April 25 2014
Hillary: The Achievement Gap
Everything’s coming up Hillary.
Her memoir, Hard Choices, for which she reportedly was paid a princely advance in neighborhood of $14 million, is due out early this summer.
Publicity from her generous publisher Simon & Schuster hails the book as an “inside account of the crises, choices and challenges” of Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. She will also reveal “how those experiences drive her view of the future.” Ah, yes, the future. With eyes on Mrs. Clinton's future—a likely spot at the top of the 2016 Democratic presidential ticket—the networks are killing each other to score an interview with the author.
“Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming book is setting up a battle of the network stars,” the Washington Postreports.
And the book's not the only thing that's scheduled to come out. Chelsea's pregnant! Have you heard?
Yes, we have! And the media is acting as if it is to be a royal birth on the order of HRH Prince George of Cambridge’s (or perhaps a Princess Rodham).
“A grandchild might be just the push Hillary Clinton needs to run,” proclaims the Washington Postheadline above a Kathleen Parker column. Yes, Kathleen, maybe we can twist her arm.
But the American people, still wallowing in a jobless recovery that doesn't feel like much of a recovery at all, may be focusing on something other than a bestselling author and doting Grandma as they consider presidential candidates' resumes. After 8 years of the Obama Administration, they may be asking themselves, “Can we really afford another celebrity president?” They may notice that when it comes to Hillary, there's an achievement gap between the hype and her actual record.
Laughter is poison in politics, and there have been two recent hoot-provoking instances when somebody has tried to locate an achievement—just one!—for Mrs. Clinton as Secretary of State.
The first somebody to flounder in this daunting task was Mrs. Clinton herself, and the situation was one that could not have been more favorable for presenting a rationale for a Hillary Clinton presidency. The setting was Hillary sycophant Tina Brown's glitzy Women in the World Summit. If ever an audience was a Hillary audience, this was it. It didn't go so well, though.
On stage, New York Times columnist threw Mrs. Clinton what should have been a softball question: what did you accomplish as Secretary of State? In a stumbling response, Mrs. Clinton appeared to need a lifeline:
“Look, I really see my role as Secretary, and in fact, leadership in general in a democracy, as a relay race. I mean, you run the best race you can run, you hand off the baton.
“Some of what hasn’t been finished may go on to be finished, so when President Obama asked me to be Secretary of State and I agreed, we had the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we had two wars, we had continuing threats from all kinds of corners around the world that we had to deal with, so it was a perilous time, frankly.
“And what he said to me was, Look, I have to be dealing with the economic crisis, I want you to go out and, you know, represent us around the world. …”
Mrs. Clinton isn’t the first secretary of state to—you know—represent us around the world. That’s sorta the job description. But did she do anything—you know—more? Did her representation actually do something—anything?—to advance the U.S. interests?
A second go at ferreting out an achievement for Mrs. Clinton came only this week when State Department spokesman Jen Psaki got a question that, though Clinton wasn’t mentioned by name, was clearly about Clinton's legacy. “I won’t hold my breath,” the reporter said after Psaki had danced around the question long enough. It was so hilarious that it went viral.
Two other visuals are likewise unlikely to be helpful in the almost assured event of a Clinton candidacy.
Who can forget the sight of a giddy Secretary Clinton presenting the famous “Reset” button to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov? Lavrov informed her that the button had the wrong word. Was it my imagination or did Mr. Lavrov regard Mrs. Clinton in exactly the same way a puddy cat looks at a nice, yummy canary before pouncing on dinner? And of course there is Hillary’s outburst when the reluctant former secretary was hauled before Congress to answer questions about the Benghazi attack, which claimed the lives of four Americans, including our ambassador. “What difference does it make?” was not the right answer.
But does any of this matter?
Hillary, we are told, is inevitable. Almost 70 percent of Democrats are ready to crown her their nominee. Once nominated, memories of good economic times in the 90s, her name, and the opportunity to make history by electing the first female president will do the rest. Democratic talking head Donna Brazile summed up the inevitability meme when, speaking on ABC about the Chelsea pregnancy, she said, “The baby will likely call Mrs. Clinton granny at first and [eventually] madam president,” Brazile said.
Or so the theory goes.
But Hillary has never been a particularly good candidate, and, even she will have to do better in summing up her “achievements” that she did before an overwhelmingly friendly audience at Tina Brown’s shindig.
A lot depends on the Republicans, who have to campaign a lot better than that good man Mitt Romney, who lost a winnable race. Also determinant are the ability and willingness of voters to look behind the façade and ask what kind of person Hillary is. What would her policies would be? Would she recreate the robust economy of the 1990s—or continue with the progressive policies that have given us years of suffering?
She is also not going to be able to escape Benghazi. Hugh Hewitt, who has theories on her behavior that night based on his close reading of Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes exhaustively researched book on Clinton’s years at State, believes she did not acquit herself well. If she had, we’d know. A rare Hillary achievement would not be shrouded in secrecy.
But the real enemy of Mrs. Clinton’s ascension may be the legacy of Barack Obama, our nation’s first celebrity president. We elected him because we wanted to do something historic, not because he already had achievements and proven himself a leader. Voters swooned over Obama. The euphoria and excitement surrounding his election were like nothing else in America’s flinty past.
The presidency of Barack Obama—last seen exchanging pleasantries with a Japanese robot named ASIMO—has entered the killer rabbit stage. You may not remember when Jimmy Carter’s canoe was attacked by a swamp rabbit? The headlines were funny but Carter looked ridiculous.
When a presidency enters the killer rabbit phase, everything the president does or says seems empty or ridiculous. The president’s trip to Japan, for example, should have had enormous significance. But here’s the headline on Dana Milbank’s column this week: “Overseas the President Projects a Whole Lot of Nothing.”
It will only be worse two years from now. As for electing somebody to do something historical, call me sexist, but I am inclined to think that the American voters will say, “Been there done that.” So being able to enumerate achievements may be important again.