When Hillary Clinton stepped onto the stage at an clean energy conference in Las Vegas Thursday night, many observers eagerly hoping for some fresh comments on natural gas extraction or the Keystone XL pipeline were instead treated to a veritable book reading.
On fracking, the controversial technique used to extract natural gas and oil, Clinton praised its economic benefits before warning of its dangers. “We have to face head-on the legitimate, pressing environmental concerns about some new extraction practices and their impacts on local water, soil, and air supplies,” she said. She cited methane leaks as “particularly troubling.”
That’s an almost word-for-word reproduction of what she wrote in her new book, “Hard Choices.” There, she warned there are “legitimate … concerns about the new extraction practices and their impact on local water, soil, and air supplies.” She cited methane leaks as “particularly worrisome.”
On Thursday night, she added: “It’s crucial that we put in place smart regulations and enforce them, including deciding not to drill when the risks are too high.”
In her book, she wrote: “It’s crucial that we put in place smart regulations and enforce them, including deciding not to drill when the risks are too high.”
On Keystone, she said in Las Vegas exactly what she wrote in her book: Absolutely nothing.
Those seeking something new from Clinton were almost certainly disappointed. Instead, she stuck to her practice — in play since stepping down as secretary of state — of largely staying above the domestic political fray and offering few details on her policy views.
Of course, attendees of the Last Vegas event could have just read her book. Many critics were disappointed by the 650-page tome, dismissing it as a “low-salt, low-fat, low-calorie offering with vanilla pudding as the dessert,” as Slate’s John Dickerson wrote.
Rather than trying to be a page-turner, the book serves as an official record of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, with the final few chapters giving Clinton’s sanctioned take on some key policy areas. It’s a carefully crafted work that undoubtedly helped Clinton and her team clarify their thinking, and will provide a blueprint for Clinton’s future speeches.
Think of it as 600 pages of ready-made talking points, anecdotes, and policy positions.
This is common for likely presidential candidates. Jeff Shesol, a speechwriter in the Clinton White House who went on to found West Wing Writers, told msnbc that candidates’ books often become the ultimate “text of the presidency.”
While some politicians’ books are thrown together for quick sale, a book like “Hard Choices” is the product of “intensive efforts to really get it right,” he said. “The dividends of that effort will payout over an extended period of time, both for her and for anyone writing for her,” he added.
Jon Lovett, a former speechwriter for both Clinton and Barack Obama, said Clinton’s earlier book was an enormous resource when he was writing speeches for the then-senator, both for its substance and to help capture her voice. “When I was first learning how to be a speechwriter, when in doubt I would crib from ‘Living History,’ and it always ended up sounding like Hillary Clinton,” he told msnbc.
“You’re constantly trying to find good stories to tell, constantly trying to find good anecdotes,” he explained. “‘Living History’ was a repository on about almost every possible topic you could ever want.”
When Lovett moved to the White House, he said the process for any major speech started with reviewing both what Obama had said previously on the subject, as well as any relevant passages from his books. “It’s a natural place to start,” he said.
As Clinton puts herself on more public stages and delves into new policy areas, a similar cycle of high expectations met with a rehash of existing talking points will probably repeat itself.
So if you want to know what Clinton thinks about something … start by reading her book.