Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary was published eight years ago, back when Hillary Clinton was first running for president. I’d wanted to read it at the time, but then election fatigue took its toll and down the TBR list it went. But now here we are again: Hillary Clinton is running for president and new election dramas are unfolding. Even with people still feeling the Bern, she’s the formidable front runner this time around. And though you still can’t exactly call her “cool,” she managed to pick up some more social currency during her stint as Secretary of State. It is with this hindsight that I dove into this book.
I’d been hoping for a more elevated conversation about Hillary. With thirty women, many of whom probably identify as feminist, you’d think that the conversation would move beyond aesthetics and wrestle with Hillary’s ideology, place in pop culture, etc. And some authors did. But mostly, the writers took the title a little too literally: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary mostly busies itself by looking at Hillary.
You know the drill: the pantsuits. The hair. The shoes. Cleavagegate (which I’d mercifully managed to forget until now). Her former hippie skirts. Her former headbands. Her former hair. Her former glasses. This is all very real commentary that I remember from eight years ago, commentary that I don’t see the same levels of this time around, but it’s exhausting — boring, really — to see it over and over again in a collection like this.
Several other authors concern themselves with figuring out why smart, successful women — themselves included — never clicked with Hillary and would not be caught dead voting for her. Her laugh. Her ties to Bill. Her decision to remain married to him through his numerous indiscretions. Her obvious thirst for power. Her pandering to various groups of people (granted, that one still comes up to this day). Time and again, the essayists tick off shallow lists of reasons not to like her.
Only a handful of writers truly engage with their subject on a deeper level. Roz Chast, in a two-page comic titled, “Re: Hillary,” succinctly shoots down people’s arguments against Hillary that are based solely on her likeabilty. In “The Double Bind,” Deborah Tannen broadens the scope of her topic slightly to outline the ways that female politicians are held to sexist double standards, drawing from biographies about Hillary for examples. “Firm Hillary” by Susan Lehman is also interesting; it examines Hillary’s stint working as the only woman in a high-powered corporate law firm.
Unfortunately, these more engaging essays, which have held up surprisingly well over time, are few and far between. So much of the rest comes off as superficial and dated. It’s also not very balanced; a lot of the essayists are staunchly anti-Hillary. And that would have been fine had their arguments been meatier. It’s a pretty short book considering how many essays are in it, but it started to feel painfully long pretty quickly.
Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Reflections by Women Writers was released in January 2008 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.