Thursday, April 03, 2008

Understanding Clinton

April 3, 2008, 11:40 a.m.

Understanding Senator Hillary Clinton

Peggy Noonan, former aide to both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, journalist, Wall Street Journal columnist, and author of seven books -- including The Case Against Hillary Clinton (HarperCollins, 2000) -- is clearly no fan of the Clintons.

But that is no more reason for rejecting her insights about the senator and presidential candidate than it would be for swallowing them whole.

What she suggested in her Wall Street Journal column of March 28th is that Senator Clinton and her supporters' comments and actions that many have found somewhere between odd and outrageous are less isolated instances than they are a reflection of character and patterns of behavior that would likely carry over into another Clinton presidency.

Judge for yourself after reading these excerpts from that column:

I think we've reached a signal point in the campaign. This is the point where, with Hillary Clinton, either you get it or you don't. There's no dodging now. You either understand the problem with her candidacy, or you don't. You either understand who she is, or not. And if you don't, after 16 years of watching Clintonian dramas, you probably never will.

That's what the Bosnia story was about. Her fictions about dodging bullets on the tarmac -- and we have to hope they were lies, because if they weren't, if she thought what she was saying was true, we are in worse trouble than we thought -- either confirmed what you already knew (she lies as a matter of strategy, or, as William Safire said in 1996, by nature) or revealed in an unforgettable way (videotape! Smiling girl in pigtails offering flowers!) what you feared (that she lies more than is humanly usual, even politically usual). . . .

Many in the press get it, to their dismay, and it makes them uncomfortable . . .. They are offended by how she and her staff operate. They try hard to be fair. They constantly have to police themselves.

Not that her staff isn't policing them too. Mrs. Clinton's people are heavy-handed in that area, letting producers and correspondents know they're watching, weighing, may have to take this higher. There's too much of this in politics, but Hillary's campaign takes it to a new level. . . .

The other day a bookseller told me he'd been reading the opinion pages of the papers and noting the anti-Hillary feeling. Two weeks ago he realized he wasn't for her anymore. It wasn't one incident, just an accumulation of things. His experience tracks this week's Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showing Mrs. Clinton's disapproval numbers have risen to the highest level ever in the campaign, her highest in fact in seven years.

* * *

You'd think she'd pivot back to showing a likable side, chatting with women, weeping, wearing the bright yellows and reds that are thought to appeal to her core following, older women. Well, she's doing that. Yet at the same time, her campaign reveals new levels of thuggishness, though that's the wrong word, for thugs are often effective. This is mere heavy-handedness.

On Wednesday a group of Mrs. Clinton's top donors sent a letter to the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, warning her in language that they no doubt thought subtle but that reflected a kind of incompetent menace, that her statements on the presidential campaign may result in less money for Democratic candidates for the House. . . . The signers, noting their past and huge financial support, suggested that Ms. Pelosi "reflect" on her comments and amend them to reflect "a more open view." . . .

What, really, is Mrs. Clinton doing? She is having the worst case of cognitive dissonance in the history of modern politics. She cannot come up with a credible, realistic path to the nomination. She can't trace the line from "this moment's difficulties" to "my triumphant end." But she cannot admit to herself that she can lose. Because Clintons don't lose. She can't figure out how to win, and she can't accept the idea of not winning. She cannot accept that this nobody from nowhere could have beaten her, quietly and silently, every day. (She cannot accept that she still doesn't know how he did it!)

She is concussed. But she is a scrapper, a fighter, and she's doing what she knows how to do: scrap and fight. Only harder. So that she ups the ante every day. She helped Ireland achieve peace. She tried to stop Nafta. She's been a leader for 35 years. She landed in Bosnia under siege and bravely dodged bullets. It was as if she'd watched the movie "Wag the Dog," with its fake footage of a terrified refugee woman running frantically from mortar fire, and found it not a cautionary tale about manipulation and politics, but an inspiration.

* * *

What struck me as the best commentary on the Bosnia story came from a poster called GI Joe who wrote in to a news blog: "Actually Mrs. Clinton was too modest. I was there and saw it all. When Mrs. Clinton got off the plane the tarmac came under mortar and machine gun fire. I was blown off my tank and exposed to enemy fire. Mrs. Clinton without regard to her own safety dragged me to safety, jumped on the tank and opened fire, killing 50 of the enemy." Soon a suicide bomber appeared, but Mrs. Clinton stopped the guards from opening fire. "She talked to the man in his own language and got him [to] surrender. She found that he had suffered terribly as a result of policies of George Bush. She defused the bomb vest herself." Then she turned to his wounds. "She stopped my bleeding and saved my life. Chelsea donated the blood."

Made me laugh. It was like the voice of the people answering back. This guy knows that what Mrs. Clinton said is sort of crazy. He seems to know her reputation for untruths. He seemed to be saying, "I get it."
Peggy Noonan, "Getting Mrs. Clinton," Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2008, Page W18.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nick, I have been giving this election a lot of thought and reflecting on the elections I have known in my life. It seems to me that the whole primary/caucus system has failed us. It is giving us inferior candidates for the most part. Would it be so bad to go back to the days of having candidates picked at party conventions? This would take some of the high schoolish beauty contest out of it.

I have only been a voter since 1984, but this is what I see in my lifetime.