall to blame her failure on everyone but herself.

 "In her view, it was up to the people she paid to find the right message for her - a construction deeply at odds with the way Sanders and Trump built their campaigns around their own gut feelings about where to lead the country."

I give Shattered a solid C, with an additional "minus" for the stupid denigrating trope of Bernie Sanders acting out of the same pure gut feelings as Trump.

For all their clever repartee and their access to insiders both large and small, the real gutless wonders are Parnes and Allen. The underlying exposé of their book is that mainstream media functions largely as a protection racket. This book ultimately fails to hold anybody directly accountable for Donald Trump, least of all the media and Barack Obama and Trump himself. Like so many other explainers of its kind, it focuses on mistakes in "process" as it mind-numbingly accentuates the horse-race aspect of the presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, Obama's own political campaign continues. He was in Chicago today with the specific goal of inspiring the next generation of Barack and Michelle Obamas.

I can hardly wait for the slog through their $60 million twin memoirs.


Zee said...


I sincerely hope that you didn’t pay good money for the “privilege” of reading this drivel so soon after it came out in print. I can’t imagine finding for free it in the local library so quickly.

Still, I’m glad that you made the supreme sacrifice for your readership in order to provide us with an Executive Summary, thus sparing US the need to wade through this first-of-many gory “tell-alls.”

You’ve captured Hillary’s complete and utter vacuity in two simple quotes from the book:

“…she had to do something to bridge the distance between what she thought these voters thought they wanted and what Hillary believed would be best for them.”


"In her view, it was up to the people she paid to find the right message for her…” (My bold emphasis.)

In other words, even Hillary didn’t know what Hillary believed would be best for “them.”

She had to be told by her paid hirelings what the hell she believed.

And damn them all to hell if they didn’t get it right for the Empress-in-Waiting!

My blood curdles at the mere thought of The Empress-in-Waiting-(Scorned!) being out for MY scalp!

Moving on, it’s truly hilarious that Bernie’s “…fans are characterized throughout the volume as ‘dead enders’ and ‘haters.’ “

All I can think of to say in response to those charges is: “Huh?”

They are so utterly preposterous as to defy a rational reply.

Which leads me to conclude that Hillary’s acolytes were so blinded by devotion to—and maybe utter fear of—her, that they were unable to tell her anything resembling the truth:

viz., that she was a lousy, baggage-laden candidate who lacked any comprehension of what she, HERSELF, actually stood for.

She was the ultimate “empty [pant]suit,” and the electorate saw her for what she was. And rejected her.

And “rejected” she will remain—I dearly hope—no matter how pathetically she strives to stay in the limelight by forcibly injecting herself into any forum that will give her five minutes’ time.

God Save The Elephants From The Empress-in-Waiting!

(Thanks again for doing my reading for me. I couldn’t have borne it.)

Karen Garcia said...


I downloaded it from the library and read it on Kindle. Had I known how long and tedious it was going to be, I never would have bothered. Page after page after page of analytics and numbers, primary after primary after primary. Reading it was just like living the soul-killing election season all over again. I can't tell you how many times I nodded off while perusing it.

It's a good book if you're a political junkie, and Politico and The Hill are your idea of a brain-bracing fun read. I'm going back to fiction again, just to save my sanity. Even dystopian fiction is cheerier than "Shattered."

Can hardly wait for the movie and musical to come out, as I am sure they will. Meryl Streep will definitely be playing Hillary, even though the real deal is closer to Glenn Close performing a blend of her roles in Fatal Attraction and Sunset Boulevard.