If there was one reason why House Democrats have finally decided that they had no choice but to take part in the House Select Committee that will investigate the Benghazi terrorist attack it can be summed up in two words: Hillary Clinton. As Committee Chair Trey Gowdy indicated, Republicans have some questions for the former secretary of state about the event that weren’t asked during her sole appearance before a congressional committee, let alone in a State Department report that, as Byron York aptly commented in the Washington Examiner, was principally concerned with building “a fire wall” around the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. Democrats know that without their presence on the committee, Clinton will be left alone to face questioners that won’t let her get away with dismissing criticisms by merely asking “What difference does it make?”
But Democrats are not content to merely stand by and wait for Clinton to be called to account for this, the most spectacular of the failures that she presided over at the State Department. They’re already laying the groundwork for not only a defense of Clinton’s record of non-achievement but for discrediting any attempt to question her closely. As former top Obama strategist David Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, liberals view the prospect of her being grilled by Gowdy and other Republicans as an act of “bullying.” Regardless of the facts of the case—and it is by no means certain that Clinton will emerge from even the most rigorous of inquires as anything worse than an out-of-touch globetrotting secretary who never gave security in Benghazi a passing thought—Democrats are seeking to insulate her from any scrutiny by claiming that tough questions should be seen as part of the faux Republican “war on women” they have touted as one of their main political talking points.
The question is, will she, and they, get away with it?
Hillary Clinton is a fascinating political figure in large measure because her success has been built on creating an image as a tough political customer as well as a person who has cashed in on her victimhood. Though she did nothing as secretary of state to bolster the notion that she is the tough-as-nails centrist that her admirers claim her to be, the assumption among many pundits is that her approach to foreign policy is an asset for Democrats who have shucked their party’s former stance as weak on defense. Yet it should also be remembered that Clinton’s election to the Senate was in no small measure the result of her ability to play the victim in the Monica Lewinsky scandal set off by her husband’s affair.
Not only did she played the wronged woman who nevertheless stood by her man beautifully, the most memorable moment in her Senate campaign—indeed, the one that sealed her comfortable victory—was when GOP opponent Rick Lazio stepped over to her podium to address her during a debate. Rightly or wrongly, getting in Hillary’s space was seen as the moral equivalent of an actual assault and doomed whatever slim hopes Lazio might have had of pulling off an upset. And what Democrats are praying for in the Benghazi hearings is another such incident that can be played and relayed endlessly showing Republicans to be bullies who tried and failed to beat down a brave woman.
While such a narrative will be as much balderdash as Clinton’s previous forays into victimhood, it could nevertheless be useful to Democrats both in 2014 as they try to gin up their turnout rates to avoid another midterm blowout as well as for Hillary’s 2016 efforts.
But the assumption that Republicans will play into her hands may be faulty. Gowdy is a wily former prosecutor and while that has led some on the left to question his ability to, as he pledges, conduct an impartial investigation, he is well aware of the trap that is being set for him. Gowdy will be sure to try to avoid hectoring or personal attacks on Clinton. More to the point, he will be intent on crafting a process that will enable him and his colleagues to press her for answers that have so far not been forthcoming. If faced with gentlemanly yet pointed questions and Hillary starts to grandstand in a “what difference does it make?” manner, she will be the loser, not Gowdy. Witnesses who play the victim in that manner must understand that they are as likely to mess up as their accusers.
Rather than looking forward to what they think will be the next chapter in their “war on women” novella, Democrats may find that Clinton will wind up looking as lame as she often did in her 2008 debates with Barack Obama. As was the case then, whining about being liked or bullied will not be enough to derail tough questions or the voters drawing some unflattering conclusions about her ineffective leadership.