A Book Review
Donna Brazile’s “Hacks” Hacks More Than Russians
By Arelya J. Mitchell,
The Mid-South Tribune
Black Information Highway
“When the name Hillary Clinton popped up on my phone in February 2017, I realized hers was a call I’d stopped waiting to receive…. Win or lose, in the days that follow, the candidate extends that circle of gratitude to members of the party and donors. Bernie Sanders called me on November 9, 2016, and Joe Biden, too …But I never heard from Hillary.” Thus, writes former interim DNC chair Donna Brazile in her bestseller “Hacks” which some pundits have painted as Brazile throwing Hillary Clinton under the bus when in fact from a full read (and in my case a full reread), it’s more like Clinton and the DNC jointly throwing Brazile under the bus.
When Brazile was asked to take over the reins from the bedraggled DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Brazile was under the impression that she really would be acting in the capacity of a true ‘chairman’ of the party and not as a figurehead or what she described as one with a paper title. You know – like a chairman who could call some shots and have some say over the budget, have some say about her own staff—good stuff like that. But when Brazile walked into the job, she quickly learned that she did in fact have a paper title, that the DNC was broke, that the Hillary Clinton campaign (herein referred to as Brooklyn, the location of the Clinton headquarters, and how Brazile refers to it) was in charge and all monies that should have or would have gone via the DNC headquarters went first to the Clinton campaign to be dispersed at their leisure and call.
On top of those harsh realities, Brooklyn sent over a little Black millennial male
chauvinist spy by the name of Brandon to baby-sit Brazile, a seasoned veteran political operative who served as former V.P. Al Gore’s campaign manager, making her the first African American to serve as a campaign manager for a presidential nominee, giving her a hefty footnote in Black History and American history.
Of course, with all the non-clout accoutrement that Brooklyn bestowed on Brazile, one can see why there is a chapter entitled “Patsey the Slave” (a reference to the movie “12 Years a Slave”), and even understand her anger when National Security Advisor Susan Rice whom Brazile had known since Rice “was a young woman in flip-flops and cutoffs working on the Dukakis campaign” had the audacity to reprimand her. So much for respecting your elders.
Now before I go further, do note that Brazile does address the controversial accusation that she fed a CNN debate question to Hillary Clinton before a presidential debate. For the record, Brazile initially denied the accusation then confessed her mortal sin via a mea culpa apology.
Now getting back to the subject at hand. The title “Hacks” refers to the alleged Russian hacking into DNC servers to influence the U.S.A. presidential election to give Republican candidate Donald Trump a favorable outcome.
What you get from Brazile’s book is a raw but gratifying honesty about her dilemma which should render her ‘mortal’ sin of giving Clinton a debate question to venial sin status considering that she was never in charge of anything of significance as DNC chair anyway. From her wit to humor to disgust to frustration in taking over for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one can see that her story could be a remake of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Et tu, Hillary? Et tu, Democratic Party?
In this drama, the aforementioned Brandon was a two-bit actor given a leading role by the director, Brooklyn. Brazile bristled, writing: “I was boiling inside at the arrogance of this young man. Did he not understand that I had long-standing friendships with most of his superiors in Brooklyn, with the exception of Robby Mook? I had the cell phone numbers of people he was still calling ‘sir’ and ‘madam’.” It finally got to the point of Brazile relaying to him, “You know, Brandon, I want to have a black-on-black conversation with you.”
But, the ‘actor’ who went (Dred) Scott free (pun intended) from the Brooklyn plantation was Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Not too many media bloodhounds tracked her down to answer ‘why didn’t she do anything about the DNC server hacking’ when the FBI informed her and the DNC earlier? Wasserman Schultz with her Shirley Temple curls seems to have tapped danced her way off the stage, leaving a mess for Brazile to clean up like the ‘Help’.
However, the reader mustn’t misread Brazile in thinking that she was accepting the role of a clean-up woman. The last thing Brazile comes off as is a victim. She’s Old School in political gamesmanship where loyalty is the impetus in staying to the end of a task, even to the point of enduring bull and disrespect.
But the bigger question raised is why didn’t the FBI insist on the DNC and Wasserman Schultz taking care of this problem, seeing that the hacking had major implications that it could compromise a presidential election? But one must presuppose that perhaps some higher-ups in the FBI and Wasserman Schultz herself didn’t think Trump would win anyway, so why push the panic button before the election? But still that reason doesn’t suffice seeing the gravity of the hacking, not even with Brazile who writes: “I said that I knew I had to stay on top of it. I couldn’t understand why no one had taken it seriously before. I had heard from Evan Perez, a CNN reporter, that the FBI had been calling and calling the DNC in the fall of 2015 to tell them that the Russians were in our system, but they never got anyone to respond. That made no sense to me. Debbie was a member of Congress. Why didn’t the FBI go straight to her?” This little nugget of observation entails so many more questions, and “Hacks” readers will no doubt ask themselves a bunch of ‘whys’.
To reiterate, what took me longer to review this work was that I had to read “Hacks” twice, not so much because of Brazile telling her side of what went down in one of the most – if not ‘the most’-- controversial presidential elections in history, but because she inadvertently brings out the FBI’s incompetence and seemingly its unacceptable naiveté that Russia could carry out such a sophisticated hacking job utilizing the viruses which were known as Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear. I reread this work because maybe I am crazy, maybe because I am both a journalist and political scientist that I simply could not understand the irresponsible behavior of both the FBI and Wasserman Shultz in a 21st Century world of cyber warfare.
Unlike Little Debbie, when Brazile is first informed by the FBI that DNC servers are being invaded, she takes action; she takes control. She writes: “…This was not a moment of joking. As agents described the Russians’ method and the extent of the cyber attacks in the United States, not just in the political sphere, I was so scared I wanted to walk out the door and flee the country.”
It did not help that Brazile had already come into her paper title position grieving over her friend and political colleague, Seth Rich, who had been murdered and one of the people to whom she dedicates her book. She wonders: “All I could think about was Seth Rich. Had he been killed by someone who had it out for the Democrats?”
It can be summed up that those briefings Brazile had with the FBI also left her downright frightened for her family’s lives, and that fear left a residue of justifiable paranoia. Who wouldn’t be? Yet, she braved on in an atmosphere where she was not in charge, essentially had no say, but still felt like she had to go on the field like a quarterback with no team. The ones she thought would support her, didn’t. Et tu, DNC?
Then, of course, there was the FBI Director James Comey factor. She devotes a whole chapter to Comey’s press conferences regarding whether Hillary Clinton was guilty or not guilty of following email protocol. Comey’s press conferences became a migraine for Brazile. And still my question which begs along with that of Brazile’s and some others is: Why did Comey call that second press conference weeks before the election? I won’t elaborate here, because the chapter entitled “Comey’s 18-Wheeler” is worth the read.
Brazile’s observation of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook was that he was more interested in nouveau political operations which embraced algorithms rather than old-fashioned knocking on doors and burning shoe leather. She describes him: “He had this habit of nodding when you are talking, leaving you with the impression that he has listened to you, but then never seeming to follow up on what you thought you had agreed on.”
She expounds: “The young men that surrounded Robby Mook—and they were all men in his inner circle—had mastered a cool and removed style of politics. They knew how to size up voters not by meeting them and finding out what they cared about, what moved their hearts and stirred their souls, but by analyzing their habits…When I interacted with Brooklyn I could not feel positive emotion behind the campaign. And I also thought my strong feelings and how I followed my gut instincts made them uncomfortable.”
Brooklyn’s lack of support for Brazile is magnified when debate time came on Oct. 19, 2016 for the DNC to showcase their historic candidate, Hillary Clinton. Instead of the Wonder Woman who was given the chore of cleaning up Wasserman Schultz’s mess, Brazile became the Invisible Woman. She was relegated behind the scrim along with civil rights icon and former presidential candidate, Jesse Jackson. Yes, it is amusing, pathetic, humbling, and outrageous how Brazile describes this…. “I was not even visible. They had seated me in bleachers behind the scrim that served as the backdrop to the debate stage so that no one in the audience or the camera could see. That was where they put the Rev. Jesse Jackson, among others whom they had to invite but wanted to tuck away…The only thing I could see was the back of the monitors.”
To reiterate and to her credit and unlike Wasserman Schultz, Brazile did take control of trying to secure the DNC servers. Readers can understand why Brazile makes an excellent professor (She is a Joan Shorenstein fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University) when she seeks out how to destroy Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear. I can only describe the chapter as ‘interestingly’ boring, because it reminds you of those Old School teachers who didn’t care whether you were interested or not in learning calculus but, doggone it! you were going to learn it anyway! A lesser writer might not have included such a detailed, technical chapter. Old School Brazile does and does it on a level a non-algorithmic reader would understand.
Unlike the techno rebels and geniuses of a new generation pushed by Robby Mook, Brazile was listening to her gut telling her that Hillary Clinton was losing. But still, she didn’t want to believe it. Stubbornly, she held on to the belief as Brooklyn did that this would be a shoo-in for the candidate who would go on to become America’s first female president.
Brazile’s description of that non-shattering of the glass ceiling night is revealing of a tattered script which was the basis of a movie where millions upon millions had been sunk into it without it becoming the blockbuster critics (political pollsters and pundits) had predicted. Why? Because it wasn’t -- in referencing that poly-sci classic-- “The People’s Choice” after all. It would be interesting to strip Brazil’s “Hacks” down to a framework of analysis just to see all the variables that played out in determining why Clinton lost, why the level of arrogance, or why Brazile had to fight Brooklyn for a penny to go into the African American community (historically a Democrat base). After going through a series of desperate begging for funds, she describes the ordeal: “Brooklyn had decided to give me $1.5 million to run my Get Out the Vote (GOTV) operations in communities of color. I felt like jumping for joy!” After being promised this, she soon got a message from Brooklyn: “My $1.5 million was now $750,000.” Bit player Brandon had a role in this cut.
The mystical thing about “Hacks” is that Brazile’s account of the 2016 presidential race is that one cannot read it in a vacuum as so many of her events and the ramifications of them have crossed into 2018. The ’16 race continues to make news and fake news. Brazile subtitled “Hacks” “The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” It is a subtitle which is precarious because it is still being debated as of this writing about how much did Russia have to do with the downfall of Clinton’s campaign or that maybe it was (A). Clinton herself or (B). A rookie campaign manager who relied on the sagacity of algorithms or (C). A schizoid FBI director or (D). The rebellion of the group Clinton labeled as a “Basket of Deplorables – or (E). All of the above. Again and ironically, “Hacks” could almost serve as a political science textbook.
Anyway, I am getting out my buttery popcorn and Diet Coke, because I would certainly like to see a movie version of “Hacks”. (Mmmm, I wonder who would play Brazile?) I mean, why not have another voice in the political movie genre? This one in itself would make history, because it would be the first time the lead role would be an African American.
For further intrigue, pick up a copy of “Hacks” to fully journey through Brazile’s maze of a presidential campaign that went so wrong. For Clinton.
Ms. Mitchell can be tweeted @arelyajmitchell