Special to WorldTribune.com
The summer of 2014 has been difficult for the 2016 Democratic presidential frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In just a few months, she is losing her commanding lead over the possible Republican nominees. While still ahead, the gap is narrowing.
How did this happen? Quite simply, she started talking extemporaneously again.
Clinton tends to fare better when she is visible in the public eye but not communicating beyond a preset, boring policy speech that interests only the political chattering classes. She does well to be seen but not really heard.
That is how she rose to national prominence. While she was First Lady in the 1990s, she tried to stand in her own right by reforming healthcare, but her poll numbers dropped. She then gained the public’s esteem by foreign travels — in other words, getting out of the way. She also won sympathy during her husband’s affair in the White House with a young intern, Monica Lewinsky. Amid the humiliating Lewinsky ordeal, she famously blamed her husband’s troubles on a “vast right wing conspiracy” but then remained largely silent. At that point, her poll numbers began to climb. She was able to parlay her victim status into a Senate seat.
During her years as senator from New York, she was again visible but largely silent outside of her wonky work.
She was known for her diligence, none of it resulting in any notable policy achievements. Her relative quietude in those years earned her the status of the “inevitable candidate” for the Democratic nomination of 2008 — until, she opened her mouth again. As she began to debate the neophyte, then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, her character came shining though. It became apparent that she craves power for its own sake, rather than because she champions a set of core convictions.
She lost the 2008 primary campaign mostly because Obama presented himself as a principled spokesperson for the ideals of the Democratic base; she instead came across as a pragmatist — an opportunist who had not stood against the Iraq war and did not have a vision for America’s future.
While Obama was full of vigor and feeling, Clinton was unable to convey emotion; she was disconnected form the plight of the working and middle class. There was one tearful moment preceding the New Hampshire primary where she expressed her deep care for the nation. That glimpse of sensitivity led to victory — but it was fleeting. Ultimately, the Democratic Party chose one who was more eloquent, more passionate and more idealistic. Hillary’s words fell flat.
During her years as Secretary of State, her poll numbers rose again. This, too, was because she was mostly seen but not heard. She was photographed and filmed traveling from country to country, largely acting more as a goodwill ambassador than as secretary of state. Again, she had no achievements and as long as she remained quiet, there were no major gaffes. When she tried to be funny, with the Russian reset, for example, the reset button she presented to the Russian foreign minister had misspelled the word. The laugh was on her.
Yet, despite her feel-good trips to foreign nations, by the tail end of her tenure, her incompetence was stark.
Four Americans died in a compound in Benghazi, including the American Ambassador Chris Stevens. Despite their pleas for help, she had not ensured their safety. Also, she conspired with Obama to convince the public that an anti-Muslim YouTube video was responsible for the calamity when the evidence soon revealed that the compound was attacked by an al-Qaeda affiliate: they had launched a terrorist strike on the anniversary of 9/11, following meticulous planning. In other words, the attack was foreseeable and preventable.
Her words betrayed her callous character once again. During congressional hearings on Benghazi, she famously quipped: “What difference does it make?” Instead of appearing to be compassionate and in step with the national outcry for justice, she sounded like a mercenary, willing to bury the deaths of four Americans to advance her political interests.
Nonetheless, early this summer, the press was once again referring to her as the “inevitable candidate.” Had they forgotten 2008 already? While promoting her memoir, Hard Choices, she sought to appear sympathetic to the struggling masses. She declared in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House. This led to widespread ridicule for it was widely known that the first couple had lived in the lap of luxury and were scheduled to reap millions in forthcoming book deals and speaking engagements. They were not “dead broke” but filthy rich.
Once again, Clinton was unmasked: an opportunist willing to deceive to court public affection.
Furthermore, as Obama’s foreign policy has come undone, Clinton seeks to distance herself. In an extended Aug. 10 interview in the Atlantic, she lambasted the president’s policy in Syria, insisting that she beseeched him to arm the rebels against the Syrian strongman Bashar Assad. Obama’s failure to do so led to a power vacuum that was filled by the barbaric ISIS, the terrorist group that currently occupies large swaths of Syria and Iraq.
Clinton also said that great nations “need organizing principles” and Obama’s dictum ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is “not an organizing principle.” This time, her comments have outraged members of the Democratic Party and leftist organizations such as MoveOn.org; they argue she should not be advocating the same policies of America’s “right-wing war hawks.”
To the general public, Clinton appears to want to have it both ways. Following the end of her tenure as Secretary of State, she sat pretty and smiling with the president in a Jan. 27, 2013 60 Minute interview: it was nothing short of a contrived love-fest. She did not state then that she had profound policy disagreements with Obama. At that time, she was still basking in his popularity. Yet, now that Obama’s foreign policy has been repudiated by a majority of the American people, Clinton is ready to kick him, especially in a desperate attempt to salvage her own reputation.
However, this kind of pandering does not work. There are rumblings within the Democratic Party that she must be challenged – perhaps by another fresh and principal spokesperson for the party’s ideals like the populist Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It is now dawning on members of the party that Clinton is too gaffe-prone to simply sail through another primary campaign; and, should she become the Democratic nominee, she will be intricately tied to Obama’s foreign policy failures in Benghazi, Russia and the Middle East. Clinton cannot reset that record, no matter how hard she tries.
As the long summer of 2014 winds down, we can see with hindsight that Obama was not ready to be commander in chief when he came to office. And his Secretary of State, who backed his foreign policy, was also not ready. In addition, spending so much time overseas has not been helpful to her: Clinton has returned to America clumsy and tone deaf.
To salvage this crumbling candidacy, she must do the only thing that works for her: get her picture taken and keep her mouth shut.
Grace Vuoto is the Editor of Politics and Culture at WorldTribune, host of American Heartland with Dr. Grace on WTSB Radio and is the founder of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.