Out on a Limb

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on May 21, 2015

Out on a Limb

Sunday's deadly biker gang clash in Waco, TX.

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.

Out on a Limb
“Some Waco Motorcycle Gang Suspects Have Criminal Records”–headline, Dallas Morning News, May 19

News of the Tautological

  • “Thousands Lose Power in Wausau Due to Outage”–headline, Wausau (Wis.) Daily Herald, May 19
  • “Irving-Area Quakes Are Likely Due to Fault Lines, Geologist Says”–headline, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 19
  • “Hamas Using Truce to Prepare for Next Clash With Israel”–headline, Algemeiner, May 19

Rhymes with Obama
Since declaring her candidacy for president, Hillary Clinton has “cleared a couple of important hurdles,” Ben LaBolt, President Obama’s 2012 campaign press secretary, tells USA Today. “The first is, showing that she’s relatable and down to earth.”

Politico’s Jack Shafer has rather a different view:

What the press still fails to appreciate about Hillary Clinton is that she’s not running for president, she’s running as president, and all the usual rules about when and how she should speak don’t apply to her. In her mind—and who can blame her?—she’s the incumbent, this is a reelection campaign, and she occupies a place miles above the liquescent bogs of petty politics into which reporters would dunk her. A president is better seen than heard, she believes, hence her extended “listening tour.”

Both LaBolt and Shafer could be right, since the former is referring to voters’ experience of Mrs. Clinton and the latter to the press’s. Then again, Mrs. Clinton hasn’t exactly been engaged in traditional retail politicking. She’s been holding meetings with carefully selected groups of party activists.

The Boston Globe notes that “[Mrs.] Clinton’s campaign hasn’t held a single event open to the general public since it launched five weeks ago, and there are no plans for an open forum in New Hampshire Friday when she makes her second trip to the Granite State.” Granite Staters, the Globe observes, “hold dear a tradition of meeting would-be presidents face to face,” and it might have added the same is true of Iowa.

That means that voters’ impressions of Mrs. Clinton, to a greater extent than of other candidates in this or any past election, are mediated by the reporters covering her campaign. As evidenced by their encounters with her yesterday, they find her anything but “relatable and down to earth.” Mediaite observes that her stonewalling has “gotten so bad that the New York Times has taken to asking hypothetical questions for when she does start answering; and the Washington Post has begun counting the minutes since her last media conversation.”

The Post reset its clock yesterday after it reached 40,150 minutes (27 days, 21 hours, 10 minutes), when she took “five minutes of questions from various reporters following a group meeting in Iowa.” The meeting, during which she took questions from the preapproved supporters but not the press, had been interrupted by Fox News’s Ed Henry.

Her responses to Henry and later to the questions—Mediaite has C-Span video of both—remind us of some of the less attractive moments of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. In the first one, Mrs. Clinton is sitting at a table when Henry interjects: “Mrs. Clinton—” She waves him off: “Yeah, yeah, just wait, wait—”

He gets his question out. We can’t make out what he said, but others have described him as asking whether she would take questions from the press. Continuing to wave, she says: “Yeah, maybe when I finish talking to the people here.” She smiles and asks: “How’s that?”

Then she says: “I might. I’ll have to ponder it, and I will put it on my list for due consideration.”

You have to watch the video, or at least hear the audio, to get the full effect. In these few seconds Mrs. Clinton undergoes two changes of tone. At first, she’s irritated by the interruption, understandably enough. By the time she gets to “How’s that?,” she’s regained her composure. She looks reasonable, even magnanimous; Henry looks like a peevish heckler. (Anyone remember Sam Donaldson?)

But the “due consideration” coda sounds so smug, condescending and sarcastic that it put us in mind of one of Sen. Obama’s worst 2008 moments—when, apparently believing he was about to steamroll her in the New Hampshire primary, he said in a debate there: “You’re likable enough, Hillary.”

The Des Moines Register has a transcript of “The 6 Questions Hillary Clinton Answered in Iowa.” The one that caught our attention was on the subject of yesterday’s column:

Fourth question: Can you explain your relationship as secretary of state with Sidney Blumenthal? There’s a report out this morning that you exchanged several emails. Should Americans expect that if elected president that you would have that same type of relationship with these old friends that you’ve had for so long?

Mrs. Clinton (laughing): I have many, many old friends, and I always think that it’s important when you get into politics to have friends that you had before you were in politics and to understand what’s on their minds. He’s been a friend of mine for a long time. He sent me unsolicited emails, which I passed on in some instances, and I see that that’s just part of the give-and-take. When you’re in the public eye, when you’re in an official position, I think you do have to work to make sure you’re not caught in the bubble and you only hear from a certain small group of people, and I’m going to keep talking to my old friends, whoever they are.

This reminded us of an exchange in an April 2008 debate moderated by future Clinton Foundation patron George Stephanopoulos:

Stephanopoulos: A follow-up on this issue, general theme of patriotism, in your relationships. A gentleman named William Ayers. He was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other buildings. He’s never apologized for that.

And, in fact, on 9/11, he was quoted in the New York Times saying, “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” An early organizing meeting for your state Senate campaign was held at his house and your campaign has said you are “friendly.”

Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won’t be a problem?

Obama: George, but this is an example of what I’m talking about. This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who’s a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He’s not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn’t make much sense, George.

The fact is that I’m also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who, during his campaign, once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.

Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn’s statements? Because I certainly don’t agree with those, either.

So this kind of game in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, that somehow their ideas could be attributed to me, I think the American people are smarter than that. They’re not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn’t.

To be sure, the parallels here are far from exact. Voters may be hostile enough to the press, or Democratic voters to Fox News, that they won’t be put off by her imperious response to Henry.

On the other hand, her I-have-lots-of-friends dodge seems worse than Obama’s (except from Tom Coburn’s standpoint). Mrs. Clinton’s professional relationship with Blumenthal is far deeper than Obama’s with Ayers appears to have been; and the recent questions about the Clinton-Blumenthal relationship implicate her official duties in a matter involving a terrorist attack that left four Americans dead.

Still, substance aside, we’re intrigued by the similarities in style and tone. Reading David Bromwich’s cover story in the new Harper’s, “What Went Wrong: Assessing Obama’s legacy,” got us pondering further similarities between the two erstwhile rivals.

Bromwich’s essay is a critique of Obama from the left, so that this columnist disagrees with most of the author’s assumptions and conclusions regarding policy. But his analysis of the president’s political character is astute. This passage especially caught our attention:

During Obama’s first year in office, the string of departures from his own stated policy showed the want of connection between his promises and his preparation to lead. The weakness was built-in to the rapid rise that carried him from his late twenties through his early forties. His appreciative, dazzled, and grateful mentors always took the word for the deed. They made the allowance because he cut a brilliant figure. Obama’s ascent was achieved too easily to be answerable for the requirement of performing much.

Much the same can be said of Mrs. Clinton, can it not? Although she had been in the Senate longer than Obama, she never paid political dues in any conventional sense. She was already a serious—some said the inevitable—candidate for the presidency after only eight years in public office (as compared with 12 for him). As for “the requirement of performing much,” Bloomberg reports on a focus group of 10 Iowa Democrats: “Participants repeatedly praised Clinton’s experience, especially on foreign policy, though none was able to name any of her accomplishments as the nation’s top diplomat.”

Bromwich continues:

[Obama] came to the presidency . . . without having made a notable sacrifice for his views. Difficulty, however—the kind of difficulty Obama steered clear of—can be a sound instructor. Stake out a lonely position and it sharpens the outline of your beliefs. When the action that backs the words is revealed with all its imperfections, the sacrifice will tell the audience something definite and interesting about the actor himself. Barack Obama entered the presidency as an unformed actor in politics.

Has Mrs. Clinton ever taken a political position that wasn’t obviously driven by political calculation? You can say her 2002 vote for the Iraq war turned out not to be expedient, but that wasn’t how it looked at the time, and she abandoned her pro-war views once it was clearly unpopular. (If Obama’s opposition to the war seems to contradict Bromwich’s characterization of his political character, remember that even in 2002 his position was an easy one, probably the easier one, for a state lawmaker from the South Side of Chicago to take.)

The left is cheering as Mrs. Clinton repudiates one after another moderate position she or her husband endorsed in the 1990s. One can hardly blame them if they prefer a candidate who insincerely agrees with them to one who sincerely disagrees.

And Obama did win the White House despite (or perhaps because of) the flaws in his political character. Maybe Mrs. Clinton will too. Yet there’s one big difference: Unlike Obama, Mrs. Clinton owes her effortless rise to prominence to nepotism. The one thing she’ll never be accused of is cutting a brilliant figure.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”