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'Hillary,' the Latest Documentary on Hulu, is About Much More Than One Person
March 6, 2020  | By David Hinckley
 


I still don't understand why so many people dislike Hillary Clinton.

I mention this because I had hoped Hulu's new documentary Hillary, which becomes available Friday, might provide some insight.

Okay, illuminating Clinton's less likable side is not the mission of Hillary, whose four hours and four parts are distilled from hundreds of hours of taped interviews with Clinton, her husband Bill, and others.

Nor am I suggesting Clinton's primary lifetime achievement is accumulating detractors – though we are measured in part by what and whom we stand against.

Hillary primarily aims to chronicle Clinton's extraordinary life and her reflections on it. She's been a U.S. senator and secretary of state. She has relentlessly advocated for children. She's hit doors almost all women hit and broken them down. As the first woman nominated by a major party to run for president, she won a healthy plurality of the popular vote.

She has personified perseverance, dusting herself off and thriving after, for starters, her husband's appalling public misbehavior and her narrow loss of the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.  
Still, we've seen a lot of this before, albeit in more fragmentary form, which is why I was hoping Hillary might also address more of the larger issues her public journey of the last three decades has raised.

Like how, as more than one commentator in Hillary notes, she could simultaneously be the most admired and the most disliked woman in America.

What does that say about her? About us?

Some of the scorn is reflexive. We root for political parties like we root for sports teams, and we'll seize any excuse to trash-talk someone on the other team.

But something about Clinton bothers even people on her own side. A lot of her votes in the 2016 presidential election seemed to come more with a sense of obligation than enthusiasm.

Hillary may be onto something when Clinton describes herself as a "problem solver," meaning she looks at a dilemma and, because she's smart, figures out what can be done to fix or alleviate it.

Or, her detractors would say, finesse it.

She'd rather explain what really can be done, she says, than sell a dream we all might want.

She sees politics as the art of the practical, and while it's an honest approach, it's also risky. We voters love sweet dreams and big promises.

We also love candidates who seem like pals, in the style of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. That ain't Hillary Clinton.

While friends say the private Hillary can be relaxed and funny – and, okay, sometimes profane – that's not what we the public have seen, and it's not what we the viewers see here.

She comes across as a professor explaining something to a class. She looks like her guard is always up.

To be fair, we can see why. She has faced political attacks, which long ago became personal attacks, since she was the first lady of Arkansas 40-plus years ago.

Her opponents have turned words like Whitewater, Benghazi, and "emails" into epithets that make her sound somewhere between a Machiavellian tyrant and a psychotic mob boss, even after millions of dollars worth of investigations have found nothing more than a couple of shaky judgments.

If your political opponent could use that to whip tens of thousands of people into frenzied chants of "Lock her up," you'd probably put up some walls, too.

You'd also probably wonder what kind of country you'd wandered into. To Clinton's credit, she says she prefers to focus on having seen a lot more good than bad in America.

Early on in Hillary, Clinton says she doesn't understand why people see her as calculating and inauthentic. "What you see is what you get," she says, and she doubtless believes that.

Truth is, figuring out why people dislike Clinton probably requires the simple journalistic trick of talking to them. Do they think she's too much of a war hawk? Is it the Tammy Wynette line? The "deplorables" line? Is it how she talked about the women who accused her husband of misconduct?

Or, if her critics simply think she's a phony, why?

Hillary is not required to address those questions. It's here to give us Clinton's own perspective on her life, including the exceptional things she has accomplished in it.

But precisely because she has become so central in contemporary American life, her story also speaks to contemporary America. If we don't at some point ask those broader questions, we won't fully understand either Hillary Clinton or ourselves.

 
 
 
 
 
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