The XX Factor

Hillary Clinton Calls Either Anne-Marie Slaughter or Holden Caulfield a Whiner

What Holden Caulfield really needs to do is play soccer

Photograph by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

Ayelet Waldman interviewed Hillary Clinton for the latest issue of Marie Claire, and in the well-crafted, worth-reading piece, Clinton tells Waldman that she “hates whining.” The piece gives the impression that Clinton was riffing on issues addressed in the Atlantic’s famous “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” cover story, which was written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as Director of Policy and Planning under Clinton. And since the only thing the Internet loves more than cats is a catfight, it invented one: Clinton tells Slaughter to stop whining!

Now State Department spokesman Philippe Reines is weighing in, saying that Clinton wasn’t talking about the Slaughter piece, and calling the Marie Claire piece “outlandish and misleading.” (Glad the State Department is on the case!) Reines has released this sliver of transcript:

AYELET WALDMAN:  My daughter was reading Catcher in the Rye, and I said, “Oh, don’t you love that book?”  And she said, “What is his problem?  He’s unhappy?  He should go volunteer.”

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Good for her.  I like your daughter without even meeting her.  I mean, I think there’s so much to that, because I mean, God, I can’t stand whining.  I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they are not happy with choices they made.  You live in a time when there are endless choices, and you don’t have to have money for them.  Money certainly helps.  I mean, having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don’t even have to have money for it.  But you have to - even, like, work on yourself, learn to play a sport, do something.   

AYELET WALDMAN:  I’m going to tell Sophie that you agree with her.

As proof that Clinton was not talking about Slaughter, this is entirely unconvincing evidence, though everyone seems convinced by it. Conversations between adult humans do not happen in discrete and unrelated units of one question, one answer. Unless Waldman is in the habit of spontaneously sharing her child’s reading habits with secretaries of state, I’d have to guess that her mention of Sophie was intended to push forward a previous topic of conversation. And if that larger question was about the issues discussed in Slaughter’s piece, Waldman was right to condense the quotes. There’s a reason you read the article and not the transcript.

What have we learned from all this? That in 2012 it’s not acceptable for a secretary of state to trash a former aide, and perfectly acceptable for her to trash a beloved literary character. I can’t make out where Clinton is heading in the above quote (“play a sport?”) but it is not my impression that Holden Caulfield was striving for an acceptable work/life balance when he retreated into prophylactic cynicism. A wealth of choice was not his complaint so much as the “phoniness” of a superficial and hypocritical world. Looks like he wins this round.