Hillary in Oz

Review: Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, 'Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign'

Hillary Clinton

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Ever since L. Frank Baum’s works started passing into the public domain in 1956, any number of adaptations and reinterpretations have appeared, from the 1978 filming of the Broadway musical The Wiz to Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked, and down to the confusing 2017 television series Emerald City. But the fact that a text is royalty-free doesn’t exempt authors from the ordinary courtesy of acknowledging their source material. The political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes ought to be ashamed that they didn’t mention where they’d found the plot for their new book, Shattered.

In the early pages of Shattered, they do offer the metaphor of the Titanic steaming toward an iceberg, but in truth the plot is pure L. Frank Baum. Shattered shouldn’t have had the subtitle Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign. A more revealing subtitle would have been A Return to Oz, since just about every character from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz makes an appearance in Allen and Parnes’s account of the catastrophe that was Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid. It’s too bad Elton John already used the title Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road for an album back in 1973. The depressed staffers, waiting in Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center on election night, could have taken the phrase as their own.

The resemblances to Baum’s characters begin to pour out from the opening pages of Shattered. What was Robby Mook, for example, but the Tin Man? Clinton’s campaign manager, he had a robotic confidence in his computer-generated "data analytics"—so much so, in fact, that he refused to finance such ordinary campaign expenditures as yard signs or candidate literature or even polling, which might have warned of the campaign’s weaknesses.

In other words, he had everything going for him, except a heart. The authors portray Mook as a youngish man who sneered at anyone who had practiced what he thought of as old, outdated campaign techniques—and, worse, as a man devoid of any empathetic sense of the American voter. He helped form a campaign that lacked any clear message, mostly because he did not believe in messages. The campaign, he thought, was all about voting patterns. Too insistent a message, too much discussion of issues, would only confuse the patterns and lose voters who would (by the predictions of data analytics) comfortably deliver the election to Clinton. The man with a $1 billion campaign fund, doubling the spending of his Republican opponent, "declined to use pollsters to track voter preferences in the final three weeks of the campaign"—on the grounds that it was too expensive, and unnecessary, anyway.

The Scarecrow of the campaign was its chairman, John Podesta. Despite his long history of political and government work, Shattered shows that Podesta is the man without a brain. What a strawhead he proved to be. The book reports that after Clinton’s first attempt to deal with the issue of her private email server, she emailed Podesta to thank him for "helping steer the ship thru our first choppy waters"—because Podesta, like the Scarecrow misdefining the Pythagorean Theorem, had convinced her that casual dismissal of the news was the right response.

It wasn’t, and the issue dragged on for months, sapping what little energy the listless campaigners had left. They thought they were marching to the White House. Joylessly, brutally, yes, but with victory certain. Bogging down in the poppy fields and flying-monkey attacks, however, they lost. And the idiocy of John Podesta had as much to do with their defeat as anything. Don’t forget that Podesta not only wrote some of the most embarrassing of the emails leaked by the hackers’ penetration of the DNC servers. He was also the one who fell for the phishing email that let those hackers in.

Given that Allen and Parnes conducted "interviews with more than one hundred subjects," it’s not surprising that just about all of Baum’s characters appear in Shattered. As they worked, the authors write, "we started to piece together a picture that was starkly at odds with the narrative the campaign and the media were portraying publicly. Hillary’s campaign was so spirit-crushing that her aides eventually shorthanded the feeling of impending doom with a simple mantra: We’re not allowed to have nice things."

There were campaigners who did suspect that the triumphalist data was unreliable: staffers and analysts who fretted about what Sanders’s primary victory in Michigan suggested about Clinton’s appeal to Rust Belt voters. Yet on the trail against Trump they were mostly marginalized by Huma Abedin, who refused to allow bad news to reach her principal. I tend to think of her as the Guardian of the Gates: Everyone allowed past her had to put on emerald spectacles and pretend everything in the city was a lovely green, no bad sights allowed.

Or maybe Abedin was Clinton’s Toto, captured by the evil of her self-destructive husband and sidelined for the end of the campaign. Really, though, the one who emerges from Shattered as the best fit for the faithful dog, ineffectively trying to protect her mistress but just too lightweight for the job, is Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s press director. She can’t believe it when a Munchkin named Steve Schale calls from Florida with an Election Day warning that the state is going south. And, almost alone, she can’t accept that Clinton made any missteps. Most of the staffers interviewed by Allen and Parnes think the Russians, misogyny, and the FBI are the primary causes of Clinton’s defeat—but they nearly all admit that contributing factors were a dysfunctional campaign and a paranoid candidate who liked to see rivals battle for her attention.

Bill Clinton proves the Cowardly Lion of the story. Blustery and boastful, recounting all that he would have done to win, he tucks his tail between his legs and retreats whenever his wife’s staffers remind him of what they all accepted as received wisdom: that he helped lose the 2008 nomination to Obama by wrecking the campaign structure and muddying the message. Of course, old lion that he is, he was also right when he tried to tell Mook and Podesta that they weren’t doing enough to attract the Rust Belt voters who had supported him in 1992 and 1996, and then supported his wife in the 2008 primaries.

What a mess. Was Trump the tornado that blew them all to the fantasy land of Oz? Obama is clearly the Wizard, flying off in his balloon at the end. Hillary Clinton wanted to be Glinda the Good, and the Trump campaign tried to portray her as the Wicked Witch of the West. But, as Shattered shows, she was actually a dour Dorothy, marching relentlessly toward the Emerald City to find a way back to the White House she was convinced she deserved.

In the end, the campaign had nothing but its own narrative of inevitability to support it, and even when staffers suspected that the cards were falling wrong, they were afraid to let anyone know—fearful, most of all, that the press would turn against the narrative. They needn’t have worried. When the Republicans took their last polls, they didn’t release the results—just as fearful that the press would rail against them as ridiculously optimistic.

Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes have not written the definitive insider’s-account of the 2016 campaign. Just the first. But Shattered is filled with enough tasty details to satisfy the munchies of most political junkies. And, besides, it’s got a good narrative—even if the authors did steal it from L. Frank Baum. "I don’t understand what’s happening with the country," Hillary Clinton told her friend Minyon Moore after Sander’s primary victory in Michigan. "I can’t get my arms around it."

It was, in its way, her attempt to come to Dorothy's famous realization in the old 1939 movie. How can a mention of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz not quote it? "Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore."

Joseph Bottum

Joseph Bottum   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Joseph Bottum is a professor of cyber-ethics and director of the Classics Institute at Dakota State University. His most recent book is An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

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