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Indentured Servant?

May 28, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 35 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook’s Headline of the Week has to be a subhed from the front page of last weekend’s USA Today. It’s a story—a very long story, by USA Today standards—to the effect that Hillary Rodham Clinton has been an especially wonderful secretary of state, dazzling prime ministers, thrilling ordinary citizens, piling up the frequent flyer miles. “Hillary’s horizon,” the story is titled, and here’s the subhed: “As her tenure at State winds down, .  .  . Clinton’s all-in approach to diplomacy is seen as innovative and indefatigable—but ultimately, some say, indentured.”

photo of USA Today cover

How’s that again?

Okay, The Scrapbook recognizes meaningless verbiage when we see it, and that series of clichés—“all-in approach .  .  . innovative .  .  . indefatigable”—could just as easily be applied to a puff piece about a football coach or hip-hop musician. But indentured

We thought, at first, that we had misunderstood the meaning of the word in context. One of the secretary’s admirers, “Nabila Hossain, 25, a lecturer at American International University” in the capital city of Bangladesh, is quoted as she gushes to Clinton: “You have got a beautiful smile”! Surely, we thought, Miss Hossain is not suggesting that Secretary Clinton sports a nice set of false teeth—or that if she does, USA Today is not attaching particular significance to her dentures! 

So we were obliged to keep plowing through the purple prose—“a natural-born politician in diplomat’s clothing .  .  . gender equality [is] one of the paramount causes of her career”—before the mystery was finally solved. Secretary Clinton, says USA Today, is “Indefatigable. Innovative. And indentured, some say, to a president who has made the major foreign policy decisions himself.” 

Which, of course, is another way of saying that the story is ultimately meaningless, since The Scrapbook presumes that it’s impossible to be a great secretary of state if your president is his own chief diplomat. 

But of greater concern (or amusement) to The Scrapbook is the choice of words in this instance. There is only one meaning of “indenture”—a contract by which a person is bound to serve somebody else—and while it is fair to say that Hillary Clinton’s reputation as secretary of state is dependent on Barack Obama’s performance as president, we can’t help but wonder if its use here is especially inept. Americans, after all, were sometimes indentured on plantations, and indentured servitude is really just a step or two away from slavery. 

Or expressed another way: Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to USA Today, is the innovative, indefatigable, all-in diplomat who finds herself trapped on Barack Obama’s plantation.

Recycled Pow Wow Chow

The saga of Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, putative Cherokee and Democratic candidate to unseat Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, has spiraled to new heights of absurdity. The story is situated at the crossroads where liberal trendiness meets combative Boston journalism (think radio-talker Howie Carr and the feisty Boston Herald), a crossroads that turns out to be not so much bloody as bloody hilarious.

When we commented on the controversy in this space two weeks ago, the outstanding questions were whether Warren had been an affirmative action hire at Harvard (still unresolved) and whether she was indeed, as she claimed family lore held, 1/32 Cherokee (looks like not).

Since then, it has emerged that there really is no genealogical evidence for the claimed Indian ancestry. But Michael Patrick Leahy, writing at Breitbart.com, reports that investigations of Warren’s family tree were not fruitless. Au contraire! 

The most stunning discovery about the life of O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford [the supposed Cherokee ancestor] is that her husband, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great-grandfather, was apparently a member of the Tennessee Militia who rounded up Cherokees from their family homes in the Southeastern United States and herded them into government-built stockades in what was then called Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga), Tennessee—the point of origin for the horrific Trail of Tears, which began in January 1837.

The Scrapbook is reminded of the old joke about the professional genealogist’s bill for $1,000. “Why so much?” his client asks. “You only spent a few hours at the library.” The genealogist replies: “It’s $100 for my time. The rest is to shut up about what I discovered.”

Meanwhile, as proof of her heritage, the Warren campaign told the Boston Herald of a cousin, also supposedly Cherokee, whose credits turned out to include editing a 1984 cookbook called Pow Wow Chow. 

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