During CNN’s town hall for Democratic candidates on Wednesday night, Anderson Cooper asked Hillary Clinton if she still believed that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was out to get her. That phrase came into the American political lexicon in 1998 when the then First Lady was seeking to dismiss as liars those who claimed her husband had conducted affairs or sexually harassed women. While there’s no doubt that Republicans wished to discredit Bill Clinton, the accusations were sadly accurate.

But rather than distance herself from that unfortunate moment, Hillary embraced it. “Don’t you?” she shot back at Cooper and then went on to describe her critics as the tools of an even bigger, more well-funded conspiracy of Republican billionaires. But in case her audiences thought she reserved such accusations for the GOP, Thursday night’s one-on-one debate on MSNBC with Bernie Sanders provided more evidence of Clinton’s mindset. When challenged about her acceptance of exorbitant speaking fees as well as raising vast sums for her campaign from Wall Street firms by Sanders, Clinton again played the victim.

I think it’s fair to really ask what’s behind that comment. You know, Senator Sanders has said he wants to run a positive campaign. I’ve tried to keep my disagreements over issues, as it should be.

But time and time again, by innuendo, by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth, which really comes down to — you know, anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought.

And I just absolutely reject that, Senator. And I really don’t think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough. If you’ve got something to say, say it directly.

But you will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.

When Sanders sought to interject, Clinton talked over him, leading the Vermont socialist to merely say “whoa” when she mentioned being smeared.

It was a classic Hillary moment and familiar to all those who have been watching her throughout her political career. In Hillary’s world, any question about her conduct, even the most straight-forward kind of inquiry about taking $675,000 for speaking or the numerous conflicts of interest between her work as secretary of state and the fundraising activities of the Clinton family foundation or an FBI investigation of her mishandling of classified material, all fall under the same category whether those mentioning these issues are Republicans or Democrats. Any and all criticisms are smears.

Clinton left herself wide open for a spirited follow-up that might point out that she was attempting to change the subject and to pretend as if she was being persecuted or ill-treated when he and his followers had the temerity to point out the fact that no political candidate in history in either party has been as embraced by Wall Street the way she has. But as he has throughout this campaign whenever he was given the chance to point out her hypocrisy or to call Clinton out for her disingenuous statements, Sanders whiffed. Just as he did in their first debate when he pointedly refused to ask about her email scandal, Sanders said the issue was a bad system, not Clinton’s behavior. It was left to NBC’s Chuck Todd to ask Clinton to provide transcripts of the harsh lectures she claims she gave her Wall Street donors. When Clinton had no answer, Sanders again refused to swoop in and demand that she explain.

While it’s hard to believe this display won over too many undecided Democrats, let alone any independents that might have tuned in to the debate, it must be admitted that Clinton had her way again.

As she has throughout her public career, Clinton hasn’t demonstrated much in the way of political talent in her second try for the presidency. She is the same stiff, shrill, blatantly inauthentic office seeker willing to shift in any direction needed. But she is good at one thing. When it comes to any and all questions about her conduct, she always goes on offense.

No matter what she has done or said, it’s all the work of that vast conspiracy against her. Notice how her voice grates on the ear or the fact that she often shouts in these debates, and you’re a sexist. Call her a member of the establishment (and if anyone in this country is part of an establishment it is Clinton) and she claims that’s impossible because as a woman, she believes herself outsider always being put down by unseen power brokers.

This is a poor recommendation for anyone seeking to wield the power of a president, but it’s a remarkable talent for someone who has skated through her adult life without ever being held accountable for her conduct. Whether it was smearing her husband’s victims, lying to the families of Benghazi victims or using an easily hacked homebrew server to store top-secret material, to name just a few of her ethical problems, Clinton believes all questions about her are inherently illegitimate.

The spectacle of one of the nation’s most privileged beings parading herself as a perpetual victim of mean-spirited opponents is incongruous but still insightful.

As a candidate and as an office-holder the common thread in all that Hillary Clinton does is her perpetual quest to avoid scrutiny or accountability. That extends beyond a refusal to answer tough questions with anything but counterattacks. It explains her decision to avoid the use of a government email and instead choosing a system that eliminates any hope of transparency for her communications. The discovery of so many emails with highly dangerous information on the server would seem, on its face, to be a criminal violation. But the truth is, we’ll never know the extent of the problem since she had over 30,000 emails that she claimed were personal deleted and then erased from the server.

Yet rather than sit back and wait for the public or the press to sort out acts of mere negligence from those that are illegal, Clinton always attacks. As far as Sanders is concerned, the tactic works wonderfully since he clearly believes that anything that could be construed as a personal attack on her would hurt him.

No matter what happens in New Hampshire, nothing short of an ill-timed indictment will stop her from winning the Democratic nomination, setting up an epic confrontation with Republicans that are relishing the chance to seize the openings Sanders refused to exploit. But as ludicrous as Clinton’s tactics may seem, any of her GOP challengers should be careful about dealing with her.

In an era where victimhood appears to be the most desirable status for those seeking public sympathy and applause, Clinton’s perpetual pose as the wronged woman has served her well. It not only provides cover for indefensible acts but also has, at least to this point, given Clinton impunity for vicious counter-attacks in which she slanders her critics with more vigor than her opponents have used in pursuing her. Republicans, as well as Democrats, would be fools not to fear the power of her venom or the way her cues are taken up by much of the mainstream liberal press.

But though they should beware of the perpetual victim’s wrath, they should not be deterred. The time is coming when Clinton may not have as pliable an opponent on the stage with her as Sanders has been. In a general election campaign, accountability will not so easily be evaded.

Beware the Perpetual Victim’s Wrath via @commentarymagazine
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