She’s nothing if not a polarizing figure, and if you ask ten people their thoughts on Hillary Clinton, chances are you’ll get twenty different responses. But it’s undeniable that she’s led a fascinating life filled with unique experiences—and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. I sat down with a cup of coffee and a copy of Clinton’s highly anticipated new memoir, Hard Choices, to see what our former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State has to say about the tumultuous years since her 2008 Presidential bid. Here are a few of the more interesting subjects (of the many, many topics Clinton touched on) in this engaging, absorbing, and occasionally wry and funny read:
Life in the Sky: Clinton’s Second Home Aboard a U.S. Air Force Boeing 757:
During her four years as Secretary of State, Clinton spent over 2,000 hours (or 87 full days) aboard her 757, where she told her staff to “dress casually, sleep as much as possible, and do whatever they could to stay sane and healthy amid the rigors of a grueling schedule.” While in the air, she and her staff also celebrated birthdays, watched (and occasionally cried over) sappy romantic comedies, and were delighted by Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke’s “bright yellow pajamas that he called his ‘sleeping suit.’” She added that the plane broke down several times, stranding her briefly in different countries across the world. Even when you’re Secretary of State, you still end up occasionally waiting around thanks to a plane’s “mechanical issues.”
The Truth Behind Clinton’s Decision to Accept the Position of Secretary of State:
In Hard Choices, Clinton reiterates that serving as Secretary of State for Barack Obama’s new administration was not something she immediately agreed to. In fact, she initially turned the offer down, then spent several days mulling the decision over, speaking with family, friends, and advisers, before accepting the offer. Clinton notes she was concerned that taking time out of her career in the Senate would derail the work she was doing in that position. She explains that what finally swayed her decision was, “a simple idea: When your President asks you to serve, you should say yes. As much as I loved my work in the Senate and believed I had more to contribute there, he said he needed me in the State Department.” Discussing her father’s service in the Navy during World War II, she notes that although he “often grumbled about the decisions various Presidents made in Washington, he and my mother instilled in me a deep sense of duty and service.” This story offers insight into Clinton’s decision to wholeheartedly support and serve President Obama, after waging a sometimes acrimonious campaign against him for the presidency.
She’s Even Gotten Vladimir Putin to Open Up:
In September 2012 Clinton attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, which was hosted by President Putin in Vladivostok, in place of Barack Obama, who couldn’t attend due to his campaign schedule (which Putin resented). Seated next to Putin at dinner, Clinton discussed visiting a memorial in St. Petersburg for the victims of the 1941–44 Nazi siege of that city (then called Leningrad). Putin then told her a story about his family that she had never heard nor read before: During WWII, he said, his father came home for a brief break from military service to find men loading a pile of bodies into a truck outside the apartment he shared with his wife. Approaching them, he recognized that one of the bodies belonged to his wife, and demanded that it be returned to him. After some arguing, it was—and he discovered she was still alive. Putin’s father nursed his mother back to health, and eight years later their son Vladimir was born. Clinton noted that she’s never been able to verify the veracity of this story—but that it’s a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of Russia’s complicated president.
She Believes Technology is a Double-Edged Sword:
Although Clinton admits she is “not the most tech-savvy person,” she also describes “falling in love with my iPad,” even as she acknowledges that new technologies, including more widespread use of cell phones and ever expanding social media channels, are tools that are “in and of themselves value-neutral. They could be forces for bad as easily as for good, just as steel can be used to build hospitals or tanks, and nuclear power can either energize a city or destroy it.” She adds that we must “act responsibly to maximize technology’s benefits—while minimizing the risks.” Ways she and her staff were advised to minimize those risks included leaving “BlackBerrys, laptops—anything that communicated with the outside world—on the plane, with their batteries removed to prevent foreign intelligence services from compromising them” when they visited places like Russia. She was also advised to keep sensitive material confidential by reading it “inside an opaque tent in a hotel room. In less well-equipped settings we were told to improvise by reading sensitive material with a blanket over our head. I felt like I was ten years old again, reading covertly by flashlight under the covers after bedtime.” I can’t help but smile at the thought of Clinton reading important classified documents with a blanket over her head, the way I read Twilight.
So? Is She Running For President in 2016?
The short answer, in the epilogue of Hard Choices, is: “I haven’t decided yet.” I know, this didn’t satisfy me, either. But as Clinton also notes, “the most important questions anyone considering running must answer are not ‘Do you want to be President?’ or ‘Can you win?’ They are ‘What’s your vision for America?’ and ‘Can you lead us there?’” It’s the kind of pragmatic approach to presidential politics that can only come from someone who has run for president before. Whether Clinton decides to run again or not—another hard choice that is still on the horizon—remains to be seen. But with this memoir, she’s given us a thorough and detailed account of her experiences as Secretary of State, and her hopes for the future of the country—which if she does decide to run, will be useful information for voters.
Are you planning to read Hillary Clinton’s new memoir?