August was cruel to ObamaCare and the president’s poll numbers. Obama’s first year has been cruel to politically moderate media spinners who thought Obama was the model of sobriety and restraint. But none of these match the devastation wreaked on Hillary Clinton by her fateful decision to accept the secretary of state position in her former rival’s administration.
At best she has become a marginal player, waxing lyrical about agricultural projects in India and roads in Africa, but not the key force — or even one of the key forces — in formulating American foreign policy. In a spin-filled Washington Post column, the best her supporters can come up with is this:
By all accounts, she is the consummate team player and is often the best-briefed, most prepared person in the room. President Obama’s aides say he values her advice and appreciates her dedication, dampening speculation that he and his erstwhile rival would not work well together.
But after eight months in office, Clinton, 61, sometimes seems torn between her inclination to lead and her need to function effectively within the administration, creating a certain tension between her aspirations and her status.
However, she has been front and center in two of the worst blunders of the administration: its failed effort to bully Israel into a settlement freeze and its disastrous Honduras policy.
As to Israel, her public scolding of Israel and the administration’s private finger-wagging over the minutiae of Israeli settlement activity bore no fruit, revealing how preposterous was the entire notion that attacking our ally Israel would encourage the parties to come together. Her handiwork of course only encouraged Palestinian intransigence and alienated our closest ally in the region.
But nothing quite tops her Honduras foray. Backing Hugo Chavez’s ally, refusing to endorse a new election without reinstating Manuel Zelaya, and threatening a democratic ally (which is a very dangerous thing to be these days) has brought that country to the brink of war. And again Hillary has been out front, lecturing Honduras, refusing to listen to the entreaties of conservative senators to rethink her approach, and lacking the sense at multiple junctures to step back from her fulsome opposition to the constitutional removal of Zelaya.
It wasn’t meant to be this way, of course. She was billed as the competent one, unburdened by ideology and diligent in the extreme. True to her “A” student reputation she studied up for her confirmation hearings and impressed all with how hardworking and responsible she was. One would have thought she was up for a Girl Scout merit badge (neat in appearance, prepared for any eventuality, ever cheerful, and so on), not for the job of architect of American foreign policy.
But that reputation for competency has been of course entirely unearned. She was the one who bollixed up HillaryCare by designing an exquisitely complicated government take-over of health care and then refusing to compromise. It was she who ran an “experience” campaign in a “change” election and made no plans for securing caucuses in key states or devising a post-Super Tuesday strategy. The gal with the sterling reputation for achievement has a record littered with failure.
At this rate, her tenure at the State Department is likely to be the capstone on a career of fumbles and misjudgments. The very same qualities which resulted in prior failures — an inability to see the big picture, stubbornness verging on arrogance, and excessive reliance on a coterie of like-minded advisors — plague her once again.
And whatever muscular foreign policy ideas she displayed in the campaign (most clearly on Iran) and her heretofore strong support for Israel have been sacrificed for the sake of getting along with Obama. She has, in short, not lived up to the expectations and hopes of many moderates and conservatives that she would bring a toughness toward foes and some common sense to an administration badly lacking in both.
Aside from the utter hash she has made of American foreign policy (to the extent she designed it or at least vouched for it) she has done a fine job undermining any future political ambitions she still clings to. (And this is Hillary we are talking about, so we can be certain she is still clinging to dreams of that Clinton restoration.) Somehow I suspect her Israel record won’t go over well with Jewish voters, and her Honduras calamity might be hard to explain to Hispanic voters. And of course, failure and incompetence are hard to explain to everyone.
Had she stayed in the Senate, she might have inherited the mantle of liberal leadership from Ted Kennedy. Clinton might have been the one to pull a rabbit out of the hat to save health-care reform. But once again her ambition got the best of her and her self-image of super-smart, super-capable policy wonk led her to a poor career choice. Now, politics is filled with second and third acts, and maybe her political career will recover. But I’m not sure her reputation ever will.