There is also a gripping, cinematic recounting of a crisis with China in which the State Department rescues the blind dissident, Chen Guangcheng, who is wandering around Beijing with a broken foot. Despite her image as a realpoliticking, modern-day Metternich who takes advice from Henry Kissinger, she stood up for the bedrock American value of free speech.
The faithful are flocking to the tome. Three days on the shelves and it’s already number three on Amazon.com, behind The Fault in our Stars and 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse.
But the question is, will it draw in tech-addled millennials and the new Americans who probably think Kenneth Starr was the drummer for the Beatles? A political tome is often successful when readers who wouldn’t normally think about this kind of book buy it. By extension, politics works the same way. Author Obama, meet politician Obama.
The essence of the Hillary Clinton narrative is that she has always been the most prepared. But no matter how one packs, sometimes the plane takes off in another direction without warning. It happened in 2008, when a relatively inexperienced senator from her home state of Illinois took on wind and overtook the presumed victor with the help of social media. A diffuse, decentralized network of activism is emerging in the U.S., one that reaches voters and potential voters directly, one that’s not reliant on the old, encumbered sort of central-command politics. As the biz folks would say, it’s nimble.
This week could very well mark that sea change. As Mrs. Clinton was fending off accusations of carrying personal debt, Tea Party candidate and economics professor Dave Brat pulled a stunning upset, defeating House majority leader Eric Cantor in Virginia for the mid-term Republican nomination. Mr. Brat’s support came from Big Radio, not Big Money. Pundits say the defeat is blowback for Mr. Cantor’s softening on immigration, or they attribute it to him losing touch with his district. He wasn’t even there on election day. Is this unforeseen victory an isolated event, or has a Black Swan descended on D.C.?
While Mrs. Clinton says she isn’t well acquainted with Mr. Cantor’s district, she attributes his defeat to the relatively low voter turn-out of mid-term nominations and elections. “The most motivated people in these elections are often the people who have intense feelings and are therefore going to be expressing their disappointment, their anger, their rejection of whoever is in office. It’s an anti-incumbency approach.”
Hoping to get a sense of how agile Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 might be, I ask her if the old political machines are broken. Look at the Tea Party, I say, which is decentralized to the point of numbing confusion. And, of course, the successes of her former Democratic Party rival.
“[President Obama’s] campaign was so successful at using modern technological means of communicating and enlisting people both in ’08 and particularly in 2012 to support him and come out to vote. That would not have been possible 10, 15, 20 years ago,” she said. “Not that I think what we were doing was antiquated, but that forces are at work in technology and globalization that are going to change the way we must do politics.”
So if, say, Mrs. Clinton were to run in to 2016, would we see a more decentralized, grassroots campaign? “Take me out the equation. The answer is absolutely,” she said. “There is a lot of evidence that people are organizing themselves differently, even at work.”
Her clock is ticking, too. The pace of technology is speeding up, a phenomenon of which she’s keenly aware. “I read stories about architects of the Obama campaign in 2012 going around saying, ‘We’re too old.’ The new stuff is coming from people who are, like, 20 right now. It’s moving that fast.”
The question is, how will she react? Will it be the campaign equivalent of a 632-page book? If you want to be nimble, you have to pack and pray. That may be the hardest choice of all.
Which reminds me: How did the story of the lost bag of Bagram end? How did the architect of America’s Asia Pivot pivot when she was clothes-less in Kabul?
“What I did was borrow a scarf from one of the young women travelling with me and change some jewellery around.”
Now, that’s more like it.