What does Hillary Clinton’s latest embarrassing public pratfall tell us about her presidential campaign and the state of American politics? It tells us a lot.
First, Hillary still has, more than ever, political hemophilia. She bleeds uncontrollably from the smallest mishap. This condition is clearly endemic, it is clearly irreversible, and it is clearly incurable.
Second, her timing, and luck, suck. This latest storm in a teacup comes just a few weeks before she was planning to announce, in her usual bureaucratically sclerotic and complacent way, that w she was indeed going to enter next year’s Iowa caucuses
Third, Plutarch was right. The greatest of all biographers said more than 1,900 years ago that the lives of great men (and women) could be tellingly revealed by some of the smallest personal details and anecdotes about them.
Hillary’s personal email embarrassment could not have been more petty. She used her personal email account to conduct State Department business. And this tells us a lot. What she did would have been a firing offense for millions of ordinary government employees and staffers of confidential companies, let alone the military. Any member of the State Department she presided over could and often would have been fired for such an egregious and self-indulgent breach of security.
This affair, tiny as it is, makes a mockery of any claim that Hillary is “a champion of the people” or “just like us.” As was said of the Bourbon Kings of France in the 19th century, Hillary has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Just as she was as First Lady of the United States, and as First Lady of the state of Arkansas before that, she remains convinced that she is above the petty laws that are meant to be applied to ordinary mortals.
Most of our political class right and left, to be fair, believe and act the same way. But they have the saving graces of discretion and hypocrisy. They are less likely to be found out, and less likely to be roasted by the media when they are.
Republicans are much more impervious to this kind of thing anyway since they never pretend to be “Friends of the People.” For Republicans, breaking the small print of the laws is consistent with abolishing the laws of regulating them and their friends
Political grace is a lot like watching Fred Astaire dance. Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were masters of the art. Embarrassments or even major policy mess-ups that would have destroyed anyone else slid off their Teflon skins like the proverbial water off a ducks back.
Reagan could survive 243 US Marines sent unarmed into the middle of Lebanon without any weapons to be massacred in their sleep by a Hezbollah truck bomber in 1983. Just think what the reaction would have been if that had happened on President Obama’s watch. But Reagan simply invaded the tiny island of Grenada 5,000 miles away in the Caribbean and all was forgiven and forgotten.
Winston Churchill had the same, shameless chutzpah. He wrote off almost all of Eastern Europe to Stalin on a visit to Moscow in October 1944, then in his war memoirs half a decade later, he blamed Franklin Roosevelt for making the sell out at Yalta in April 1945 instead. Except among specialist historians, Churchill’s lie is still almost universally believed 70 years later. By the time Triumph and Tragedy, the last volume of Churchill’s History of the Second World War, came out, FDR and his right hand man at Yalta, Harry Hopkins were long since safely dead, and could not directly refute Churchill’s lies.
Hillary Clinton at heart is still the endlessly ambitious, endlessly striving and fundamentally insecure progressive middle class little girl she started out as in Chicago all those decades ago She does not have the easy, lordly confidence of a Franklin Roosevelt or a Ronald Reagan, or for that matter of a Barack Obama, to dismiss her own bungles and wrong policy calls as “little, local difficulties” (as late British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, another genius at succeeding from a lifetime of disastrous failures, famously said).
Instead it is Hillary’s very earnestness, the sincerity of her endless, undying ambition that shines through every time. She is Richard Nixon’s true heir, his clone-daughter. And yet even Nixon won election as President of the United States twice — three times, if you concede that the 1960 election was stolen from him by the manipulations of the Lyndon Johnson political machine in Texas and the Richard Daley political machine in Cook County, U Illinois.
So it is premature at the very least to say Hillary can never be president, especially if the Republicans are so accommodating to her to nominate Jeb Bush as her punching bag – er, rival candidate. But at the very least we can look forward to a year and a half of endless public embarrassments and pratfalls, like an endless marathon of Wile E. Coyote cartoons to cheer us through the enveloping gloom of economic stagnation at home and endless crisis abroad.
But the United States does not need a Wile E. Coyote in the White House. It needs another Road Runner.
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Martin Sieff is a former senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and former Managing Editor, International Affairs for United Press International. Mr. Sieff is the author of “That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs” (Wiley 2012) and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East” (Regnery, 2008). He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting.