Event horizon: Power networks in NYT’s “Planet Hillary”

On Sunday the New York Times posted a fascinating piece of power research on Hillary Clinton’s ever-expanding sphere of connections within her personal and political networks. Author Amy Chozick compared Clinton’s world to Obama’s more insular model:

Unlike Barack Obama, who will leave the White House with more or less the same handful of friends he came in with, the Clintons occupy their own unique and formidable and often exhausting place in American politics. Over the decades, they’ve operated like an Arkansas tumbleweed, collecting friends and devotees from Bill Clinton’s kindergarten class to Yale Law School to Little Rock to the White House to the Senate and beyond. James Carville has compared the Clinton world, perhaps not so originally, to an onion (it’s safest, he has said, to exist in the third or fourth layer), while other Clinton staff members, past and present, have an endless litany of other metaphors to make sense of it. One former aide told me that working for the Clintons is like staying at the Hotel California (“You can check out, but you can never leave”); another person compared it to prison (“Not everyone can adjust to life on the outside”).

Leaving the well-debated cover aside, the network map is an excellent illustration of how spheres of influence interconnect for a high-profile person like Clinton. She has constellations that orbit around President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, which connect with her own “loyal henchmen” and “inner circle.” Other network groupings include loyalists from the State Department, former Senate staff, Arkansas connections, and, of course, the “Frenemies.” Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile captured the double-edged sword of the Clinton circle:

“The Clintons make you feel like you’re part of their family; that’s just who they are,” says Brazile, whose neutrality during the 2008 Democratic primaries was seen by numerous Clinton hands as an act of betrayal. “Try divorcing them. I did, and oh, my God, that’s not easy. I felt like I had broken up with my best lover.”

As Chozick explains, maintaining a universe of connections this intimate comes with its own set of challenges:

Several people close to Clinton have already discussed installing someone to play the role of “chief listener,” whose job would be to make these well-meaning old-timers feel “heard” while simultaneously buffering their noise — a position that didn’t exist in 2008. If she decides to run, says Melanne Verveer, Clinton’s White House chief of staff, “the next question is how is she going to organize this group of people” who all want to contribute.

Chozick’s article is a well-researched peek behind the curtain at how Hillary, and the Clintons collectively, approach their personal and professional connections. But after examining these expansive networks you may be left weighing whether Clinton is truly a planetary body, equally subject to the pull of her collected constellations, as Chozick often implies, or something closer to a black hole.