“I have no regrets; I’m a very grateful person,” twice-failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says toward the end of Hillary, the new Hulu documentary series about her life. Like many of her public statements over the years, especially those requiring a modicum of self-reflection, it’s not very convincing. The average viewer will understand by then, if they’ve managed to suffer through the full four-hour running time, what Hillary wishes she could say in front of the camera: “I don’t deserve this; I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Hillary purports to tell the “unvarnished” story of Hillary Clinton’s life, as told by Hillary, her closest friends, and an array of staffers formerly paid to spin on her behalf. (A few journalists, as well, to the extent that there’s a difference.) One unvarnished opinion we get from Hillary is her much-publicized denigration of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). “No one likes him,” she says of her 2016 primary opponent. We also learn that former president Barack Obama told Hillary’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), to help “keep a fascist out of the White House.”
The parts of most interest to the average viewer—about Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton’s prolific infidelity—remain quite varnished, however, and are almost boring. “We all bring our baggage to life, and sometimes we do things we shouldn’t do,” is how Bill sums up the scandal that led to his impeachment. “We had challenges like any married couple would have,” says Hillary, in a separate interview. “I’m not going to go any further than that.”
One might expect a film that attempts to tell Hillary’s story in the context of “the history of contemporary feminism in the United States, and the history of partisan politics” might have been interested in examining the former first lady’s role in undermining the credibility of her husband’s accusers. But it wasn’t. Nor were the filmmakers particularly interested in exploring Hillary’s bitter 2008 primary contest against Barack Obama, except for the time John Edwards complimented Hillary’s blouse during a debate.
Speaking of which, Democratic sex pests feature prominently in film. No surprise there. Anthony Weiner gives the FBI an excuse to derail Hillary’s campaign. There is even a clip of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who was recently ousted amid allegations of sexual harassment, arguing that “the reason [Hillary] is a candidate for president, the reason she may be a frontrunner, is her husband messed around.” By contrast, the benevolent progressivism of the Republican Party is on full display. During her time at Wellesley, for example, Hillary was elected president of the College Republicans, and her commencement speaker was Sen. Edward Brooke (R., Mass.), the first African-American popularly elected to the U.S. Senate.
Hillary is the latest iteration of the strange, gratuitous campaign to revamp the legacy of the first female presidential candidate to lose to Donald Trump. It is riddled with shopworn talking points, especially about her private email server, which Hillary concedes “turned out to be a mistake,” but mostly because the stupid media blew it out of proportion and made it seem like she had done something wrong—even though she technically adhered to the spirit of the relevant bylaws. “I am the most investigated innocent person in America!” she declares. Because of sexism.
What remains is a familiar version of Hillary’s story, one in which the “scarred” protagonist is forced to overcome, in her words, a “gauntlet of unbelievable obstacles.” She is constantly frustrated by other people’s opinions of her. She’s crippled by a “responsibility gene” that makes her a “really good public official” but a “less than ideal politician.” She’s always “trying to explain things that people [don’t] want to hear.”
By far the most unvarnished moment comes courtesy of New York Times reporter Peter Baker, who discusses the speeches Hillary gave to Wall Street banks and other corporate entities for $250,000 a pop. He offers a rare insightful take on Hillary’s inability to comprehend criticism.
“There is this sense that [Hillary] knows that she is an ethical, moral, righteous person, and therefore if she’s decided this is an okay thing to do, then it’s okay, and anybody who criticizes it must be doing so for illegitimate reasons, because they’re partisan, they’re enemies,” says Baker. “She’s supremely confident in her own righteousness.”
Hillary, in characteristic fashion, proves Baker’s point by expressing confusion and indignation at the controversy over her paid speeches. “That’s how I made some money” after leaving the State Department, she says, while lamenting that she doesn’t get any credit for declining to become a lobbyist or corporate board member. The average American might use any number of phrases to describe $22 million. “Some money” isn’t one of them.
Hillary Clinton, of course, is not the average American. She is, among other things, constantly running for president—of her high school student council (loss), of the Wellesley College Republicans (win), of the United States of America (loss, loss). No one forced her to, but she “felt compelled.” She is, in a way, still running for president. The book tours, film promotions, and Howard Stern Show appearances suggest she intends to persist, blaming others, attempting to explain herself. It’s a shame that no one cares.
At the very least, it’s fun to revisit some of the archived footage from the 1990s, including one newscast that refers to Hillary as an “ambitious yuppie from hell.” There’s also behind-the-scenes footage from the 2016 election featuring several clips of Hillary coughing her way around various venues, filmed by her campaign for what was supposed to be a celebratory documentary about the first female president. Instead, it wound up in a piece of milquetoast propaganda, less intended to persuade, or even explain, than to assuage the already infatuated.