In November this year we will finally know once and for all if Hillary Clinton is to achieve her lifetime ambition to become the first female president of the United States. Hillary Rising by James D Boys, published as the primary season begins, assesses her chance of victory by analysing her political career to date.
Boys is a professor of international politics as well as a long-standing media commentator, but it is clearly the latter role that drives his prose – this is an accessible read, not an impenetrable academic tome. He begins by taking us on a guided tour of Clinton’s journey to date: from first lady of Arkansas, to first lady of the United States, to US senator, to Democratic nomination candidate, to secretary of state and then back to Democratic nomination candidate again. There is plenty of material there – he notes in his first sentence that ‘by any measure, Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton has already lived an extraordinary life’ – and his interrogation of it is sound. The reasons for the failure of her healthcare reforms, the question of whether she was a help or a hindrance to her husband in his time as president, and the reasons for her failed candidature in 2008 are set out in list format, capturing all of the salient points.
This is, then, a comprehensive analysis of Clinton’s career and her chances of achieving that lifetime ambition – but be warned that it might not feel that way for the first five chapters. If you have read even one or two of the dozens of books already published on the Clintons, the first half of Hillary Rising feels like a primer.
It is worth sticking with it, though, for it is in the second half that the book comes into its own. Clinton’s controversially released emails are used to good effect to inform a detailed narrative of her time as secretary of state and what it might mean for a future Clinton presidency. Boys examines what she has done since 2012, and raises concerns that the Clintons’ approach to income generation may yet come back again to harm her presidential hopes. And there is interesting detail on the story so far of the 2016 campaign.
All of which made me wonder if it might have been better for the author to have skipped the first half of the book altogether and given us more on the last eight years. More analysis of the potential impact of Benghazi on Clinton’s presidential chances would have been welcome. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump merit only fleeting mentions. Boys notes briefly that Sanders has drawn Clinton to the left but gives no further explanation – given Sanders’ current polling and the parallels with Jeremy Corbyn this feels like a missed opportunity.
Boys concludes Hillary Rising on an optimistic note. Throughout the book we are reminded of the mistakes Clinton has made in her career – but he details how her 2016 campaign is showing every sign of having learned from the missteps of 2008. Only time will tell whether this hard-won knowledge will take her all the way to the White House. While you wait, Hillary Rising is a great reminder of the story to date.
Sue Macmillan is former head of digital at the Labour party
Hillary Rising: The Politics, Persona and Policies of a New American Dynasty
James D Boys
BiteBack Publishing | 336pp | £14.99
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