Is Hillary Clinton Imploding?
1:35 PM, Jun 18, 2014 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
Last week was a very, very bad week for Hillary Clinton.
By just about every account, her book is uninteresting and unreflective, a carefully contrived piece of positioning. Yet instead of owning that, she insisted at an event that she was "done with being really careful about what to say." And that was before uttering inanities about how "the American political system is the most difficult, even brutal, in the world ." (She might look at Egypt, for instance. Or Venezuela. Or China. Or Greece. Or Russia. Or any country where instability and chaos is the norm and the children of former presidents aren't given $600,000 sinecures from independent_"independent"?_media conglomerates.)
Then there was her Romney-esque statement about being "dead broke" after leaving the White House and her being so out of touch as to suggest that she and her husband "struggled" to "piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea's education." "You know," she said, looking for sympathy, "it was not easy." It's hard to think of a more let-them-eat-cake moment from any Democratic politician in the last 40 years. But what made the line even worse is that it was made in defense of taking exorbitant speaking fees from companies such as Goldman Sachs. You half expected her to explain, hedge funds are people, my friends!
And then there was her encounter with Terry Gross, in which Clinton couldn't handle the tough questions ... from NPR.
If you were a Democrat or a Hillary booster, the NPR fiasco was probably even more dispiriting than her Romney impersonation, for two reasons. The first is that it might be a sign that the revolution is ready to continue eating its young. Perhaps it's the case that while Barack Obama gets a pass on gay marriage positions he held way back in 2012, Hillary Clinton will not get a pass on those same positions. Maybe the left has collectively decided that it needs to make an example out of someone on their side as they begin the long, twilight struggle to upend society in pursuit of the new Most Pressing Human Rights Cause of Our Time. (That would be transgender rights. Get with the program.)
But even if the left ultimately forgives Clinton for being on the wrong side of herstory, what was shocking about the NPR interview was that Clinton has had two years to figure out how to answer the gay marriage question. And yet she couldn't do it. For a prospective presidential candidate, that's problematic. For a candidate who's scheduled for a coronation, rather than a primary, it's political malpractice.
Yet even that wasn't Hillary's worst problem last week. No, the worst came during a BBC interview when she claimed that the Russian "reset button" was a "brilliant stroke." You can go and read the full transcript here, but let me give you the 30-second political ad version: "No I think it was a brilliant stroke which in retrospect it appears even more so, because look at what we accomplished... . He invaded another country, so yes, but while we had that moment, we seized it."
To understand the weakness of Hillary Clinton's position, you need to understand her appeal as a candidate. She has no identifiable political legacy, no issue or set of positions that mark her ground. Instead, she is a symbol, as Ross Douthat put it last week, which seeks to unite the Democratic working-class (her base in 2008) with the identity-politics impulses that drive the core Obama voters. She is, in that way, a continuation of the Obama appeal, but without any of the political or policy baggage from the Obama administration. In fact, she's one of the few Democrats who can run without any firm attachment to Obama's tri-partite political legacy of Obamacare, high unemployment, and a stagnant economy. Clinton can be Obama's heir, but it's hard to pin any of those problems on her.
The only part of Obama's legacy that will stick to Clinton is his foreign policy.
For four years, that seemed like a great arrangement. But suddenly, over the last year, it's begun to look quite perilous. Obama_perhaps you've heard this?_got bin Laden. But other than that, his foreign policy record is disastrous: Libya, Egypt, Syria, the South China Sea, Crimea, Iraq, Afghanistan. It is difficult to find a spot on the globe that is better off today than when Obama took office. And yet Obama's foreign policy is the only entry of substance on Hillary Clinton's resume right now. Which means it will carry double the weight.
For Obama, Putin and Crimea are a mid-size political problem, ranked somewhere above the Keystone pipeline. For Clinton it's an existential problem because foreign affairs are the only measures for her basic professional competence.
Think about it from the perspective of a Democratic voter: Hillary Clinton was wrong on Monica Lewinsky during the (Bill) Clinton years, wrong on gay marriage and Iraq during the Bush years, and now wrong on Putin and Syria and Egypt and the whole of American foreign policy during the Obama years. What has she ever been right on? And if you're a Democratic voter, at some point you start to wonder, Can't we do better?
I suspect that if Democrats are given a serious alternative, they may well decide that they can.
And that's before they get a look at some of the really ugly stuff, too.
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