Critic's Notebook: 'What Happened' Book Tour Finds Hillary Clinton at Her Most Appealing

Courtesy of CBS
Hillary Clinton on 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert'

The former candidate has been making the rounds to promote her latest tome, displaying much of the humor and charm that, for various reasons, she suppressed during the campaign.

Anyone seen Hillary Clinton lately?

Silly question, I know, because the former first lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State — all those positions that still somehow did not make her "qualified" to be president in the eyes of some — has been ubiquitous lately. You practically can’t turn on the television without seeing her being interviewed. It’s a marked contrast to the period immediately after the election, when the only glimpses of her were “Bigfoot”-style sightings in the woods or when she and husband Bill attended a Broadway show.

The reason for Clinton’s emergence after a self-described period of indulging in yoga and chardonnay is, of course, the publication of her book What Happened. Her latest tome is her most open and revealing yet, chronicling the presidential campaign that prompted millions of disappointed Americans — a majority of Americans, in fact — to ask the question that inspired the title. Except that most of us inserted an expletive in there, too.

Hillary’s reemergence has prompted fretting on the part of many Democrats who wish that she would simply disappear. After all, the reasoning goes, she’s mucking things up for all the political luminaries who look likely to lead the party into victory in 2020 (whose number at this point is zero). As for Trump supporters and all those other people who for some reason have a visceral hatred of Clinton, well, you can imagine their reactions. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Charlie McCarthy to Donald Trump’s Edger Bergen, described the book tour as “sad,” adding that Clinton “ran one of the most negative campaigns in history.” As opposed to her boss, who must have meant such nicknames as “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco” and “Crooked Hillary” as terms of affection.

Even some Clinton fans have been distressed by her resurfacing, worrying that it might be too soon and that $1,000 VIP tickets to book release events only reinforce the image of her as money-grubbing. Not to mention the sheer number of appearances. Even Bob Dylan is probably thinking, “Enough with the Never Ending Tour already.”

Needless to say, Clinton chooses her venues carefully. Her most notable television appearances in the last week were on The View and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert — hardly stepping into the lion’s den. But after the traumatic campaign in which audiences in packed arenas chanted “Lock her up!” and her political opponent literally stalked her around the stage during a debate, you can hardly blame her for seeking safe havens.

On The View, Clinton recounted the emotional pain she suffered after the election, admitting to the hosts, “I was devastated,” and that writing the book was both “painful” and “cathartic.” She also went to great lengths to point out that she wasn’t simply trying to assign blame and that she wanted to shine a spotlight on the Russian meddling that she thinks partially cost her the presidency.

“It’s not just about the past,” Clinton said on The View. “The Russians are still messing with our democracy!” To Colbert, she later elaborated, “I feel like I’m a bit of a Paula Revere. I’m trying to sound the alarm about this.”

“I was sure you were going to win!” an emotional Joy Behar exclaimed, and Clinton, displaying the sense of humor that she unfortunately all too often suppressed during her campaign, replied, “So was I.” Behar then followed up with the sort of hard-hitting question you so often hear on morning talk shows: “Did you cry?”  

Not that everything was completely warm and fuzzy on the show. Conservative host Jedediah Bila accused Clinton of being “tone-deaf” in her book and, after reciting a list of policy differences between her and Trump, asked, “Do you acknowledge that some people were voting on real issues?”

Clinton parried these mild attacks deftly, so it was presumably no harm, no foul. But just a few days later, it was announced that Bila was leaving the show, effective immediately. The producers denied that her sharp questioning of Clinton had anything to do with it, but the timing does seem awfully suspicious.

At the end of the show, Clinton was given the task of delivering the sign-off, which included the announcement that every audience member would be getting a copy of her book. It wasn’t Oprah Winfrey giving away cars, but it was something.

Colbert, whose anguish on election night was displayed in real time during his live Showtime special, thanked Clinton for defying her critics and “not going away.” She jokingly told him, “If they take up a collection and send me somewhere really nice, I might consider it.”

Clinton’s conversation with Colbert, both serious and jocular, displayed her at her best. She told him that, whatever the results of Mueller investigation, she wouldn’t contest the election because the Constitution provides “no mechanism” for it. Clinton funnily described Vladimir Putin’s habit of “manspreading” during their meetings. At the end of the segment, Colbert jokingly poured them both glasses of chardonnay and complimented her for her fortitude, pointing out that “Al Gore didn’t shave for a year” after he lost.

“That wasn’t an option for me,” Clinton deadpanned.  

As she herself as noted, Clinton tends to be a lot more appealing when she isn’t actually running for anything.