Even so, I empathize with Brazile’s hunger for self-expression. I know how it feels to decide (or be tricked by your ego into thinking, or both) that you have a story worth telling.
And I know what it’s like to grapple with a new set of responsibilities. It’s a question I thought about constantly while writing Thanks, Obama, and again while reading Hacks. What do operatives-turned-authors owe not just their publishers and readers, but the people and organizations they used to represent?
While the most common answer is “loyalty,” I don’t think that’s correct. I wrote admiringly of President Obama and my former colleagues, but that’s because I genuinely admire them. Brazile writes harshly about the Obama White House and the DNC, two organizations I’ve worked for, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with her sharing her opinions. (When the shoe is on the other foot, and Reince Priebus is ready to turn on his former allies, I’ll almost certainly praise him for coming clean.)
After about a year of writing and rewriting, I came to believe that instead of loyalty, the would-be memoirist owes something both more universal and less straightforward. Judgment. Those writing books about their time in politics have a larger platform than most citizens. But we share the same responsibility: to think critically about our democracy and the role we’ve been lucky enough to play in it.
That’s where Hacks falls short. Regardless of your feelings about its merits as a tell-all, as a book, it’s careless. It feels raw, not in the sense of being powerful, but in the sense of being not yet ready for consumption.
From the very first page, Brazile makes clear that she’s writing about wounds that haven’t yet healed. Her opening anecdote, for example, is about her frustration that Hillary Clinton waited until four months after Election Day to call. When the call finally arrives, and Hillary proves less grateful than expected, it only adds to the pain. “I know she was being as sincere as possible,” Brazile writes. “But I wanted something more from her.”
This pattern—political history as personal insult—repeats itself throughout the book. When the Hillary campaign plans to transfer $2 million instead of $8 million to the DNC, Brazile tells Clinton staffers they’re treating her like Patsey, Lupita N’yongo’s character from 12 Years a Slave. In an early chapter, the DNC chair schedules a Tim Kaine speech without informing Brooklyn. When Clinton’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, storms off after discovering the change, Brazile writes (italics original), “I was thinking, If that bitch ever does anything like that to me again, I will walk.”
Do the author’s personal pain and anger color her broader impressions of the Clinton campaign? Does she think it’s possible Brooklyn had a good reason for wanting to keep the vice presidential candidate away from the scandal-plagued DNC? I don’t know what Brazile thinks about these questions. She never answers them.