I suppose Hillary Clinton probably couldn’t use What Difference At This Point Does It Make Anyway as a book title, but Hard Choices seems just as fraught. Simon & Schuster announced the new title in a press release today, republished by Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard:
“HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON’S INSIDE ACCOUNT OF THE CRISES, CHOICES, AND CHALLENGES SHE FACED DURING HER FOUR YEARS AS AMERICA’S 67TH SECRETARY OF STATE, AND HOW THOSE EXPERIENCES DRIVE HER VIEW OF THE FUTURE,” reads a description of the book by the publisher.
“All of us face hard choices in our lives,” Hillary Rodham Clinton writes at the start of this personal chronicle of years at the center of world events. “Life is about making these choices, and how we handle them shapes the people we become.” In the aftermath of her 2008 presidential run, she expected to return to representing New York in the United States Senate. To her surprise, her former rival for the Democratic Party nomination, newly elected President Barack Obama, asked her to serve in his administration as Secretary of State. This memoir is the story of the four extraordinary and historic years that followed, and the hard choices that she and her colleagues confronted. Secretary Clinton and President Obama had to decide how to repair fractured alliances, wind down two wars, and address a global financial crisis. They faced a rising competitor in China, growing threats from Iran and North Korea, and revolutions across the Middle East. Along the way, they grappled with some of the toughest dilemmas of US foreign policy, especially the decision to send Americans into harm’s way, from Afghanistan to Libya to the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
By the end of her tenure, Secretary Clinton had visited 112 countries, traveled nearly one million miles, and gained a truly global perspective on many of the major trends reshaping the landscape of the twenty-first century, from economic inequality to climate change to revolutions in energy, communications, and health. Drawing on conversations with numerous leaders and experts, Secretary Clinton offers her views on what it will take for the United States to compete and thrive in an interdependent world. She makes a passionate case for human rights and the full participation in society of women , youth, and LGBT people. An astute eyewitness to decades of social change, she distinguishes the trendlines from the headlines and describes the progress occurring throughout the world, day after day.
Secretary Clinton’s descriptions of diplomatic conversations at the highest levels offer readers a master class in international relations, as does her analysis of how we can best use “smart power” to deliver security and prosperity in a rapidly changing world—one in which America remains the indispensable nation.
Apparently, neither Clinton nor Simon & Schuster did much research into book titles. First, it sounds a lot like Decision Points, George W. Bush’s semi-memoir of his presidency, which came out in November 2010. It’s very close to John McCain’s Hard Call from 2007, which isn’t a memoir but rather a recounting of difficult decisions by world leaders, meant to burnish his own leadership merits ahead of his presidential run.
But perhaps even worse, the title Hard Choices has already been used in the foreign-policy memoir context — from an administration with which this White House wants to avoid comparisons. Cyrus Vance, who was Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State when the Iranians captured the American embassy in Tehran and kept diplomatic personnel as hostages for 444 days, wrote Hard Choices: Critical Years In America’s Foreign Policy in 1983. It’s out of print now, but I’d bet that the publisher could scare up a copy or two.
The publisher? Er … Simon & Schuster.
So we’re getting a retread title for a Secretary of State and administration whose foreign policies were themselves retreads of the Carter administration. Perhaps that’s appropriate, but it still leaves the question of just what these hard choices were. Not approving more security for a consulate in the middle of a failed state, and then ducking responsibility for that hard choice? Trading a missile-shield defense system in eastern Europe in exchange for selling commercial jets to Russia and saving face in Shanghai? Which style of reset button to give Sergei Lavrov? We’ll see in June when the tome hits the bookstores.
Update: National Journal’s Matt Berman noticed it too, but says it’s forgivable in the larger context of the “ridiculous exercise” of political-campaign books:
In 1983, Cyrus Vance, who served as secretary of State in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1980, released his memoir about his own years in office: Hard Choices: Critical Years in America’s Foreign Policy. The book doesn’t appear to be widely read now (if Amazon is any guide), but when it was published, it was praised by Foreign Affairs as a “highly rewarding” read “for the serious observer,” and hailed as a “remarkable picture of the diverse problems and strains with which an American secretary of State must cope today.” Which sounds, at least in part, like what Clinton is going for with her new book.
Hillary Clinton can be forgiven for the repeat. The basic nature of political-memoir titles is just to be as vague, unoffensive, and bland as possible. The golden rule, best explored in the third-season premiere of HBO’s Veep, is to say absolutely nothing while suggesting absolutely everything. It is, in short, a perfectly ridiculous exercise.
I’m not sure which of us caught it first — the comment times at NJ suggest I did, but either way it’s close — but I am surprised that so few caught it at all.