HILLARY’S UPWARD FAILURE

JACKSONVILLE – We have only nineteen months until Election Day. That’s a blink of an eye in the sweep of history, but a long, hard slog in a political campaign. It’s time to get to work.

Our job between now and November 8, 2016 is to identify, nominate and elect a candidate who can a) defeat Hillary Clinton and b) serve as an effective, courageous and reliably conservative President.

First things first. Will Hillary run? Rational analysis says no. She’s old, she’s tired and she gives every evidence of being an unhappy warrior. To her, those nineteen months may seem like nineteen years. Here she hasn’t even announced her candidacy and she’s been forced to deploy Carville, Lanny Davis and the full complement of red-capped porters who handle her baggage.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen two more Clinton ‘issues” thrown atop the pile. (The Clintons have issues, Republicans have scandals.) I speak of the missing emails and the foreign contributions to her private foundation. The press has chosen to chase the email story. It plays to the established narrative – remember the missing billing records from the Rose Law Firm? – and it’s an easier story to cover, with less time consumed and less cost incurred. But there’s not likely to be much gold in those hills. While the IRS may not know how to destroy government records, the Clintons do. (Her husband, remember, was impeached. History tells us that it’s not easy to get yourself impeached. It happens only once a century or so. Your conduct in office must be so egregiously unethical as to be deemed unacceptable by a group of career politicians. That’s a high bar.)

The larger story – it would be a huge story if we still had an independent press – is the foreign money. What Mrs. Clinton is alleged to have done is to use her office as our top diplomat to enrich herself and her family. At the very time that she was negotiating military support and trade deals and foreign-aid allotments as America’s principal representative to the world, that is, she was accepting donations from foreign governments to her private foundation. The allegation, in effect, is that she was trading our dollars for her dollars. If you’ll give me a few days, I might be able to think of a more despicable act. But, in journalistic terms, it’s a tough story to report – there are lots of dots to connect – and so it may go unreported. And unprosecuted.

The rational analysis thus says no, as I say, but politics is not a hard science. Mrs. Clinton is caught in a political vortex from which she may not be able to free herself. The Clinton machine has been abuilding for thirty years and it now generates an almost irresistible momentum. There are thousands of people – bright, impatient and verbal people — who have tied their careers to Bill and Hillary and now anticipate a professional payday. In the minds of the Clinton loyalists, it’s not only her turn but their turn. Thus the implausible cries of Run, Hillary, run!

The political analysis thus says yes. There is so much money at stake, so many careers to be made or capped, so much gratification to be immanentized. Unless there’s another megaton “issue,” Mrs. Clinton will run. That’s what politicians do. (The smartest Democratic operative I know is deeply depressed by the “inevitability” of a Hillary campaign. He’s hoping to wrong-foot the GOP by nominating Martin O’Malley. What a concept – a straight, white male!)

So let’s turn to the question in which the elite media have shown no interest. On what will she run? Having been conspicuous in public life for all of her adult life, on which of her many life-chapters will she choose to base her campaign?

She may try to inflate her brief turn in the US Senate into a serious legislative career, but that bird probably won’t fly. She was mediagenic, of course, but utterly inconsequential — save for her jingoistic support for the Iraq invasion, an episode which she has done her best to erase from public memory.

Or she could assert her rightful claim to the title, The Mother of Universal Health Care. Poor Mitt Romney couldn’t figure out how to deflect blame for tinkering with mandates at the state level, but Hillary could easily be given all of the credit for our long national nightmare with Obamacare. The record is clear. It was her idea. She just didn’t have the votes to pass it during the Clinton administration.

There’s another possibility. As her recent memoir suggests, her campaign could emphasize her role as Secretary of State. I tried to read the book. Honestly, I tried. But it’s treacle. Dip into it at any point and Hillary is flying to some distant capital, meeting with Big people to talk about Big issues, staying up to all hours, and then, after pledging to talk more later, flying to another capital for talks well into the night with other Big people about other Big issues. It’s as if fatigue were its own reward, motion a synonym for progress.

Hillary’s story as Obama’s Secretary of State is, in fact, a classic Washington story. It’s all about process and nothing about result. We never hear from her about what actually happened in those distant capitals. We never hear how, as a result of her policies, our allies were undermined and our enemies emboldened. We never connect her arrival with what happens after she departs for the next Big meeting. It’s only later that we see, in the rearview mirror, that one stable country after another has burst into flames. Ukraine, Libya, Syria and the rest.

As a private-sector guy, it would have been fine with me if she had just stayed home, had a sandwich at her desk and gotten one or two things right.

No, Hillary can’t run on her record as a legislator or as a policy wonk or as a stateswoman. There’s no there there. And of course she can’t run as a fresh face, a new leader for a new era. She’s the old face from the almost forgotten era. It seems clear that Hillary will have to run on her record . . . as a woman survivor.

Both words are critical.

When I went to Washington with Reagan, I thought I knew what the word “survivor” meant. We had used it back in the corporate world. It meant, generally speaking, an assistant vice president-type who had managed to keep his job through a series of company convulsions. A survivor was the guy who had made himself so bureaucratically invisible, so widely unobjectionable, that he did not present an inviting target to new management. Okay, it was a term of derogation: outside the Beltway, where real people compete in a more-or-less free economy, a “survivor” was something of a loser.

Not in Washington. I quickly learned in DC that survivors are admired and even feared as deft operators within a complex system and as the keepers of valuable and recondite knowledge. Washington survivors may or may not have been noticed, but they were rarely called out. They were prized for what they knew and forgiven for what they’d done. DC survivors were the permanent government while our elected representatives were no more than transient wannabes.

Hillary Clinton is the ultimate Washington survivor. She has survived a marriage troubled chronically by a philandering husband; the collapse of her signature policy initiative; a diplomatic career marked by serial (and in several respects, tragic) setbacks; and the revelation of her private grabbing and grasping that have given political greed a new face.

That’s enough to firm up her reputation as a Washington survivor — a record of multiple failures overcome through pluck and brass and media complicity. But that’s not enough to become the presumptive nominee of one of the world’s two greatest political parties. For that, she had to fail in a man’s world, as a political Ginger Rogers, dancing backward in high heels.

Please keep the conversation going. Email your comments to me at nealfreeman@blackwellcorp.com.