Hillary’s hallowed history. Where’s Bill?

December 4, 2012

I am happy to read speculation in the New Yorker that although retiring Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is indeed stepping down to recharge her batteries, based on the tenor and tone of the farewell tribute video the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy presented in her honor at a forum last weekend, she is in it to win it for 2016.

Despite a career-capping performance heading one of the most successful State Departments in history, David Remnick’s analysis of campaign optics is that the former first lady who was not content to bake cookies will still try to return to the White House. 

As much as I want to revel in the prospect of a few thousand more cracks in the glass ceiling, I am momentarily distracted by the pure excitement I felt simply watching such high value campaign film-making art. I am a sucker for well edited, attractively photographed, thoughtfully interviewed, nonfiction films no matter whose ideology is at their core. I appreciate great directing, high production values, resonant characters, and compelling stories no matter where I find them.

(As with biographical dramas, where I may shake my head at historical inaccuracies, I can mute my fact checker instinct to appreciate good movie-making.  This is one reason I have always avoided Leni Riefenstahl’s work.)

The best of such films are typically screened at political party conventions or when a particularly memorable statesman has died. The Democratic Party’s nominating convention in North Carolina last summer screened a tribute to Sen. Ted Kennedy that I liked quite well. And one of my favorite political films ever was the “Man From Hope” film shown at the Democratic convention in 1992, including that photo of a teenaged Bill Clinton shaking hands with John F. Kennedy.

Although I have been an unabashed admirer of Hillary Clinton for a long time (but do not regret voting against her in the 2008 primaries), I am embarrassed to admit how excited I was by all those beautiful well-lit Hillary stills in the five-plus-minutes film shown at the Saban Forum. (It’s worth staying in for the riveting kicker from President Obama — and its peek into U.S.-Israeli relations.) Typically, videos released by Brookings programs are significantly less watchable.

The director of the Saban produced tribute film is uncredited. Saban Center’s Israeli-American financial backer, Haim Saban, is an entertainment billionaire turned foreign policy wonk, and his contact list is no doubt full of film-making talent (His career breakthrough came by creating the Mighty Morphin Power Ranger franchise). 

But I’d also like to know who made the video because there was one significant directing decision I wondered about. While admittedly focused on foreign policy achievements, I was nevertheless struck that it reflected solely on 65-year-old Clinton’s professional relationships. There are tributes from Tony Blair, John McCain, Henry Kissinger, but no interviews, b-roll or archival footage (count the hairdos!) that reference the stateswoman’s personal life.

I love Hillary because she is her own woman. Nonetheless, I found perplexing the absence of a single image or reference that acknowledged the impossible-to-ignore former leader of the free world she’s still married to.


Bonnie Goldstein is a Washington writer. Follow her on Twitter at @KickedByAnAngel.

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