Hacks, by Donna Brazile
Hacks, by Donna Brazile
Hacks: The Inside Sto­ry of the Break-ins and Break­downs That Put Don­ald Trump in the White House, by Don­na Brazile (Hard­cov­er, Hachette)

Giv­en the media blitz lead­ing up to the release of her 2016 cam­paign mem­oir Hacks, Don­na Brazile’s rec­ol­lec­tion of what it was like to be on the receiv­ing end of the Russ­ian cyber­at­tacks against the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee was far more enlight­en­ing than I had expected.

That’s because, ahead of the Vir­ginia state elec­tions in Novem­ber 2017, Brazile’s press inter­views and excerpts tend­ed to be internecine and con­spir­a­to­r­i­al, focus­ing on how the Hillary Clin­ton cam­paign had uneth­i­cal­ly took over the DNC at Bernie’s expense, or how Hillary didn’t call Brazile for a while after she lost the Elec­toral Col­lege, or how staffer Seth Rich’s mur­der­er still need­ed to be found.

Now, this is not what most of the book, sub­ti­tled The Inside Sto­ry of the Break-ins and Break­downs That Put Don­ald Trump in the White House, turns out to be about, but the strat­e­gy was suc­cess­ful. The book reached No. 5 on the New York Times best­seller list, sold out on Ama­zon, then fad­ed from pub­lic consciousness.

That’s a shame, because the best part of Brazile’s mem­oir ought to be excit­ing enough to have last­ing appeal. As the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion into the Trump cam­paign and its Russ­ian ties con­tin­ues, it’s cer­tain­ly the most consequential.

The for­mer DNC Chair goes into what it was like at the nation­al com­mit­tee that sum­mer and fall, know­ing two com­pet­ing Russ­ian intel­li­gence agen­cies had bro­ken into their sys­tems and gained access to months’ worth of pri­vate data with the inten­tion of hurt­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee in every way possible.

The coun­ter­mea­sures that vol­un­teer, White Hat hack­ers had to make; the dilem­ma of whether to take down com­pro­mised sys­tems but poten­tial­ly ruin Get Out The Vote efforts; and the coop­er­a­tion they had with the Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion, even as Don­ald Trump con­tin­ued to pub­licly ask for more Russ­ian hack­ing and Wik­ileaks dis­sem­i­na­tion — it’s all deeply engross­ing material.

For that sub­ject, at least, Brazile seems to have no vest­ed inter­est in doing any­thing more than relat­ing infor­ma­tion to the read­er, shar­ing the most­ly untold sto­ry of what it is to be the vic­tim of a break-in when all any­one wants to talk about is the most embar­rass­ing items your bur­glars stole.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, with every­thing else she recounts, Brazile is con­cerned more with CYA work than writ­ing any­thing trust­wor­thy or insightful.

Brazile was mem­o­rably in the lime­light pri­or to the con­ven­tion after it was report­ed that she sent a minor ques­tion to the Clin­ton cam­paign in advance of a Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry debate. She lost her job at CNN over it; it had to be addressed. That’s the inher­ent unfair­ness with this bur­gled communication.

Yet, after admit­ting in a Time mag­a­zine edi­to­r­i­al that send­ing those emails “was a mis­take [she] will for­ev­er regret”, she claims in this book that her ear­li­er apol­o­gy was insin­cere because she couldn’t remem­ber or find where she’d sent the mes­sage in her own records and it must have been a work of Russ­ian sabotage.

Like a Schrodinger’s thought-exper­i­ment ver­sion of a cam­paign mem­oir, in Brazile’s telling, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry was both one-sided and fair; Seth Rich’s death was both a nefar­i­ous con­spir­a­cy that made Brazile fear for her life walk­ing around D.C. and a cyn­i­cal ploy of Julian Assange and right-wing media at the expense of Rich’s par­ents; Hillary Clinton’s bout with pneu­mo­nia was a seri­ous issue of a candidate’s health to the point her campaign’s deceit com­pelled Brazile to con­tem­plate replac­ing her on the tick­et as well as a com­plete over­re­ac­tion by the mass media, anoth­er exam­ple of society’s per­va­sive misogyny.

Most fun­da­men­tal­ly, Brazile is the over­stretched fig­ure­head of a hap­less DNC that was deeply in debt, sub­or­di­nate to the Clin­ton cam­paign, and hob­bled by cyber­at­tacks while also a cen­tral play­er in the dra­ma, the pow­er­ful leader of the estimable nation­al par­ty whose strate­gic plans were often thwart­ed by the Clin­ton cam­paign based in Brook­lyn that would­n’t listen.

Brazile is a life­long Demo­c­rat and expe­ri­enced polit­i­cal oper­a­tive. She sure­ly had valu­able insights to give, whether in a cam­paign or in a mem­oir. But in 2000, as Al Gore’s cam­paign man­ag­er, she also lost a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by a razor-thin mar­gin, despite win­ning the pop­u­lar vote, and her deci­sions after­ward were easy to mock and sec­ond-guess by those who didn’t have deci­sions to make.

Incred­i­bly, Brazile actu­al­ly had expe­ri­ence with what a cam­paign can do if it receives uneth­i­cal help against its oppo­nent, as Gore’s did when it received mate­r­i­al from George W. Bush’s prepa­ra­tion pri­or to their first debate.

She was some­one active­ly involved in both 2000 and 2016 from dif­fer­ent posi­tions, and she ought to have a unique per­spec­tive into what it’s like to lose an elec­tion under cir­cum­stances con­sid­er­ably short of strict­ly fair. There are few peo­ple I can think of who could have writ­ten a bet­ter mem­oir than her.

Instead, Brazile and her pub­lish­er decid­ed to release some­thing that was timed and mar­ket­ed for Fes­tivus, but not intend­ed to last beyond it.

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