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Clinton book a placeholder

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WASHINGTON — Pity Diane Sawyer and the rest of us trying to mine a piece of news or an interesting tidbit from Hillary Clinton’s "Hard Choices."

Hard, indeed. Finding something new is like looking for the vegan option at an Arkansas pig roast. Do you pick the revelation that Clinton thought the president was pulling her aside for advice when he just wanted her to know she had something caught in her teeth, or what about her becoming a grandmother?

Sawyer, in an interview for ABC News that aired Monday night, made a valiant effort to shake something fresh out of Clinton. She jumped on the delicate subject of Clinton being too old to be president. But the Clinton machine was one step ahead of her, having chosen the only prominent female network correspondent older than Clinton for the first prime-time interview. Clinton chirped, "Isn’t it great to be our age," as if they were extras in a Cialis commercial.

Clinton makes hard things look easier. She described how, over chardonnay on their "first date," she and President Barack Obama buried the hatchet after the 2008 campaign. She agreed that he wasn’t a sexist, and he agreed that Bill wasn’t a racist. Voila, she became secretary of state. On her health, she conceded the concussion in 2012 was scary, but says it had no lasting effects.

Even though she lost in 2008 in part because she wasn’t spontaneous and real, she persists in not being spontaneous or real. The lack of spontaneity may be justified. The real Hillary, who once took a tax deduction for Bill’s underwear, popped out when asked about their income, complaining about how the couple "struggled" to pay tuition and mortgages on houses, plural.

With book contracts and speaking fees, they were multimillionaires in a New York minute. At $200,000 a speech before groups such as the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Hillary makes about four times the annual median U.S. household income — in an hour. Her tone-deaf answer is the product of too much time on private jets and in the Hamptons. She risks being lumped with the most recent clueless plutocrat to run, Mitt Romney.

Clinton insists on being treated like any author on a book tour — and not like a politician on the first leg of a presidential campaign — despite the presence of her political operatives and a war room set up to handle any unexpected incoming. She gives her signature laugh, which involves her head and her shoulders but not her gut, and talks in circles about whether she’s running.

"I’m going to decide when it feels right for me to decide" and "take a deep breath" and "go through my pluses and minuses about what I will — and will not — be thinking about as I make the decision."

By the way, she insists all this breathing isn’t sucking all the air out of the room and keeping anyone else from running.

A book tour has everything a campaign has without the pesky reality of politics. She co-opts the news media into promoting her book, pretending we are interested in what she’s written when what we’re interested in is whether she’s running. What a president she’ll make.

While touting her foreign policy achievements — she was for going after Osama bin Laden, while others, notably the defense secretary and the vice president were not — she wants to both support the president while positioning herself for a run as more hawkish than he is. On the exchange of high-level Taliban detainees for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Clinton called it, pointedly, a hard choice that Obama was right to make. But she wants it to be known she won’t be hitting singles. She would have armed the Syrian rebels and wouldn’t be soft on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Regrets are for sissies. On the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, Sawyer invited her to say "I would have done some things differently," but Clinton was steadfast. Yes, she wanted more security, but it would be a mistake for someone as high up as the secretary to be deciding on blast walls at 270 diplomatic posts.

The personal came at the end. On Monica Lewinsky, she refused to comment on her comment that the former intern was a narcissistic loony toon. Unsurprisingly, she says she’s moved on and loves her best friend, Bill, who still makes her laugh. Only obliquely did she say he had to be forgiven anything.

"Forgiveness is mostly about the forgiver. It’s a way of opening the doors again." Amen to that.

All things considered, Sawyer did what she could in an interview that, like Clinton’s book, is another tease in the dance of the seven veils. Her book is neither fish nor fowl, neither an autobiography like Obama’s "Audacity of Hope" nor a thrown-together candidate presentation like Mitt Romney’s "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness."

Instead, Clinton’s tome is meant to be a placeholder for being a declared candidate - a warm-up act to keep us in the theater until the diva comes out on stage. In time, it will become the perfect party favor, in exchange for a large contribution, wrapped in tissue paper in a bag with the campaign logo.

As for hard choices? Unsurprisingly, she got most of them right.


Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.


— Bloomberg News

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