Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Putin Problem

Hillary Clinton wasn’t wrong to point out today the loose similarities between Vladimir Putin’s rationale for aggression in the Ukraine and what Nazi Germany did in the 1930s in using ethnic Germans to justify their campaign to overrun Central and Eastern Europe. But overcompensating for something is usually a sign of weakness. Thus, Clinton’s use of language that is far stronger than even that employed by some of President Obama’s fiercest critics raises questions not only about her distancing herself from the administration she served for four years but about whether her record as secretary of state is as much of a political asset as many of her supporters believe it to be.

Let’s start by acknowledging that Clinton has always come across as a lot more clear-headed about Russia and most foreign policy problems than the president or her successor John Kerry, let alone Vice President Joe Biden. But the idea that she is “Hillary the hawk” is a nickname she has earned only by the comparison to the rest of the cast of characters in the Obama administration. This is, after all, the same Hillary Clinton who earned a spot in the all-time foreign policy bloopers reel with her comic presentation of a mistranslated “reset” button to her Russian counterpart and who dutifully carried out the president’s orders to make nice with Putin whenever possible rather than treating him as a regional bully and clear threat to peace. So as much as she may wish to thump her chest a bit today with regards to Russian misbehavior in order to reinforce the notion that she is not an Obama clone on foreign policy, the conflict in Ukraine is a reminder that she will have to answer for more than Benghazi when running for president in 2016.

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Hillary Clinton wasn’t wrong to point out today the loose similarities between Vladimir Putin’s rationale for aggression in the Ukraine and what Nazi Germany did in the 1930s in using ethnic Germans to justify their campaign to overrun Central and Eastern Europe. But overcompensating for something is usually a sign of weakness. Thus, Clinton’s use of language that is far stronger than even that employed by some of President Obama’s fiercest critics raises questions not only about her distancing herself from the administration she served for four years but about whether her record as secretary of state is as much of a political asset as many of her supporters believe it to be.

Let’s start by acknowledging that Clinton has always come across as a lot more clear-headed about Russia and most foreign policy problems than the president or her successor John Kerry, let alone Vice President Joe Biden. But the idea that she is “Hillary the hawk” is a nickname she has earned only by the comparison to the rest of the cast of characters in the Obama administration. This is, after all, the same Hillary Clinton who earned a spot in the all-time foreign policy bloopers reel with her comic presentation of a mistranslated “reset” button to her Russian counterpart and who dutifully carried out the president’s orders to make nice with Putin whenever possible rather than treating him as a regional bully and clear threat to peace. So as much as she may wish to thump her chest a bit today with regards to Russian misbehavior in order to reinforce the notion that she is not an Obama clone on foreign policy, the conflict in Ukraine is a reminder that she will have to answer for more than Benghazi when running for president in 2016.

Clinton is heading toward 2016 in an even stronger position vis-à-vis her potential rivals for the president than the formidable advantage she possessed in 2008. This time there is no Barack Obama-type challenger waiting in the wings to steal the prize from her. After eight years of our first African-American president, the desire to follow that up with our first female commander-in-chief provides a compelling story line to the election that will be difficult for any Republican, let alone a fellow Democrat, to try to override.

But she will discover that running for president as a U.S. Senator who could talk about every issue but had responsibility for nothing is a lot easier than having to defend a less-than-stellar record as secretary of state. Though she spent her four years at Foggy Bottom as an administration cipher with little will of her own as President Obama imposed his own foreign policy views on the department and then left it praising him, things have since gotten complicated. The debacle over Syria and now Ukraine as well as the unraveling of the American position in Iraq and Afghanistan undermines the notion that she was a successful secretary of state. Merely accumulating frequent-flyer miles — her claim to fame as a public official — is no substitute for success.

But the deterioration of American relations with the dictator that Obama promised that he would treat with more “flexibility” if he were re-elected in 2012 poses a unique problem for Clinton. If pictures are worth a thousand words, a viral video must be valued at an infinite number of printed pages. The film clip of Clinton and the “reset” button will be played over and over again in the next three years and, fairly or not, may paint her as even more of a dupe for the Russians than Obama or Kerry.

Calling Putin a new Hitler seems like a smart way to distance herself from a lame duck president who looks weak. Hence, the always-savvy Clinton machine is already rolling into action seeking to demonstrate that Hillary is as tough as she would like us to think she is. But like so much of her 2008 campaign, the chest beating Clinton will always be seen as lacking in authenticity. The stronger she tries to appear, the weaker her supposedly invincible campaign machine may start to look. 

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Will the 2016 GOP Nomination Turn on Foreign Policy?

The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

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The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

It’s certainly true that a complete 2016 preview would include voter opinions on Scott Walker and probably Paul Ryan as well–even though the latter does not appear to be gearing up for a presidential run, he was on the ticket last time and has been a leader of the “reform conservatism” caucus in Congress. But this poll isn’t a zero-sum “who would you vote for” survey, so the results still tell us a lot.

There is more opposition to a Paul candidacy and a Jeb Bush candidacy than to either Rubio or Cruz. In the case of Bush, his last name–as he recently acknowledged–probably has much to do with it. The opposition to Paul is noteworthy. The Kentucky libertarian is far from the divisive figure his father was as a candidate and congressman. Paul’s brand of conservatism has even hinted at a bipartisan appeal, especially on privacy and criminal-justice reform, without earning him the dreaded RINO label.

In fact, the area of Paul’s ideology that would breed concern among the party faithful is his outlook on foreign policy. If that’s the case, it’s significant. Paul’s admirers have always thought the most potent threat within the GOP to Paul’s anti-interventionist foreign policy came from the party elites. That’s one way his supporters have dismissed opposition to his views on foreign affairs: as neoconservative holdovers from the Bush administration.

That’s never really been the case, though. Indeed, if Paul has establishment support in the GOP it’s among the Bakerite realists. There is something ironic about treating a younger generation of conservatives–the George W. Bush team, largely–as has-beens whose old road is rapidly aging while drawing conceptual support and guidance from the prior generation–the George H.W. Bush team, largely. That doesn’t mean Paul’s views are unpopular. They have plenty of support, as evidenced by the fact that while more voters want Christie to sit out this election than run, that’s not even close to true of Paul.

But this does get at one possible obstacle to Paul’s run for the nomination. He is unlikely to have the big-government opponent he’d prefer to contrast himself with. His popularity is due in part to the fact that libertarian economic policy has become more accepted in the GOP in recent years, but that same popularity deprives him of his opposite. Instead, he’s likely to run against a range of candidates who mostly agree with him–and the base–on economic matters but not on foreign policy. It would be a fairly unexpected twist if the post-Iraq and Afghanistan GOP primary turned on foreign policy, but it might just be heading in that direction.

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Rice’s “No Regrets” and Obama’s Arrogance

It’s hard to understand exactly why Susan Rice is still refusing to admit fault about her lies about the Benghazi attack. When asked this morning on Meet the Press by David Gregory whether she had any regrets about appearing on four network news shows the Sunday after the 9/11/12 attacks that took the lives of four Americans and telling the nation that what happened was the result of a demonstration against a video, Rice said she had none:

David, no. Because what I said to you that morning, and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues, and indeed, to Congress, by the intelligence community. And that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out, in some respects, not to be 100% correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.

What point is served by this rearguard defense of the indefensible? We long since learned that senior intelligence officials, including the CIA station chief, had contradicted the demonstration myth before Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to convince Americans that what had happened was not an al-Qaeda terror attack. We know that the talking points were the result of a stormy battle involving the White House, the State Department, and the CIA that led to Rice being handed material that was more the product of the administration’s political needs than the truth. But rather than simply say she’s sorry and move on—a stance that could be easily forgiven since Rice was completely uninvolved in the series of bad decisions made by the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton that led to the disaster—she continues to play the loyal soldier and to parse words in order to deny that she deceived the American people. But there is something more significant here than her state of denial that is as embarrassing as it is ludicrous.

Democrats and liberals who want to “move on” from Benghazi are right to the extent that this is a controversy rooted in a specific time and place rather than a possible ongoing threat to constitutional rule such as that demonstrated in the IRS scandal or the various instances of government spying on the press and the public. But the reason why the anger about Benghazi has never dissipated is due to statements such as that of Rice that feed the cynicism of an American people that only wanted the truth in the first place and would now settle for a full accounting that the administration still seems incapable of providing. Like Clinton’s infamous “what difference does it make?” retort when asked about these deceptions, Rice’s lack of regret demonstrates the arrogance of an administration that is unwilling to own up to its faults even if doing so would serve its interests.

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It’s hard to understand exactly why Susan Rice is still refusing to admit fault about her lies about the Benghazi attack. When asked this morning on Meet the Press by David Gregory whether she had any regrets about appearing on four network news shows the Sunday after the 9/11/12 attacks that took the lives of four Americans and telling the nation that what happened was the result of a demonstration against a video, Rice said she had none:

David, no. Because what I said to you that morning, and what I did every day since, was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues, and indeed, to Congress, by the intelligence community. And that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out, in some respects, not to be 100% correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false. And I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.

What point is served by this rearguard defense of the indefensible? We long since learned that senior intelligence officials, including the CIA station chief, had contradicted the demonstration myth before Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to convince Americans that what had happened was not an al-Qaeda terror attack. We know that the talking points were the result of a stormy battle involving the White House, the State Department, and the CIA that led to Rice being handed material that was more the product of the administration’s political needs than the truth. But rather than simply say she’s sorry and move on—a stance that could be easily forgiven since Rice was completely uninvolved in the series of bad decisions made by the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton that led to the disaster—she continues to play the loyal soldier and to parse words in order to deny that she deceived the American people. But there is something more significant here than her state of denial that is as embarrassing as it is ludicrous.

Democrats and liberals who want to “move on” from Benghazi are right to the extent that this is a controversy rooted in a specific time and place rather than a possible ongoing threat to constitutional rule such as that demonstrated in the IRS scandal or the various instances of government spying on the press and the public. But the reason why the anger about Benghazi has never dissipated is due to statements such as that of Rice that feed the cynicism of an American people that only wanted the truth in the first place and would now settle for a full accounting that the administration still seems incapable of providing. Like Clinton’s infamous “what difference does it make?” retort when asked about these deceptions, Rice’s lack of regret demonstrates the arrogance of an administration that is unwilling to own up to its faults even if doing so would serve its interests.

Rice should have regrets about being shoved into the public square with a false cover story. As Gregory noted in a follow-up question, the lies almost certainly made it impossible for President Obama to nominate her to be secretary of state. And considering the follies committed by John Kerry—the man who got the job that was denied Rice—on Iran, the Middle East peace process, Syria, and the disastrous and humiliating “resets” with Russia—the nation should have some too. We’ll never know whether Rice would have been smart enough to avoid some of the traps set by Vladimir Putin, Iran, and the Palestinians, that Kerry has fallen into, but it’s not likely she could have done any worse.

But her thwarted ambition is a mere footnote to history. What is relevant is what this arrogant denial tells us about the animating spirit inside the bubble of the White House inner circle that surrounds President Obama. Just like their boss, officials like Rice seem to think what they believe to be their good intentions gives them a permanent hall pass to deceive and to fudge the truth. In their world, the president never makes a misstep, the economy is always on the rebound and threats to national security are always receding in the face of Obama’s magical personality. In that world, you never have to account to the American people for falsehoods or say you’re sorry.

That’s the same mentality that leads the president to deny that the IRS contretemps was a scandal, that he lied when he told the American people they could keep their insurance coverage and their doctors, or that ObamaCare is causing at least as much pain as it is doing good. The president’s second term is stuck in neutral because there is so much that should be regretted and redressed but he and his minions continue to tell us to not believe our lying eyes and ears. Susan Rice’s lack of regrets not only tells us about her out-of-kilter moral compass but why her boss has arrogantly doomed himself to lame-duck status so early in his second term.

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The Media Competes for Hillary’s Love

This week’s publication of a new Hillary Clinton biography by the respected political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes brings into stark relief just how much Clinton’s theoretical, but expected presidential campaign affects political press coverage two and a half years out from Election Day. When I wrote last month about how Clinton finally seemed to bestow on us a legitimately perpetual campaign, I had noted only in passing the media dimension, such as Maggie Haberman’s profile in which she wrote that Clinton’s “legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a claim seemingly dashed off casually but which is not true.

That claim encapsulates the two major flaws of Hillary’s media coverage: reporters are tossing out declarations of world-historical status almost in habit, which is itself a problem, and the claims are also quite often not true–a more obvious, but still prevalent, problem. What it amounts to is worshipful coverage, all the more so because Clinton hasn’t actually declared her candidacy yet. Reporters are jostling for and rewarding access, but since there are no real campaign stories to run yet we’re stuck with the scene-setting pieces. Jonathan Karl’s review, in today’s Wall Street Journal, of the latest book on Hillary leaves the impression it’s a book-length version of the problematic stories:

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This week’s publication of a new Hillary Clinton biography by the respected political reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes brings into stark relief just how much Clinton’s theoretical, but expected presidential campaign affects political press coverage two and a half years out from Election Day. When I wrote last month about how Clinton finally seemed to bestow on us a legitimately perpetual campaign, I had noted only in passing the media dimension, such as Maggie Haberman’s profile in which she wrote that Clinton’s “legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a claim seemingly dashed off casually but which is not true.

That claim encapsulates the two major flaws of Hillary’s media coverage: reporters are tossing out declarations of world-historical status almost in habit, which is itself a problem, and the claims are also quite often not true–a more obvious, but still prevalent, problem. What it amounts to is worshipful coverage, all the more so because Clinton hasn’t actually declared her candidacy yet. Reporters are jostling for and rewarding access, but since there are no real campaign stories to run yet we’re stuck with the scene-setting pieces. Jonathan Karl’s review, in today’s Wall Street Journal, of the latest book on Hillary leaves the impression it’s a book-length version of the problematic stories:

There is some new reporting, but it’s buried in mixed metaphors and cliché-ridden praise of Mrs. Clinton’s brilliance.

Mr. Allen and Ms. Parnes appear to have fallen in love with their subject. “Hillary knows one gear: overdrive,” they write, adding that she is “like a veteran hitter who remains even-keeled under pressure, her steadiness is born of her experience.” She is “a woman who got up every time the world knocked her down” and is “unwavering in her support of the 21st century statecraft concept.” This is the kind of stuff that would make Mrs. Clinton’s image mavens blush.

Even those around her are described in almost heroic terms. One Hillary confidant is called “tough as a trident missile.” Long-time aide Huma Abedin, referred to throughout the book merely as “Huma,” is described as a “South Asian beauty with political smarts and an uncommonly subtle grace.”

The authors seem to question nothing they are told by the guardians of Mrs. Clinton’s image.

Later in the review, Karl touches on a subject that shows why these hagiographic scene-setting articles–and this case, a book–are so necessary to Clinton’s non-campaign campaign. He writes about how the authors mostly work to absolve Clinton of the blame for the Benghazi attacks. “She was responsible, but not to blame,” Karl quotes the book explaining. It’s a weak exoneration, to be sure, but also a terrible argument for giving someone with her record far more power: either she is neglectful in her executive oversight, or in charge but incompetent.

Nonetheless, Karl notes the authors’ recounting of Hillary’s successes:

They run through some of her more meaningful accomplishments: helping negotiate an end to military rule in Burma, building a coalition to support military intervention in Libya. But they seem almost as impressed with the iconic photograph of Mrs. Clinton wearing sunglasses and sitting in the middle of a C-17 reading her BlackBerry. The photo ended up on a Tumblr page called “Texts From Hillary” that—with its amusingly imagined messages from Hillary imposed over the iconic photo—the authors call “one of the most memorable, and politically valuable, episodes of Hillary’s four years at State.” Not the kind of thing that wins you a Nobel Peace Prize.

No, it isn’t. Burma was helpful, but it’s got a long way to go and there may in fact be ethnic cleansing taking place in parts of the country. But the point of the preceding paragraph is that for someone without any real accomplishments–and without question, Hillary Clinton is such a candidate–there is nothing left to run on but image.

Americans have seen this play before. In 2008, Barack Obama had no accomplishments, so he ran one of the most vapid and intellectually shallow campaigns in memory. Rather than serious arguments, voters were given a poster and told to repeat the word “hope” in cultish devotion. Clinton appears ready to run her version of the Obama poster: the image that forms the basis of a Tumblr page called “Texts from Hillary.” And the recent media coverage of Clinton shows that the Democratic candidate won’t be the only one repeating the campaign of 2008.

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Christie Hamstrung By Incumbency

The contradiction at the heart of Chris Christie’s successful reelection campaign was that he needed a convincing victory (or at least a victory) to keep his 2016 hopes going strong, yet an actual second term as governor was bound to be an obstacle to those same presidential aspirations in a host of predictable ways. One example was the fact that as governor, he would be restricted in raising much-needed campaign funds from Wall Street due to pay-to-play rules. This had local media speculating, with some justification, that even if Christie won he would be forced to resign to run for president.

Another, more prosaic obstacle would be the traditional second-term blues that term-limited political executives deal with routinely. The irony of Christie’s popularity in a blue state was that being on the ballot for governor made his ideas and policies more attractive than they might otherwise be in New Jersey. That precipitated a certain amount of cooperation from state Democrats, who were no match for Christie. But without him on the ballot anymore, Democrats in the state legislature could much more easily bog the governor down in every conceivable funding fight since lame-duck status drains politicians of at least some of their political capital.

Even before “bridgegate,” that is, Christie’s second term was likely to be a slog. The bridge-closing scandal, however, is not only adding to it but exacerbating the general weakness of his being in office while the Democrats’ most likely nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, isn’t. The headline of the New York Times piece detailing these efforts is a bit obvious: “Democrats Grab for a Chance to Halt Christie’s Rise.” Yes, well, no kidding. But the extent of the effort is illuminating:

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The contradiction at the heart of Chris Christie’s successful reelection campaign was that he needed a convincing victory (or at least a victory) to keep his 2016 hopes going strong, yet an actual second term as governor was bound to be an obstacle to those same presidential aspirations in a host of predictable ways. One example was the fact that as governor, he would be restricted in raising much-needed campaign funds from Wall Street due to pay-to-play rules. This had local media speculating, with some justification, that even if Christie won he would be forced to resign to run for president.

Another, more prosaic obstacle would be the traditional second-term blues that term-limited political executives deal with routinely. The irony of Christie’s popularity in a blue state was that being on the ballot for governor made his ideas and policies more attractive than they might otherwise be in New Jersey. That precipitated a certain amount of cooperation from state Democrats, who were no match for Christie. But without him on the ballot anymore, Democrats in the state legislature could much more easily bog the governor down in every conceivable funding fight since lame-duck status drains politicians of at least some of their political capital.

Even before “bridgegate,” that is, Christie’s second term was likely to be a slog. The bridge-closing scandal, however, is not only adding to it but exacerbating the general weakness of his being in office while the Democrats’ most likely nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, isn’t. The headline of the New York Times piece detailing these efforts is a bit obvious: “Democrats Grab for a Chance to Halt Christie’s Rise.” Yes, well, no kidding. But the extent of the effort is illuminating:

Democratic Party operatives have churned out 11 different videos depicting Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey as a revenge-happy gridlock maker who cannot keep his story straight.

They are unleashing attacks on any Republican in the country who dares to defend him publicly, from a potential Senate candidate in New Hampshire to a New York congressman.

And they are coordinating strategy at the highest levels of the party with a new standing agenda item on conference calls: how to undermine Mr. Christie, a top Republican prospect for reclaiming the White House.

As much as Mr. Christie’s current troubles are about the stumbling of a rising star in the Republican Party, they are driven, too, by emboldened Democrats who rue their passivity four months ago as Mr. Christie scored a landslide re-election victory, startling the party by securing support from traditionally left-leaning voter blocs.

Now, sensing a chance to redefine Mr. Christie for a national audience, those Democrats are determined to transform him into a toxic figure, whose name is synonymous with the ugliest elements of politics: partisan bullying and backslapping cronyism.

Christie was long seen by Democrats as the most formidable GOPer in 2016, so this is no surprise. But they’ve made clear that they aren’t taking the scandal’s recent toll on his presidential hopes for granted. Democrats seem to be betting that the scandal’s timing–at the beginning of the term–is giving the attention span-deprived public ample opportunity to forget about it two years from now.

They are also hoping to use it as a national distraction for the upcoming elections. ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout and constant stream of bad news means the Democrats will, for the most part, want to talk about anything else (aside from those who want to tout “fixes” to the law). Some of that will be transparently fabricated and tiresome, like the White House’s manufactured war on women. But in case voters are smarter than Democrats give them credit for, the left will need a backup plan. The bridgegate fiasco is a genuine scandal, as well as one that could still produce revelations.

But the specific focus on 2016 is yet another example of the permanent campaign. Or, as I wrote last month, the “end of the presidential campaign.” I was arguing that the possibility that Hillary Clinton might announce her intentions after this year’s midterm elections means there is no longer any real break in the process. That has relevance to the Christie story as well, because not only are the Democrats seeking to make the Christie scandal about 2016 (understandable, since their localized accusations are falling to pieces), but the fact that the Democrats’ preferred candidate is out of office and being supported by a “shadow campaign” gives them time and flexibility Christie simply doesn’t have as a sitting governor.

Whether they can succeed in making Christie toxic in other states’ races remains to be seen. But it’s no surprise they are exploiting his constraints as a sitting governor to try to prevent him from holding even higher office.

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GOP Plans to Be Ready for Hillary, Again

In 2007, speaking to the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden, Rudy Giuliani offered a declaration: “If you want to defeat Hillary Clinton, I would be the best person to do that because I can make this campaign nationwide.” It would be something of a theme of his campaign, though that was partly due to the fact that Clinton was, for some time, the frontrunner across the aisle. In Harnden’s piece, Giuliani explains that he thinks the Democratic ticket will eventually be Clinton-Obama, in that order.

In the end, it wasn’t Clinton-Obama or even Obama-Clinton. It was, for the purposes of that rivalry, just Obama. This surprised people on both sides, who expected Clinton to eventually run out the clock on Obama’s insurgent challenge, and was never able to. It was doubly challenging for the GOP: not only was Barack Obama a better general-election candidate, but the GOP candidates were unprepared for him. They had been planning for Hillary.

And they are again. Both CNN and the Washington Examiner noticed that the GOP leadership gathering in Washington last week seemed awfully preoccupied with Clinton. The Examiner notes:

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In 2007, speaking to the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden, Rudy Giuliani offered a declaration: “If you want to defeat Hillary Clinton, I would be the best person to do that because I can make this campaign nationwide.” It would be something of a theme of his campaign, though that was partly due to the fact that Clinton was, for some time, the frontrunner across the aisle. In Harnden’s piece, Giuliani explains that he thinks the Democratic ticket will eventually be Clinton-Obama, in that order.

In the end, it wasn’t Clinton-Obama or even Obama-Clinton. It was, for the purposes of that rivalry, just Obama. This surprised people on both sides, who expected Clinton to eventually run out the clock on Obama’s insurgent challenge, and was never able to. It was doubly challenging for the GOP: not only was Barack Obama a better general-election candidate, but the GOP candidates were unprepared for him. They had been planning for Hillary.

And they are again. Both CNN and the Washington Examiner noticed that the GOP leadership gathering in Washington last week seemed awfully preoccupied with Clinton. The Examiner notes:

Concern about Clinton is framing many GOP officials’ approach to the 2016 contest and was much on the minds of those who gathered in Washington this week for the party’s annual winter meeting. Indeed, the GOP’s ongoing overhaul of voter turnout machinery — and the rules changes governing its presidential primary process — are being conducted with an eye toward helping the eventual GOP nominee overcome the Clinton juggernaut.

Giuliani’s experience provides a cautionary tale, but it also in some ways justifies the GOP’s focus on Hillary. The cautionary tale part is obvious: they thought she was inevitable, she wasn’t, and the concentration on Hillary constituted an opportunity cost in preparing for Obama. Additionally, the party structure around a presidential candidate needs to offer its own agenda, a vision for governing the country. A referendum can only be held on the administration in office, and in 2007-2008 the GOP was the party in the White House.

Republicans were able to run that kind of campaign against Obama in 2012, but it won’t be so simple when there’s no incumbent and they are trying to convince the country to give them back the levers of power. And if they prepare only for Hillary, and she doesn’t run (or loses the nomination/coronation somehow) they will be in the same situation as Giuliani.

However, that’s not the whole story. Giuliani, in fact, got a few things right. The first was how to run against Hillary. She would have been a historic candidate, and still would be, by attempting to be the first woman president. Giuliani seemed to understand the pitfalls of running against her better than Rick Lazio, her 2000 Senate opponent, did when he was faulted for looking like a bully. (This critique of Lazio from the left, painting Hillary as a damsel in distress, should actually have been quite offensive to her, and perhaps gave an indication of the trouble she’d have winning a Democratic Party nomination.)

In that Telegraph piece, Giuliani indicated that he would treat Hillary like a run-of-the-mill liberal and ignore her historic status. He also honed his attacks on policy: “If we do HillaryCare or socialized medicine, Canadians will have no place to go to get their health care,” Giuliani quipped at a GOP primary debate.

There is still plenty on the policy side to criticize Clinton, even (or especially) in areas the burgeoning Clinton campaign thinks it’s strongest. For example, in Amy Chozick’s New York Times magazine piece on Clintonworld, we learn:

If there is one thing that Clinton allies want to make sure you know — and will keep reminding you, over and over, in interviews — it’s that Hillary Clinton’s State Department was run nothing like her chaotic 2008 presidential campaign. When Clinton accepted the job as secretary of state, she did so with the understanding that she could bring some of her most loyal people — called the Royal Council by one aide — along with her. …

The cloistered State Department offered Clinton a chance to define herself away from her husband and to shed the stench of managerial dysfunction that still lingered from the campaign.

And wouldn’t you know it, she failed that test spectacularly. Even the Accountability Review Board on Benghazi noted massive organizational and managerial incompetence when Clinton was in charge at Foggy Bottom. Those who wanted to exonerate Clinton from the consequences of the attacks relied on her managerial incompetence to do so: a fuzzy chain of command, confusion over safety requirements, failure to prepare a slow-moving bureaucracy for the challenges of postwar Libya.

Republicans are playing the odds by betting that Clinton–especially with no one like Obama in her path this time–remains the favorite for her party’s 2016 nomination. There is much to be said for being prepared to face a challenging opponent. In that sense, they’re right not to interpret Giuliani’s loss as an argument against such preparation. At the same time, they should remember that Giuliani understood far better than some current Republicans–Mike Huckabee comes to mind–how to run against a candidate of her status in the identity politics world. But they’re also the party out of power, and they’ll have to make sure to have plenty of ideas of their own.

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Hillary and the “Preventable Tragedy”

In today’s New York Times, the paper’s editorial column addresses the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terror attack and draws some strong conclusions about what happened and why. The piece soberly digests the findings and rightly concludes that even when one takes into account the difficult circumstances in Libya on September 11, 2012, there is no escaping the fact that the State Department was at fault:

In the last analysis, however, it is the State Department that must bear most of the blame for failing to provide adequate security and not preventing the preventable. This leaves the department on the same hook that an investigation by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it on last year when it faulted the department’s “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies.”

For once, the Times editorial page is right on target with its analysis. Though the department’s leadership has consistently attempted to divert public attention from its blunders, as the paper accurately concludes, subsequent reforms in its procedures have come “tragically very late in the game.” But there is one element missing from this analysis. Indeed, one could say there are two vital and inescapable words that are nowhere to be found in it: Hillary and Clinton.

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In today’s New York Times, the paper’s editorial column addresses the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Benghazi terror attack and draws some strong conclusions about what happened and why. The piece soberly digests the findings and rightly concludes that even when one takes into account the difficult circumstances in Libya on September 11, 2012, there is no escaping the fact that the State Department was at fault:

In the last analysis, however, it is the State Department that must bear most of the blame for failing to provide adequate security and not preventing the preventable. This leaves the department on the same hook that an investigation by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it on last year when it faulted the department’s “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies.”

For once, the Times editorial page is right on target with its analysis. Though the department’s leadership has consistently attempted to divert public attention from its blunders, as the paper accurately concludes, subsequent reforms in its procedures have come “tragically very late in the game.” But there is one element missing from this analysis. Indeed, one could say there are two vital and inescapable words that are nowhere to be found in it: Hillary and Clinton.

As Senator John McCain noted this week on the floor of the Senate when discussing the paper’s coverage of the aftermath of the Benghazi attack and the scandal attaching to subsequent attempts by the administration to mislead the public about it, the Times has been “an ever-reliable surrogate for the administration” on all things Benghazi. But never, even when publishing a badly reported piece falsely claiming that there was no al-Qaeda involvement in the attack, has the paper displayed its partisan bias in so brazen a manner as in this editorial.

Contrary to conspiracy theorists, Mrs. Clinton did not intend the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the American post in Benghazi, when she chose not to involve herself in the discussions about security in Libya. There is almost certainly no “smoking gun” memo to be found in which she expresses indifference to the possibility of a terror attack or another in which she orders people to lie about the event after it had occurred, even though that is exactly what happened when talking points were distributed that falsely characterized the terror attack as a case of movie criticism run amok. But if, as the Times correctly notes, the fault for not “preventing the preventable” must lie with the State Department, how is it possible to condemn the agency without even mentioning that responsibility for that failure must be laid at the feet of the person running the place?

The reason for the decision not to prioritize security in Libya is not exactly a mystery. Mrs. Clinton did not ask questions about the topic or see to it, as was her responsibility, that our missions were not being left unprotected simply because the topic was not of any great interest to her. Since the president was running for reelection in part on the strength of a belief that al-Qaeda was no longer a threat after the death of Osama bin Laden, any attention devoted to counter-terror activities or security in a country that was thought to be securely in the hands of friends of the United States was bad politics. That also explains the almost reflexive instinct on the part of Clinton and others in the diplomatic and security apparatus to deny what happened was an act of terror even after it was obvious to all those in the know.

Though these were the aspects of the job that Mrs. Clinton relished, running a vast enterprise like the U.S. Department of State is about more than making speeches and racking up frequent flyer miles on the way to photo opportunities. It also means taking responsibility for an enormous government agency and holding all those who administer its various departments accountable. And, as Benghazi proved, it was on that more prosaic but ultimately vital task, that her leadership proved inadequate.

Given that Mrs. Clinton appears on track to be asking the country to put her in charge of a far larger enterprise than merely the State Department—the entire federal government—if she is elected president in 2016, it is not unfair to ask whether her record on Benghazi ought to influence the decision of the voters. But that is one question that the New York Times dare not ask even as it takes the agency she ran to task for failures and misconduct that happened on her watch.

Though there is really no comparison to the most notorious public scandal of the last week—New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate—it should be noted that the Times has run three editorials in the last eight days on that topic. The Times has rightly taken Christie to task not just for the egregious traffic jam that his aides manufactured but also for creating an atmosphere in which such misconduct could happen. It has also correctly noted that whether or not he knew in advance about the scheme, since it happened on his watch as governor, he bears responsibility for what happened. Yet even though four more people died in Benghazi than perished (other than metaphorically from frustration and boredom) in the traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, the Times saw fit never to mention Clinton in the editorial about what happened on her watch at the State Department.

As the flagship of elite liberal opinion in this country, it is to be expected that the Times would support Clinton’s candidacy even long before she declares her intentions about 2016. But for it to publish a scathing editorial about the conduct of the State Department during the period of her stewardship without even alluding to the fact that she was the one who presided over the disaster illustrates the paper’s utter lack of intellectual integrity.

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Benghazi and the Vile “Least Bad Option”

What has irked congressional Republicans from the beginning of the Benghazi fallout has been the State Department’s callous opposition to accountability. It was typified most famously in Hillary Clinton’s moment of entitlement and exasperation at being questioned over her massive failure that resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya. And so it probably won’t surprise anyone that after the release of the bipartisan Senate report detailing that failure, the State Department barely managed to stifle a yawn, as the Washington Post reports:

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Senate report adds little new information and does not do much to expand the government’s understanding of the attacks. “We should have been better then, and we need to get better going forward,” she said.

Yet in an important way, Harf is actually correct. The Senate report is full of information, but it all conforms to common sense. We are told, for example, that the attacks were preventable, that the administration knew the dangers lurking in Benghazi, that more had to be done and wasn’t. Conservatives have said all this from the beginning, and this certainly confirms it. But of course conservatives were right about this: does anybody seriously believe that the United States intelligence services, with the CIA nearby, were unaware of the state of the country whose government the U.S. had, in cooperation with Europe, just decapitated?

Of course no one seriously believed that. But the report sheds light on just what U.S. officials knew. For example, it states:

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What has irked congressional Republicans from the beginning of the Benghazi fallout has been the State Department’s callous opposition to accountability. It was typified most famously in Hillary Clinton’s moment of entitlement and exasperation at being questioned over her massive failure that resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya. And so it probably won’t surprise anyone that after the release of the bipartisan Senate report detailing that failure, the State Department barely managed to stifle a yawn, as the Washington Post reports:

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Senate report adds little new information and does not do much to expand the government’s understanding of the attacks. “We should have been better then, and we need to get better going forward,” she said.

Yet in an important way, Harf is actually correct. The Senate report is full of information, but it all conforms to common sense. We are told, for example, that the attacks were preventable, that the administration knew the dangers lurking in Benghazi, that more had to be done and wasn’t. Conservatives have said all this from the beginning, and this certainly confirms it. But of course conservatives were right about this: does anybody seriously believe that the United States intelligence services, with the CIA nearby, were unaware of the state of the country whose government the U.S. had, in cooperation with Europe, just decapitated?

Of course no one seriously believed that. But the report sheds light on just what U.S. officials knew. For example, it states:

On July 6, 2012, CIA produced a report entitled, “Libya: Al-Qa’ida Establishing Sanctuary.” In the report, CIA stated: “AI-Qa’ida-affiliated groups and associates are exploiting the permissive security environment in Libya to enhance their capabilities and expand their operational reach. This year, Muhammad Jamal’s Egypt-based network, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have conducted training, built communication networks, and facilitated extremist travel across North Africa from their safe haven in parts of eastern Libya.”

And the warnings:

On July 9, 2012, Stevens sent a cable to State Department headquarters requesting a minimum of 13 “Temporary Duty” (TDY) U.S. security personnel for Libya, which he said could be made up of DS agents, DoD Site Security Team (SST) personnel, or some combination of the two. These TDY security personnel were needed to meet the requested security posture in Tripoli and Benghazi. The State Department never fulfilled this request and, according to Eric Nordstrom, State Department headquarters never responded to the request with a cable.”

And the revelations that “tripwires” were established to trigger operational and personnel adjustments on the ground, yet were ignored. But most infuriating to read are the parts about the Libyan security the mission relied on, and why:

Video footage shows-and the ARB also found-that, at 9:42p.m. Benghazi time, a local police vehicle stationed outside the Mission facility withdrew as soon as armed attackers advanced toward the U.S. compound. In addition, the TMF in Benghazi had been vandalized and attacked in the months prior to the September 11-12 attacks by some of the same guards who were there to protect it.

Local security guards, especially security guards who are not operated and overseen by the host government, are an inherently less reliable security force than security provided by U.S. forces or the military or police forces of a host government. According to the State Department, the Mission facility did not store classified information, and therefore no Marine contingent was present. Although U.S. Government security forces are always preferred, the CIA and State determined that local militias would provide the so-called “least bad option” in post-revolutionary Libya. The former Chief of Base stated: “There was no alternative. You know, there really is no functioning government there. And the militia groups that both we, and the State Department, depended on were in fact kind of the de facto government there in Benghazi.”

The “least bad option”? In what universe is that true? Well, the universe in which dwell the brilliant minds who brought us “leading from behind,” our enlightened president’s strategy to prosecute American foreign policy through magical thinking. In the months before the major assault, the mission was apparently attacked by the guards hired to protect it. And yet the “least bad option” was to rely on the same system as threats continued?

The kindest thing that could possibly be said about that strategy is that it’s fundamentally and irredeemably insane. You know what’s “less bad” than relying on thugs who vandalize what you hire them to protect in a city set upon by terrorist networks? Putting American soldiers or security officials there instead. Ah, but that would technically constitute putting boots on the ground. In other words, it would require the administration to admit its best and brightest were so very wrong. This is the Obama doctrine, such as it is. And let this Senate report be its epitaph.

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Benghazi Won’t Stop Guilty Hillary

The release of a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday on the Benghazi terrorist attack casts a shadow over the record of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The study declares that the assault on the U.S. facility in Benghazi could have been prevented had the State Department taken warnings about terrorism seriously. Security at the outpost was shortchanged in no small measure because bad decisions were made in Washington for which Clinton bears ultimate responsibility. The report also makes clear that the participants in the assault on the mission were affiliated with al-Qaeda groups, effectively debunking the assertions made in a recent controversial New York Times article. While it shed no further light on the attempt by the administration to spin the incident as a spontaneous gathering of film critics upset about a video produced in the United States rather than an act of terrorism, it still leaves open the question why that happened.

Taken together with previous investigations, the report leaves no doubt that four Americans died as a result of negligence and bad judgment at the highest levels of the State Department as well as a determination to avoid doing anything that might alter the public perception that the Obama administration had vanquished al-Qaeda. It’s a sorry record and one for which no one, especially those at the top of the food chain, have been held accountable. But conservatives who have been frustrated by the way Clinton has evaded criticism over Benghazi shouldn’t get their hopes up about this report. No one should labor under the delusion that it will hinder Clinton’s efforts to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

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The release of a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday on the Benghazi terrorist attack casts a shadow over the record of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The study declares that the assault on the U.S. facility in Benghazi could have been prevented had the State Department taken warnings about terrorism seriously. Security at the outpost was shortchanged in no small measure because bad decisions were made in Washington for which Clinton bears ultimate responsibility. The report also makes clear that the participants in the assault on the mission were affiliated with al-Qaeda groups, effectively debunking the assertions made in a recent controversial New York Times article. While it shed no further light on the attempt by the administration to spin the incident as a spontaneous gathering of film critics upset about a video produced in the United States rather than an act of terrorism, it still leaves open the question why that happened.

Taken together with previous investigations, the report leaves no doubt that four Americans died as a result of negligence and bad judgment at the highest levels of the State Department as well as a determination to avoid doing anything that might alter the public perception that the Obama administration had vanquished al-Qaeda. It’s a sorry record and one for which no one, especially those at the top of the food chain, have been held accountable. But conservatives who have been frustrated by the way Clinton has evaded criticism over Benghazi shouldn’t get their hopes up about this report. No one should labor under the delusion that it will hinder Clinton’s efforts to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

If Republicans haven’t already discovered that much of the mainstream media has taken their cue from the Obama administration and long ago decided that there is nothing to see here, the lack of interest in following up on this scandal even after this latest report should convince them now. Those who are rightly clamoring for more accountability from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about the misconduct of his aides in the Bridgegate scandal have had more than a year to ask the same kind of questions of Clinton about what she knew and when she knew it about security in Benghazi and the post-attack lies told by the administration. But they haven’t and won’t start now just because of a new Senate report.

Media apathy about investigating Benghazi is infuriating. While the origin of a traffic jam has become the focal point for a genuine controversy that has seriously hobbled Christie’s presidential prospects, it is astonishing that those insisting on a fuller accounting of a far more serious incident involving the deaths of four Americans serving their country is routinely characterized as solely the province of extremists and conspiracy theorists.

The double standard here is clear. While no one is saying that Clinton deliberately sent Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others to their deaths, she was the person responsible for this disaster. Had any other presidential contender been in charge of an agency whose negligence led to four deaths, it is hard to imagine they would not be disqualified in the eyes of the general public by it, let alone be acclaimed as a likely next president of the United States as is the case with Clinton. But the idea of derailing the chances of electing our first woman president merely because of an inconvenient terrorist attack in Libya is unimaginable to most of our chattering classes. That’s why this report isn’t likely to generate any more coverage of the issue in the coming days, weeks, and months than previous discussions of the scandal.

While Republicans are right to complain about this and should pursue further inquiries, they need to lower their expectations about this controversy. Benghazi shouldn’t be filed away, but the GOP needs to avoid appearing obsessed about it in a way that would allow liberals to depict them as unhinged or conspiratorial. If she runs, the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination will be handed to Clinton on a silver platter. At that point there will be more than enough time for conservatives to revive a discussion of Benghazi and in the glare of a general-election campaign it will be harder for Hillary and her many media enablers to change the subject. This may not be the silver bullet that will prevent her from becoming president, but it will be a potent issue that can’t be ignored. Until then, Republicans frustrated about their inability to hold Clinton accountable should keep their powder dry and wait for their moment.

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Gates Book Timing Helped Obama

President Obama earned some civility points yesterday by refusing to fire back at Robert Gates after the former secretary of defense disparaged aspects of his leadership style as well as taking shots at Vice President Biden and Hillary Clinton in his new memoir. While Obama admitted he was “irked” by the timing of the publication of the book, he praised the former secretary as an “outstanding” cabinet member and friend. Though Democrats were blasting Gates for writing a book that was mined for negative quotes about their two leading presidential contenders in 2016, even a Republican like John McCain said that he should have waited until the administration he served was out of office before writing a memoir.

Gates’s critics may have a point about Washington etiquette, though few liberals protested when Scott McClellan, who had served as George W. Bush’s press secretary, penned a tell-all memoir that blasted his boss and his policies. The notion that there should be a waiting period before those who serve in government can write books seems to be more about good manners than ethics. But despite the nasty nature of some of the exchanges between Gates and administration defenders, the president was right to tread softly on the issue. Though some of the book doesn’t do much to make the president and his colleagues look good on some points, by waiting until Obama was safely reelected before coming clean about Obama’s war leadership, Gates did his former boss a huge favor and the voters a disservice.

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President Obama earned some civility points yesterday by refusing to fire back at Robert Gates after the former secretary of defense disparaged aspects of his leadership style as well as taking shots at Vice President Biden and Hillary Clinton in his new memoir. While Obama admitted he was “irked” by the timing of the publication of the book, he praised the former secretary as an “outstanding” cabinet member and friend. Though Democrats were blasting Gates for writing a book that was mined for negative quotes about their two leading presidential contenders in 2016, even a Republican like John McCain said that he should have waited until the administration he served was out of office before writing a memoir.

Gates’s critics may have a point about Washington etiquette, though few liberals protested when Scott McClellan, who had served as George W. Bush’s press secretary, penned a tell-all memoir that blasted his boss and his policies. The notion that there should be a waiting period before those who serve in government can write books seems to be more about good manners than ethics. But despite the nasty nature of some of the exchanges between Gates and administration defenders, the president was right to tread softly on the issue. Though some of the book doesn’t do much to make the president and his colleagues look good on some points, by waiting until Obama was safely reelected before coming clean about Obama’s war leadership, Gates did his former boss a huge favor and the voters a disservice.

Gates’s pious disclaimers about the book controversy being created by sensationalist journalists skimming quotes are patently insincere. Those quotes were highlighted by his publisher and distributed to the press precisely in order to create buzz about the book and increase sales. To that end, they have succeeded brilliantly. The Gates book became a huge political story and though it was quickly overshadowed by Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal, the former secretary’s publishers are crying all the way to the bank over all the free publicity they have received. Had Gates waited until Obama was safely out of office, there wouldn’t be much buzz about the book. Nor would his sales be as great.

But Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe has a far more salient point when he noted that if there is any criticism to be made about Gates, it is that he waited too long to tell the American people about the cynicism of the president toward the armed forces and the truth about both Obama and Hillary Clinton’s opposition to the Iraq troop surge. There appears to be much in the book that would have fueled an important discussion about the president’s conduct during his reelection campaign. Had Gates spoken up during 2012 about the nature of the administration’s decision-making process about the Afghanistan war and other behind-the-scenes details, it would have negatively affected the president’s chances for a second term. While it is doubtful that any book, no matter how much it dishes on Biden and Clinton, will affect the 2016 contest, his Cabinet colleagues will suffer far more than Obama as result of Gates’s indiscretions.

As such, President Obama is probably right to ease up on Gates (who has accurately noted that he was more critical of the president’s aides than of the commander in chief) whose decision to keep quiet this long did him as much good as anything he did while at the Pentagon.

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A Tale of Two Surges

In Friday’s “Notable & Quotable,” the Wall Street Journal quoted then-Sen. Hillary Clinton’s famous remark at the September 11, 2007 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, where she told Gen. David Petraeus his testimony on the Iraq “surge” required “the willing suspension of disbelief.” It was her sophisticated way of telling him she thought he was peddling fiction.

That day, Gen. Petraeus also testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Barack Obama and John Kerry were members. Obama told Petraeus he wanted “an immediate removal of our troops” and a policy that “surges our diplomacy.” He wanted “in a bipartisan way to figure out how to best move forward, to extricate this from the day-to-day politics that infects Washington.” Clinton and Obama would later admit to each other that their opposition to the surge had been political.

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In Friday’s “Notable & Quotable,” the Wall Street Journal quoted then-Sen. Hillary Clinton’s famous remark at the September 11, 2007 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, where she told Gen. David Petraeus his testimony on the Iraq “surge” required “the willing suspension of disbelief.” It was her sophisticated way of telling him she thought he was peddling fiction.

That day, Gen. Petraeus also testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Barack Obama and John Kerry were members. Obama told Petraeus he wanted “an immediate removal of our troops” and a policy that “surges our diplomacy.” He wanted “in a bipartisan way to figure out how to best move forward, to extricate this from the day-to-day politics that infects Washington.” Clinton and Obama would later admit to each other that their opposition to the surge had been political.

Kerry told Petraeus the day was “historic”–because “not since the country heard from General Westmoreland, almost 40 years ago, has an active-duty general played such an important role in the national debate.” Kerry said he wanted to remind everyone that:

[A]lmost half the names that found their way etched into the Vietnam Wall after Westmoreland’s testimony found their way there when our leaders had acknowledged, in retrospect, that they knew the policy was not working, and would not work. And all you need do to underline this chilling fact is read Defense Secretary McNamara’s books …

The following year, Barack Obama was elected president, and faced in his first year the need for a “surge” in Afghanistan. He approved it only after an excruciatingly long series of White House meetings and gave the military less than they had requested. In an excerpt from his memoir yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recounted the November 2009 Oval Office meeting with Gen. Petraeus and Adm. Michael Mullen in which Obama discussed the basis on which he had decided to go forward, with Obama and Biden giving what they described as an “order” for the military to follow Obama’s decision:

That Sunday meeting was unlike any I ever attended in the Oval Office … I was shocked. I had never heard a president explicitly frame a decision as a direct order. With the U.S. military, it is completely unnecessary … Obama’s “order,” at Biden’s urging, demonstrated the complete unfamiliarity of both men with the American military culture … In the end, this major national security debate had been driven more by the White House staff and domestic politics than any other in my entire experience. The president’s political operatives wanted to make sure that everyone knew the Pentagon wouldn’t get its way.

The next day, Obama announced his decision in his televised West Point speech, in which he said the additional troops would “allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011 … taking into account conditions on the ground.” Obama had simultaneously announced a surge and a withdrawal–a counter-productive combination. The Gates excerpt does not deal with what followed, but Jonathan Alter summarized it succinctly in his 2010 book on Obama’s first year as president:

It didn’t take long for Clinton, Gates, and Petraeus to begin endorsing nation-building and exploiting their “conditions on the ground” loophole. Testifying the day after Obama’s speech, Gates told a House committee, “I have adamantly opposed deadlines. I opposed them in Iraq and I opposed them in Afghanistan.” At the Pentagon the message coursing through the building was the summer of 2011 didn’t really mean the summer of 2011. The president was unperturbed. Obama’s attitude was “I’m president. I don’t give a shit what they say. I’m drawing down those troops” said one senior official who saw him nearly every day.

By early 2011, Gates concluded that Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” It had been the “good war” for purposes of the 2008 campaign, a way for Obama to distinguish his opposition to the Iraq war. But once in office, it became for Obama, as Rich Lowry writes, “the insincere war,” fought half-heartedly, with a goal not of winning but getting out.

More than three-fourths of the names on some future Afghanistan memorial wall will be those of American soldiers who died under a commander-in-chief contemptuous of the military, whose foreign policy was (to use Bret Stephens’s expression in this incisive video on the Gates book) “the conduct of politics by other means”–a chilling fact now underlined by a former secretary of defense’s book.

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The Silly Attempt to Discredit Bob Gates

In 1948, a diplomatic tell-all appeared on the shelves intended to make a splash. By former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Arthur Bliss Lane, the book title blared “I Saw Poland Betrayed” beside the Polish coat of arms’ imposing white eagle, which seemed almost to be shouting the words. The cover also informs us that “Our Ambassador to Poland resigned to tell this story.”

In fact, the timeline is less condensed than that might imply. The betrayal Lane witnessed referred to the post-Yalta actions of the major powers in which FDR, Churchill, and Stalin sealed the fate of postwar Poland, which would be under the Soviet thumb for decades more. Lane resigned in 1947 after the sham Polish elections made it official. It was a headache for President Truman, one of many he inherited from Franklin Roosevelt. But it was not a surprise: Lane writes in the introduction that his resignation was accepted “with the understanding of President Truman … that I would tell the story as I had seen it.”

Lane’s book was only one in a sea of such memoirs, the latest of which is former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s account of his time leading the Pentagon in wartime during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Excerpts from the book have caused a stir, showing President Obama and Hillary Clinton admitting that their opposition to the “surge” was feigned for political benefit, and that the Obama White House was broadly dismissive of and disrespectful to the American military. And the pushback commenced immediately, today garnering a Politico article attempting to shame Gates for his timing and his candor.

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In 1948, a diplomatic tell-all appeared on the shelves intended to make a splash. By former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Arthur Bliss Lane, the book title blared “I Saw Poland Betrayed” beside the Polish coat of arms’ imposing white eagle, which seemed almost to be shouting the words. The cover also informs us that “Our Ambassador to Poland resigned to tell this story.”

In fact, the timeline is less condensed than that might imply. The betrayal Lane witnessed referred to the post-Yalta actions of the major powers in which FDR, Churchill, and Stalin sealed the fate of postwar Poland, which would be under the Soviet thumb for decades more. Lane resigned in 1947 after the sham Polish elections made it official. It was a headache for President Truman, one of many he inherited from Franklin Roosevelt. But it was not a surprise: Lane writes in the introduction that his resignation was accepted “with the understanding of President Truman … that I would tell the story as I had seen it.”

Lane’s book was only one in a sea of such memoirs, the latest of which is former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s account of his time leading the Pentagon in wartime during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Excerpts from the book have caused a stir, showing President Obama and Hillary Clinton admitting that their opposition to the “surge” was feigned for political benefit, and that the Obama White House was broadly dismissive of and disrespectful to the American military. And the pushback commenced immediately, today garnering a Politico article attempting to shame Gates for his timing and his candor.

The good news for Gates is that it is likely many people who clicked on the article stopped reading a few paragraphs in. That’s because Politico offers the first shaming quote to Sandy Berger. Yes, Sandy Berger–the Clinton administration official who pilfered national-security documents from the National Archives to protect his boss. Here’s what Sandy Berger has to say about a highly decorated public servant who is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

“Cabinet members who don’t leave on principle ought to avoid undercutting the president while he’s still in office,” said Sandy Berger, who was national security adviser during President Bill Clinton’s second term. “I think they have that duty of loyalty to the president. It makes me uncomfortable to see Gates do this.”

Imagine that, you might say to yourself: the world has discovered behavior that makes Sandy Berger uncomfortable. But the larger point is just how difficult it is to tarnish Gates’s well-earned reputation. Gates must be chuckling to himself at being attacked by Sandy Berger.

Berger isn’t the only one quoted in the article, and the story goes on to mention James Byrnes’s post-Yalta memoir, though it is a far less relevant example than Lane’s. We hear from others as well in the story notes of disapproval about the timing of the memoir and the fact that it criticizes those Gates served. Berger’s critique is the least sensible of all: that Gates should have resigned to write this book or waited until Obama was out of office.

But think about that for a moment. Should Gates have resigned “on principle” to tell his story before President Obama’s reelection? How would that have been received? Surely many would have preferred to hear such criticism before casting their vote, but it would have been seen as an attempt to influence the presidential election.

Others in the story echo the claim Gates should have waited until Obama left office. But at that point, someone else criticized in the book might be taking office. How would it look if Gates released the book this time in 2017, just in time to ruin the inauguration of Obama’s successor?

Additionally, we are currently winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decisions have already been made, so this won’t change anything. It just enables the conversation about these changes to include Gates, surely one of the most knowledgeable sources in the country. The book’s actual impact, then, is going to be limited. It will mostly involve keeping the public better informed about the debate we’re now having. The attacks on Gates may have been predictable, but that makes them no less gratuitous or silly.

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Bob Gates vs. the White House

After publishing the latest in its series of stories that seemed designed to help burnish Hillary Clinton’s reputation ahead of the 2016 election, the New York Times’s effort had become so transparent, and it had been called out so noticeably, that editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal felt compelled to deny it. He wrote, “let me be clear: We have not chosen Mrs. Clinton.”

Noted. But Vice President Joe Biden might be among those stifling a laugh at Rosenthal’s assertion. Today both the Washington Post and New York Times published revelations from former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’s forthcoming memoir. The Post’s account, written by Bob Woodward, notes that Clinton apparently admitted to President Obama that her opposition to the “surge” was pure politics, since Obama was opposed to the surge and they were in competition at the time. Picking up from that, Woodward’s Post colleague Chris Cillizza speculates on how the excerpt could harm Clinton’s prospects:

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After publishing the latest in its series of stories that seemed designed to help burnish Hillary Clinton’s reputation ahead of the 2016 election, the New York Times’s effort had become so transparent, and it had been called out so noticeably, that editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal felt compelled to deny it. He wrote, “let me be clear: We have not chosen Mrs. Clinton.”

Noted. But Vice President Joe Biden might be among those stifling a laugh at Rosenthal’s assertion. Today both the Washington Post and New York Times published revelations from former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’s forthcoming memoir. The Post’s account, written by Bob Woodward, notes that Clinton apparently admitted to President Obama that her opposition to the “surge” was pure politics, since Obama was opposed to the surge and they were in competition at the time. Picking up from that, Woodward’s Post colleague Chris Cillizza speculates on how the excerpt could harm Clinton’s prospects:

But, remember this is Hillary Clinton we are talking about.  And, the criticism that has always haunted her is that everything she does is infused with politics — that there is no core set of beliefs within her but rather just political calculation massed upon political calculation. Remember that she began slipping in the 2008 Democratic primary when her opponents seized on an overly political answer on giving drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants during a debate in  late 2o07.

Gates’s version of why Clinton opposed the surge fits perfectly into this existing good-politics-makes-good-policy narrative about the former secretary of state. And that’s what makes it dangerous for her —  and why you can be sure she (or her people) will (and must) dispute Gates’s recollection quickly and definitively.

Whether it hurts Clinton might depend largely on who runs against her in the Democratic primary. But he’s right that the reputation of both Clintons has always been not to say a single word that hasn’t been focus-grouped into the ground. If Clinton was hoping her time as secretary of state would temper that reputation, the Gates memoir is yet another example of how difficult it can be for a politician to shake an entrenched narrative, especially one, like this, that is accurate.

The Post story isn’t kind to Biden either. (It’s brutal toward the Obama White House in general, but Obama has no more presidential elections ahead of him.) Gates accuses Biden of “poisoning the well” against the military, and when Biden and Donilon tried to order Gates around, he apparently responded: “The last time I checked, neither of you are in the chain of command.” The Obama administration was notoriously insular and incurious about the world outside them. But quotes like this, coming from a former defense secretary, still sting:

It got so bad during internal debates over whether to intervene in Libya in 2011 that Gates says he felt compelled to deliver a “rant” because the White House staff was “talking about military options with the president without Defense being involved.”

Gates says his instructions to the Pentagon were: “Don’t give the White House staff and [national security staff] too much information on the military options. They don’t understand it, and ‘experts’ like Samantha Power will decide when we should move militarily.”

The Times, however, goes easier on Clinton and tougher on Biden with its quotes, including this uppercut:

Mr. Gates calls Mr. Biden “a man of integrity,” but he questions the vice president’s judgment. “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” Mr. Gates writes.

I suppose it can be argued that the Post’s lack of interest in examining how these revelations might derail a Biden presidential candidacy is it’s own sort of pro-Clinton tilt. The implication is that only one of those candidates has prospects worth protecting (or derailing), and it isn’t Biden.

Unless the reporters who read advance copies of the book missed something juicier, nothing in Gates’s memoir seems likely to spoil anyone’s presidential aspirations, and I doubt Gates has any interest in doing so anyway. Picking out excerpts and anecdotes can easily skew the perception of the book, especially before the public has had a chance to read it. But the splash being made by these (mostly unsurprising) insider claims is a testament to the credibility Gates has earned over his distinguished career, and suggests the considerable authority his account of these last few years will carry.

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Hillary Clinton and the End of the Presidential Campaign

The “perpetual campaign” is a term we have accustomed ourselves to using while it is still a bit of an exaggeration, except in the case of a first-term president consumed by winning a second term. In all other cases, the speculation about who will run for president precedes the actual campaign. But that actual campaign’s start date keeps getting earlier, while the speculation has become perpetual. What happens when the two finally overlap? A tear in the time-space continuum? Nope, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

That’s one of the takeaways buried in Maggie Haberman’s profile of Hillary Clinton’s “shadow campaign.” Haberman writes about Clinton’s meeting with party strategists about a presidential run last year, and about the bevy of outside groups, super-PACs, Obama campaign veterans, and others who have created “a virtual campaign in waiting” for her, at once demonstrating her potential strength as a candidate and the personality-cult politics that have the Democrats so desperate to avoid any internal conflict over the 2016 nomination.

The effort to scare off potential rivals includes language that is already seeping into news stories. Haberman tells us that these groups sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete “to prepare a final career act for the former senator and secretary of state, whose legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a dubious assertion at best. (More powerful, already, than Edith Wilson? Absurd.) But Haberman does discuss the fact that there are some close to Clinton who would prefer she not run:

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The “perpetual campaign” is a term we have accustomed ourselves to using while it is still a bit of an exaggeration, except in the case of a first-term president consumed by winning a second term. In all other cases, the speculation about who will run for president precedes the actual campaign. But that actual campaign’s start date keeps getting earlier, while the speculation has become perpetual. What happens when the two finally overlap? A tear in the time-space continuum? Nope, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

That’s one of the takeaways buried in Maggie Haberman’s profile of Hillary Clinton’s “shadow campaign.” Haberman writes about Clinton’s meeting with party strategists about a presidential run last year, and about the bevy of outside groups, super-PACs, Obama campaign veterans, and others who have created “a virtual campaign in waiting” for her, at once demonstrating her potential strength as a candidate and the personality-cult politics that have the Democrats so desperate to avoid any internal conflict over the 2016 nomination.

The effort to scare off potential rivals includes language that is already seeping into news stories. Haberman tells us that these groups sometimes cooperate and sometimes compete “to prepare a final career act for the former senator and secretary of state, whose legacy as the most powerful woman in the history of American politics is already secure”–a dubious assertion at best. (More powerful, already, than Edith Wilson? Absurd.) But Haberman does discuss the fact that there are some close to Clinton who would prefer she not run:

Among their concerns: Why put herself through the campaign pulverizer again and risk ending her groundbreaking career on a low note? She could still wield plenty of influence from the outside ­— and enjoy a normal, fulfilling family life for the first time in who knows how long. People insist her health is not a worry, but it was just a year ago that she suffered a blood clot in her head after fainting.

Chief among those in the “no” camp is Clinton’s chief of staff at the State Department, Cheryl Mills, according to several people familiar with her thinking. Another close Clinton confidante, Maggie Williams, who took the helm of the 2008 campaign after a staff shake-up, is also said to have reservations for the same reason — the DNA-altering experience of a modern presidential campaign in which nothing is guaranteed.

All reasonable concerns. Then we learn this:

Several sources said in interviews that her team is discussing how she will weigh in on policy debates over the course of the next year. She is working closely with clusters of aides on different policy initiatives — one involves child development, and Clinton is also being advised to address income inequality. Her memoir about her time at the State Department, initially expected for June, is likely to be out later in the summer, putting a book tour closer to the time when she would campaign for candidates in the midterms. That’s also closer to when she’s likely to announce her plans, after the November election.

She’s going to announce her plans after the November (2014!) midterms? Of course, Haberman doesn’t say–because no one knows–how far after the early-November elections. But the formulation is a funny one to use if it’s far after those elections and into 2015. Even if she doesn’t formally announce, it appears that she will make it abundantly clear–not just to her inner circle but to anyone paying attention–whether she’ll run right around the time of those midterms.

That means we’ll finally have, in actuality, the perpetual campaign, which in turn means we won’t really have a presidential “campaign” at all. The prospect is horrifying, though since Republicans are less worshipful of their candidates (they can’t nominate Zombie Reagan, after all), perhaps they’ll put the breaks on the process. But if Clinton appears to gain from the gamble, it won’t be so easy.

Additionally, some of those who might try to convince Clinton not to run are going to need better arguments. Specifically, those who don’t want Clinton to “risk ending her groundbreaking career on a low note” are missing the point of her “groundbreaking career.” The Clintons are the ultimate political power couple because of their single-minded pursuit of political power. After leaving the White House Hillary was offered a Senate seat, so she took it. Then she was offered the job as secretary of state, despite a total lack of relevant experience, so she took it.

And her term as secretary of state was famous for her refusal to get involved in serious efforts that could fail, thus haunting her presidential ambitions. She wasn’t a senator or secretary of state for its own sake–though in fairness she wasn’t the first nor will she be the last political personality driven by an ambition for power and always reaching for the next rung on the ladder. What she wanted, and what she presumably still wants, is to be president of the United States. An advisor or friend seeking to persuade her not to run will need more of an argument than “Hey, you had a good run.”

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Will de Blasio Secure Hillary’s Left Flank?

In politics, having a good memory can always be something of a liability. It was, after all, only a couple of decades ago that Bill Clinton was one of the leaders of the centrist faction of the Democratic Party and his presidency is considered to have succeeded in large measure because of his decision to distance himself from liberal dogma. Nevertheless, both the former president and his spouse—who hopes to return to the White House in 2016—were front and center at the inauguration of Bill de Blasio as New York City’s new mayor. The event was a celebration not just of the new mayor but of the leftist ideology he championed during his campaign. Class warfare was the theme of the day articulated by a blistering diatribe by new Public Advocate Leticia James, in a poem recited by a college student, and repeated by de Blasio when he said the chief purpose of his administration of the country’s largest city would be, as the New York Times noted, to “fix” inequality in Gotham.

This theme may dovetail nicely with President Obama’s attempt to change the focus of the national political discussion from one about the impact of his disastrous health-care law to one about populist initiatives such as an increase in the minimum wage. But it also represents the kind of muscle flexing on the part of the party’s liberal base that hasn’t been seen since Clinton’s so-called “New Democrats” took control of things in the early ’90s. And that is exactly why Hillary Clinton and her ubiquitous husband were eager to associate themselves with not only de Blasio’s victory but also with the leftist surge that brought him to office. Having failed to win the presidency in 2008 because of an inability to defend her left flank, Clinton seems determined not to make that same mistake in her next try for the White House. But the question remains whether worrying so much about liberal sensibilities is the smartest thing for her to do in the long run.

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In politics, having a good memory can always be something of a liability. It was, after all, only a couple of decades ago that Bill Clinton was one of the leaders of the centrist faction of the Democratic Party and his presidency is considered to have succeeded in large measure because of his decision to distance himself from liberal dogma. Nevertheless, both the former president and his spouse—who hopes to return to the White House in 2016—were front and center at the inauguration of Bill de Blasio as New York City’s new mayor. The event was a celebration not just of the new mayor but of the leftist ideology he championed during his campaign. Class warfare was the theme of the day articulated by a blistering diatribe by new Public Advocate Leticia James, in a poem recited by a college student, and repeated by de Blasio when he said the chief purpose of his administration of the country’s largest city would be, as the New York Times noted, to “fix” inequality in Gotham.

This theme may dovetail nicely with President Obama’s attempt to change the focus of the national political discussion from one about the impact of his disastrous health-care law to one about populist initiatives such as an increase in the minimum wage. But it also represents the kind of muscle flexing on the part of the party’s liberal base that hasn’t been seen since Clinton’s so-called “New Democrats” took control of things in the early ’90s. And that is exactly why Hillary Clinton and her ubiquitous husband were eager to associate themselves with not only de Blasio’s victory but also with the leftist surge that brought him to office. Having failed to win the presidency in 2008 because of an inability to defend her left flank, Clinton seems determined not to make that same mistake in her next try for the White House. But the question remains whether worrying so much about liberal sensibilities is the smartest thing for her to do in the long run.

It is true that the alliance between de Blasio and the Clintons runs both ways. The mayor ran Hillary’s first Senate campaign, but his political roots are to be found on the party’s far left and he was never part of her inner circle. By having the former president rather than a judge or some other public figure swear him in, it could be said that de Blasio was attempting to associate himself with the Clintons’ pragmatism rather than the other way around. Indeed, as the Times noted in another article on the inauguration, de Blasio is hoping to use the Clintons to keep the city’s business interests from open opposition to his administration, something that is a potential problem for the mayor given the tone of the anti-capitalist rants he and his followers have been sounding.

Yet both Bill and Hillary are past masters of the art of putting their fingers to the wind to determine their future course of action. And since the wind in the Democratic Party is blowing hard to the left these days, their decision to make de Blasio’s inauguration an official Clinton affair must be understood as an indication of how Hillary perceives her current political dilemma.

Clinton lost the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination largely because she was seen as the centrist in the race. That resulted in her left flank being left wide open for Barack Obama to ride a wave of anti-war sentiment to the White House. Having seen how poorly such a stance played to Democratic primary voters, Clinton is obviously determined never to make the same mistake again. And given the resurgence of the left wing of her party, a tilt in their direction would make it harder for potential gadfly candidacies from people like California Governor Jerry Brown or former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to gain traction in the winter and spring of 2016 or a more mainstream challenge from Vice President Biden. As we have seen throughout the past months, this time the Clintons are leaving nothing to chance when it comes to the next presidential election–and if that means spending as much if not more of their time echoing the left’s rhetorical excesses about inequality as kissing up to their usual Wall Street donors, so be it.

But Clinton needs to be careful about identifying too much with the de Blasio faction and other left-wingers. Though they are the flavor of the month today as the White House tries to sound similar themes, hitching her star to the mayor’s wagon may not seem like such a brilliant idea if his “progressive” administration really does go to war against business as well as reversing police procedures that have kept crime rates down in the Big Apple. If tax increases start to chase business and the middle and upper classes out of the city, Clinton may find by 2016 that the association with the mayor is as much of a burden on her hopes to win the presidency as it is an asset.

More to the point, a shift this far to the left is going to necessitate a swing back to the center if, after easily winning her party’s nomination, she wants to win in November. The problem with Clinton in 2008 wasn’t as much her centrism as it was her lack of authenticity and inability to connect with voters as well as Obama. Politically motivated ideological mood swings will only remind voters of their previous doubts about her. Just as important, anything that distracts the public from her sales pitch to be the first woman in the White House is a mistake.

The Clintons’ embrace of de Blasio is a tactical stroke that makes a lot of sense right now. But over the long haul, it may be yet another example of Hillary’s predilection for being too clever by half.

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The Discrediting of Government Continues

President Obama’s recent troubles have evoked various comparisons to his predecessor, whether they were the parallels between specific policies or simply the climbing disapproval ratings. To these we can add one more: the question of succession. Indeed the discussion about the makeup of the Democrats’ 2016 primary roster is quite relevant to this particular debate.

When George W. Bush left office amid low approval ratings, the Republican Party faced the challenge of trying to figure out its post-Bush identity–chiefly in the form of its 2008 presidential nominee–on the fly, without the benefit of years in the wilderness. Though Obama’s second term is far from over, Democrats will still face the same challenge.

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President Obama’s recent troubles have evoked various comparisons to his predecessor, whether they were the parallels between specific policies or simply the climbing disapproval ratings. To these we can add one more: the question of succession. Indeed the discussion about the makeup of the Democrats’ 2016 primary roster is quite relevant to this particular debate.

When George W. Bush left office amid low approval ratings, the Republican Party faced the challenge of trying to figure out its post-Bush identity–chiefly in the form of its 2008 presidential nominee–on the fly, without the benefit of years in the wilderness. Though Obama’s second term is far from over, Democrats will still face the same challenge.

In Hillary Clinton, for example, primary voters will have a reminder of the more successful Democratic governance of her husband but also the unprincipled, soulless pursuit of power that characterizes the Clintons’ political life and Hillary’s statist agenda. If Jerry Brown runs, they’ll see a candidate at once a throwback to 20th century politics of stagnation and a warning from the future, in the form of the failing state administration of California, as to where that leads. And if Brian Schweitzer runs, he’ll embody a halfhearted left-libertarianism that at least gestures toward a government less inclined to violate your personal space. The latest Gallup polling on the size and scope of government, however, does not bode as well for Clinton or Brown:

Seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question. The prior high for big government was 65% in 1999 and 2000. Big government has always topped big business and big labor, including in the initial asking in 1965, but just 35% named it at that time.

But it’s the breakdown of the results by political party that is really striking:

Each party group currently rates big government as the greatest threat to the country, including a record-high 92% of Republicans and 71% of independents, as well as 56% of Democrats. Democrats are most likely of the partisan groups to name big business as the biggest threat, at 36%; relatively few Republicans, 4%, view big business as the most threatening.

It’s not just that a majority of Democrats (and large majority of independents) see government as the greatest threat to the country. It’s also the trajectory of those numbers that stands out. During the Bush administration 62 percent of Democrats felt this way, but were slowly reassured as the Democrats took back Congress and then Obama was elected president; the number dropped to 32 percent.

Some of Democrats’ fears about the government can be attributed, I suppose, to Republicans taking back the House earlier in this presidency. But they have not sponsored bills that chip away at individual liberty–just the opposite, they have stood opposed to ObamaCare’s mandates, EPA overregulation, Democrats’ anti-gun legislation, and so forth. It’s what made it so amusing when Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to spin congressional approval ratings against the GOP today by tweeting:

Congress is finishing this year less popular than a cockroach, and mindless, knee-jerk obstruction from Republicans is exactly why.

Not only was this the sort of tedious cant voters have come to expect from Reid, but it comes right after the Senate approved a bipartisan budget deal driven in large part by Paul Ryan. Reid, in other words, looks even more ridiculous than he normally would. But even more than Reid’s statement being patently false was its tone-deaf character: even a majority of Democrats see the government as getting too intrusive for comfort. Actions that put the breaks on this behavior are not what’s wrong with government. If anything, Reid only exacerbates this by deploying the “nuclear option” to get rid of the filibuster. Not only is Reid the problem, not the solution, but he’s advertising himself as such.

It won’t matter much to Reid, who isn’t running for president. But if ObamaCare isn’t fixed, the public’s faith in government will continue to collapse–among Democrats as well as Republicans. As the Democrats seek a presidential nominee that best embodies the party’s post-Obama identity, this will no doubt be a factor–and it could very well hold back the statists and elevate a candidate with a more rational approach to governance.

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Is Schweitzer the Dems’ Chris Christie?

At a 2007 event in Jacksonville, Florida for his presidential primary campaign, Fred Thompson offered a version of a line he used repeatedly when campaigning in the South: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it to be back somewhere that they don’t think I talk with a funny accent.” (I vaguely remember hearing an even better version, in which he responded to a question about who his constituency was supposed to be by quipping that to many Republican voters, he was the only candidate in the race who spoke without an accent.)

The line worked because that year the better-known GOP candidates were from Massachusetts (Mitt Romney), New York (Rudy Giuliani), and Arizona (John McCain). But it would strike a chord in either party; in 2007, the three most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Jimmy Carter (Georgia), and Lyndon Johnson (Texas). Yet beyond the specific issue of accents, politicians from coastal enclaves often struggle to relate to Middle America. And that’s why former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer might just make some trouble for Hillary Clinton in 2016–in part because of the possible presence in the race of, as Jonathan noted earlier, the California gadfly Jerry Brown.

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At a 2007 event in Jacksonville, Florida for his presidential primary campaign, Fred Thompson offered a version of a line he used repeatedly when campaigning in the South: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it to be back somewhere that they don’t think I talk with a funny accent.” (I vaguely remember hearing an even better version, in which he responded to a question about who his constituency was supposed to be by quipping that to many Republican voters, he was the only candidate in the race who spoke without an accent.)

The line worked because that year the better-known GOP candidates were from Massachusetts (Mitt Romney), New York (Rudy Giuliani), and Arizona (John McCain). But it would strike a chord in either party; in 2007, the three most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Jimmy Carter (Georgia), and Lyndon Johnson (Texas). Yet beyond the specific issue of accents, politicians from coastal enclaves often struggle to relate to Middle America. And that’s why former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer might just make some trouble for Hillary Clinton in 2016–in part because of the possible presence in the race of, as Jonathan noted earlier, the California gadfly Jerry Brown.

I say “make some trouble” because it’s not as though Schweitzer would be a juggernaut in a primary. He doesn’t have the name recognition of the others, and it’s doubtful his fundraising could keep pace with well-known candidates from California and New York. Additionally, in the Democratic Party coastal elitism sells, so Schweitzer may not have an advantage even if he can come across as the “normal” candidate. (And let’s be honest: if your opponent is known as “Moonbeam” Brown, you’d better come across as the normal candidate.)

In fact, the case can be made that Schweitzer would be more like the Democratic version of Chris Christie: perhaps too moderate for the base despite that crossover appeal’s advantage in a general election. Schweitzer’s moderation comes on an issue of new resonance to the Democratic Party’s base but on which they stand opposed to public opinion: gun rights.

Schweitzer’s support for gun rights was, once upon a time, part of what made him seem a dream candidate for Democrats–that combined with the fact that after Al Gore and John Kerry, the Democrats were worried they had nothing but self-serious, humorless, and completely unlikeable candidates to offer in national elections. In 2006, the New York Times’s profile of Schweitzer captured this dynamic perfectly. It began:

It’s fun being governor of Montana. Just watch Brian Schweitzer bouncing around the streets of Helena in the passenger seat of the state’s official S.U.V., fumbling with wires, trying to stick the flashing police light on the roof. When he spots some legislators on the sidewalk, he blasts them with the siren, then summons them by name on the loudspeaker. The men jump, and the governor tumbles out of the car, doubled in laughter, giving everyone a bear hug or a high-five or a soft slap on the cheek. Schweitzer, a Democrat in his first term, marches into a barroom in blue jeans and cowboy boots and a beaded bolo tie, and his border collie, Jag, leaps out of the vehicle and follows him in. The governor throws back a few pints of the local brew and introduces himself to everyone in the place, down to the servers and a small girl stuck there with her parents. He takes time from the backslapping to poach cubes of cheese from the snack platter and sneak them to the girl, who is now chasing his dog around the bar. “This is how you make friends with Jag,” he advises her. “Just hold it in your hand and let him take it.”

As soon as Schweitzer was elected in 2004 — the same night that George W. Bush carried Montana by 20 percentage points — pundits began declaring him the future of the Democratic Party. Never mind that it was his first elected office: the 51-year-old farmer and irrigation contractor had folksy charm and true-grit swagger. He shot guns, rode horses, took his dog to work and decimated his opponents with off-the-cuff one-liners heavy on the bull-and-horse metaphors. He didn’t act like a Democrat, in other words, and to many Democrats, reeling from consecutive losses to Bush, that seemed like a pretty good thing.

Schweitzer himself seems to view his support for gun rights as not just cultural, but ideological: National Journal calls his worldview a “brand of libertarian populism.” This certainly overstates the case: the same article even starts off with a riff on Schweitzer’s support for single-payer health care. But this does get at why Schweitzer would be a reasonably effective general-election candidate. In today’s Democratic Party, he is considered “libertarian,” underlining just how far to the left the Democrats have shifted as a national party.

That ideology would be a pleasant contrast with Hillary Clinton’s baldly statist impulses (“there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child,” etc.), and with Moonbeam Brown’s failed-state bureaucracy. And to many voters, he’d also be the only one without an accent.

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The Democrat Hillary Should Worry About

Since Barack Obama’s reelection, pundits have understandably focused their attention on Hillary Clinton’s intentions to run in 2016. The former secretary of state and first lady is the overwhelming frontrunner for the next Democratic presidential nomination. No other Democrat is anywhere close to Clinton in any poll of possible candidates with even Vice President Joe Biden trailing far behind her. Though one should always be careful about predicting political events this far in advance, with a little more than two years to go until the Iowa caucuses, the nomination is clearly hers for the asking.

But that near certainty hasn’t stopped the speculation about who will challenge Clinton in that caucus and other primaries in the first months of 2016. Unlike the last Democratic go-round when no one chose to play the gadfly and force President Obama to defend his record to party members, Clinton won’t go unopposed. But given the overwhelming odds against such an effort succeeding, the assumption is that no one, except perhaps Biden–who would be a plausible candidate were Clinton not in the running–would dare risk diminishing their political brand by engaging in a futile run. Any Democrat that did so would be deeply resented by party leaders and even some in the grass roots for doing the Republicans’ dirty work by taking shots at Clinton that would pave the way for even tougher GOP attacks in the general election. What they want is a coronation of Clinton, not a test of her mettle before she asks the voters to make her the first female president.

That means would-be Democratic stars like New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo or Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley or Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will stay out of the 2016 race. That’s left other, less highly regarded figures like former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer making noises about taking on Clinton from the left. Schweitzer might surprise us, but he isn’t the Democrat that Hillary should be worrying about. The real wild card for Democrats in 2016 is the same guy that gave heartburn to the last two Democrat presidents before Obama in primaries: Jerry Brown.

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Since Barack Obama’s reelection, pundits have understandably focused their attention on Hillary Clinton’s intentions to run in 2016. The former secretary of state and first lady is the overwhelming frontrunner for the next Democratic presidential nomination. No other Democrat is anywhere close to Clinton in any poll of possible candidates with even Vice President Joe Biden trailing far behind her. Though one should always be careful about predicting political events this far in advance, with a little more than two years to go until the Iowa caucuses, the nomination is clearly hers for the asking.

But that near certainty hasn’t stopped the speculation about who will challenge Clinton in that caucus and other primaries in the first months of 2016. Unlike the last Democratic go-round when no one chose to play the gadfly and force President Obama to defend his record to party members, Clinton won’t go unopposed. But given the overwhelming odds against such an effort succeeding, the assumption is that no one, except perhaps Biden–who would be a plausible candidate were Clinton not in the running–would dare risk diminishing their political brand by engaging in a futile run. Any Democrat that did so would be deeply resented by party leaders and even some in the grass roots for doing the Republicans’ dirty work by taking shots at Clinton that would pave the way for even tougher GOP attacks in the general election. What they want is a coronation of Clinton, not a test of her mettle before she asks the voters to make her the first female president.

That means would-be Democratic stars like New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo or Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley or Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will stay out of the 2016 race. That’s left other, less highly regarded figures like former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer making noises about taking on Clinton from the left. Schweitzer might surprise us, but he isn’t the Democrat that Hillary should be worrying about. The real wild card for Democrats in 2016 is the same guy that gave heartburn to the last two Democrat presidents before Obama in primaries: Jerry Brown.

The California governor is 75 years and thought by some to be too old to be even thinking about running for president in 2016. Brown is in some respects an artifact of American political history. He has been running for public office for more than 40 years with mixed success. He’s been elected governor of California three times (1974, 1978, 2010) as well as winning terms as the state’s secretary of state (1970) attorney general (2006), and mayor of Oakland (1998, 2002). But he’s also lost a lot of elections, including three runs for president (1976, 1980, and 1992) and one for the U.S. Senate (1982). Brown has said he isn’t ruling out a run, a stance that is fueling some of the speculation about him. There are good reasons to think that someone who will turn 78 in 2016 will take a pass, but the opportunity to play the spoiler may be too tempting.

It is, after all, a role he has played before. In 1976 when Jimmy Carter seemingly had the Democratic nomination sewn up, Brown was a late entry into the race and won several primaries, giving the Georgia governor a good scare before finally losing. His 1980 candidacy flopped as Ted Kennedy assumed the role of chief challenger to Carter. He failed again in 1992 but had more of an impact on the race eventually won by Bill Clinton. He won several primaries in small states and did more to discomfit Clinton in debates than any of the other candidates, especially by being the only one not afraid to bring up his troubled personal life.

Brown entered the national consciousness as “Governor Moonbeam” in the 1970s, but has lasted so long because there is a certain authenticity about a man who has stuck to the same left-wing populist style even as generations, styles, and political trends have come and gone. It is that authenticity as well as his perennial gadfly style that has the potential to unsettle Hillary. A conventional Democrat, especially a male one, has no answer to the push on the part of Clinton’s supporters to elect the first woman to the presidency. But Brown, who delights in playing the outlier, is the kind of person that could attract enough discontented Democrats who are sick of the Clintons to give Hillary reason to worry. As a governor who is perceived as something of a success, he would also be following the playbook of some potential Republican candidates, who realize the public wants candidates who are not tied to the current mess in Washington.

This isn’t to say Brown can beat Hillary Clinton. I don’t think there’s a chance that he would. But he is just offbeat enough to be able to portray her as the ultimate establishment figure and take advantage of it with primary voters who may be willing, as they occasionally have been in the past, to cast protest votes intended to shake up the nominee. With nothing to lose and no prospects for future presidential runs, Jerry Brown might be just the person to make Hillary’s life hell for a few months in 2016.

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Why the Kerry-in-2016 Talk Matters

Americans who marveled at the tone-deaf extravagance and the parody-worthy self-importance of Barack Obama’s 2008 acceptance of his party’s nomination could be forgiven for thinking the ridiculous scene had become a specialty of the Democratic National Conventions. After all, just four years earlier voters were treated to the unmitigated awkwardness of “I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty,” followed by a salute.

Kerry had come a long way from the vehement anti-military persona he had to leave behind to run for president–though he would return to it soon after by mocking the intelligence of America’s soldiers in Iraq. It’s doubtful there will ever be a better description of the scene at Kerry’s nomination than the one from our Andrew Ferguson: “There was also a telltale neoliberal excess to the convention that nominated him, in a hall festooned with so much military paraphernalia and overrun by so many saluting veterans that you might have thought you were watching a Latin American coup.”

But if you were one of the new voters who, in your tenacious youth and vacuous trendmongering, cast your first-ever vote for Barack Obama in 2008, there’s an outside chance that maybe, just maybe, you’ll get the opportunity to see what a joyless and uncomfortable spectacle it is when thousands of people are obliged to take John Kerry seriously at the same time. Here’s Mark Halperin, relating the latest bit of Beltway chatter:

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Americans who marveled at the tone-deaf extravagance and the parody-worthy self-importance of Barack Obama’s 2008 acceptance of his party’s nomination could be forgiven for thinking the ridiculous scene had become a specialty of the Democratic National Conventions. After all, just four years earlier voters were treated to the unmitigated awkwardness of “I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty,” followed by a salute.

Kerry had come a long way from the vehement anti-military persona he had to leave behind to run for president–though he would return to it soon after by mocking the intelligence of America’s soldiers in Iraq. It’s doubtful there will ever be a better description of the scene at Kerry’s nomination than the one from our Andrew Ferguson: “There was also a telltale neoliberal excess to the convention that nominated him, in a hall festooned with so much military paraphernalia and overrun by so many saluting veterans that you might have thought you were watching a Latin American coup.”

But if you were one of the new voters who, in your tenacious youth and vacuous trendmongering, cast your first-ever vote for Barack Obama in 2008, there’s an outside chance that maybe, just maybe, you’ll get the opportunity to see what a joyless and uncomfortable spectacle it is when thousands of people are obliged to take John Kerry seriously at the same time. Here’s Mark Halperin, relating the latest bit of Beltway chatter:

“Let me just say quickly, if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run for president I bet you John Kerry does,” Mark Halperin declared on MSNBC.

The comment was at first met with silence, followed by awkward laughter from the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza — reactions that underscore how there’s been virtually no chatter about another White House bid for the Massachusetts senator and current secretary of state.

“That’s a first,” host Andrea Mitchell said in response.

Actually, it’s not a first. Slate’s Matt Yglesias had already floated the idea. But he wasn’t the first either. Progressive bloggers had been on the case before Kerry even took office at Foggy Bottom. I consider a Kerry candidacy for president to be quite unlikely, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about. In fact, it’s the chatter, not the chances, that tells us something about the current state of play on the left side of the aisle.

The talk of Kerry possibly running for president mostly rests on his active diplomacy in the Middle East. Democrats have been starved in recent years for diplomatic achievement. They believed (incorrectly) that George W. Bush’s administration eschewed multilateral diplomacy in favor of unilateral war. They rejoiced at President Obama, the man who would shake anybody’s hand if they were willing only to unclench their fist. But then Obama turned out to be a startlingly poor diplomatic practitioner whose foreign-policy successes consisted of low-key invasions and targeted assassination.

This image was only compounded when his first secretary of state accrued astounding frequent-flyer miles by traveling as far away from the most challenging diplomatic conflicts as her plane would take her.

And then here comes John Kerry, reporting for duty. Now suddenly there’s a deal with Iran, which isn’t a good deal but at least there may or may not be public support for it, depending on the weirdly fluctuating polls. And now we have a secretary of state smugly lecturing the Israeli leadership on Israeli national television. That probably isn’t too popular here at home overall, but among Democrats it’s positively delightful behavior.

And of course there’s the deal working with the Bashar al-Assad regime to legitimize his mass murder when conducted through means other than chemical weapons–a deal which Kerry fell face-first into when he tied his own shoelaces together, but which averted the possibility of a strike so the doves are happy. (And the liberal interventionists like Samantha Power are reduced to tweeting furiously from luxurious hotel suites in New York. Nowhere are the world’s worst actors safe from Samantha Power’s hashtags.)

Even if Kerry’s Syria deal was reminiscent less of Dean Acheson than Inspector Gadget, it’s part of what Democrats see as diplomacy taking its rightful place and producing (controversial) results. And it’s why Kerry is being treated to fulsome profiles–the Atlantic, Foreign Policy, the New York Times. But the irony of these profiles is that they tend to miss what is by far the most important aspect to Kerry’s diplomacy, especially with Iran, and which serves him well in comparison to Hillary Clinton. As the Boston Globe reported late last month, John Kerry opened secret backchannel communications with Iran in “early December 2011.”

That is, even when Clinton was America’s top diplomat, Kerry was the one Obama relied on to conduct his most consequential diplomacy. That’s probably because it would have been impossible for a sitting secretary of state to take part in such a plan without it becoming public. And it may also be because Clinton was too high-ranking an official to meet with the Iranians on a whim anyway. But whatever the reason, the point remains that dovish Democrats see this diplomacy as the culmination of a decade’s worth of efforts to steer the ship of state (and the Department of State) in their preferred direction–and Clinton’s name is not on it.

That’s not enough to make Kerry a realistic prospect for 2016 at this point, but it should worry Clinton that the conversation has turned from “will she run” to “maybe John Kerry should run instead.”

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Dems’ Harsh Appraisal of Hillary Clinton

Though it’s probably not intended this way, Politico Magazine editor Susan Glasser’s verdict on Hillary Clinton’s legacy as secretary of state is revealed before readers get to the first sentence. The headline of the piece is, naturally: “Was Hillary Clinton a Good Secretary of State?” But the subheadline gives it away: “And does it matter?” Thus, the article seems to be making excuses for Clinton before even revealing what must be excused.

The problem for Clinton is that she has a sympathetic judge in Glasser, who penned a Foreign Policy cover profile of Clinton last year that was celebratory despite not having much to celebrate. Yet when Glasser asks around the foreign-policy community about Clinton’s accomplishments at State, those on the left side of the political isle seem to all bypass the question itself and move right onto why she had no accomplishments. You have to wonder what the answers would be if Clinton weren’t presumed to be the next Democratic nominee for president.

Glasser asked Aaron David Miller for his assessment, which was this:

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Though it’s probably not intended this way, Politico Magazine editor Susan Glasser’s verdict on Hillary Clinton’s legacy as secretary of state is revealed before readers get to the first sentence. The headline of the piece is, naturally: “Was Hillary Clinton a Good Secretary of State?” But the subheadline gives it away: “And does it matter?” Thus, the article seems to be making excuses for Clinton before even revealing what must be excused.

The problem for Clinton is that she has a sympathetic judge in Glasser, who penned a Foreign Policy cover profile of Clinton last year that was celebratory despite not having much to celebrate. Yet when Glasser asks around the foreign-policy community about Clinton’s accomplishments at State, those on the left side of the political isle seem to all bypass the question itself and move right onto why she had no accomplishments. You have to wonder what the answers would be if Clinton weren’t presumed to be the next Democratic nominee for president.

Glasser asked Aaron David Miller for his assessment, which was this:

“Hillary was risk-averse; Kerry isn’t. He’s risk-ready.” Of course, Miller argues, 2016 politics “explains partly why she didn’t own a single issue of consequence.” The other reason is President Obama himself, “the most controlling foreign policy president since Nixon.”

Clinton was inconsequential; the real question, to her fellow liberals, concerns who they can blame for this. (Surely not Hillary!) Miller tosses in the obligatory nod to “the Republican obsession with Benghazi,” but it only serves to remind readers that Democrats are crassly uninterested in the tragedy over which they presided.

Glasser sums up the Democrats’ opinions on Hillary as belonging to one of three groups:

As for the Democrats, Clinton’s advocates tend to come in several camps, which can be broadly summed up as The Timing Just Wasn’t Right group; the Blame the White Housers; and the Asia Pivot Was a Really Big Deal crowd (“her major accomplishment,” the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon told me, and “too often underappreciated”).

Brutal–those are her “advocates.” The first two speak for themselves; the third is obviously grasping at straws, since the administration’s “pivot” to Asia was mostly repairing the damage President Obama’s first term did to our Pacific alliances with the occasional painfully obvious declaration about the region that suggests members of the Obama administration have just recently discovered China’s existence.

Now, it should be noted that some of the justifications for Clinton’s tenure offered by her “advocates” are accurate. Obama really does exercise obsessive control over everything, and his anti-interventionist inclinations did in fact win out more often than Clinton may have liked. Readers may think those like Miller who blame Obama are taking the easy way out, but other Clinton supporters have him beat: Steve Sestanovich, a former State Department official under Hillary’s husband, blames–you guessed it–George Bush. (His logic is that the world existed before the Obama administration–he knows, he was there!–and thus Hillary didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world’s been turning, etc.)

But Anne-Marie Slaughter, now the president of the New America Foundation, can top that. If you’re wondering just how incoherent an attempt to praise Clinton as consequential would be, wonder no more:

Her case for Clinton, in fact, is explicitly about politics—and Clinton’s willingness to integrate them into the traditionally stodgy, big man-to-big man diplomacy long favored at the State Department (and arguably now being resurrected by Kerry). “Foreign policy has always been the furthest thing from retail politics; she brought them much closer together and institutionalized as much of her approach as possible in the very bones of the State Department. … Hillary took diplomacy directly to the people in ways that cannot produce a treaty or negotiated agreement, but that are essential to advancing America’s interests over the longer term,” Slaughter argues. “What she should be remembered for in a 2016 campaign is proving that she could represent the American people day in and day out in the long, hard slog of regular politics, in between the rare shining moments of success. She was and is beloved around the world, as an inspiration, as an example of an America in which a woman could run for president, nearly win her party’s primary, lose with grace and then prove that adversaries can work together for the sake of their country.”

So there you have it: the case for Hillary isn’t much better than the case against her, but it’s always someone else’s fault anyway. The second half of that assessment is a gift due to her signal that she wants to be the next president. Subtract that, and you’ve probably got what her “advocates” really think of her. But if Clinton does indeed run for president, her opponents aren’t likely to be so kind.

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