It’s the Queeg factor, stupid.
The story of Navy Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg is one of literature and film’s more compelling. Queeg was at the center of author Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Caine Mutiny. Played by the legendary Humphrey Bogart in the Oscar-nominated 1954 film, the tale of the unstable captain of the old minesweeper USS Caine and his tumultuous command of the ship and its World War II-weary crew is today a classic.
It is also an instructive illumination about what happens when the symptoms that repeatedly show a human being unfit for command are deliberately ignored. If in fact New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton wins the Democratic presidential nomination, the Queeg Factor will take center stage as an issue in the 2008 presidential election.
Wouk has Lieutenant Commander Queeg taking command of the Caine in the middle of the war in the Pacific. Almost immediately the new Captain Queeg runs afoul of his crew by issuing a series of questionable orders. The first results in a tow line being cut because the Captain was too busy giving a lengthy reprimand to a sailor whose shirt was un-tucked, failing to notice his last order had the ship sailing in a circle. Confronted, he lies, accusing his crew of conspiracy. Charged to have the Caine lead a flotilla of Marines in landing craft to within 1,000 yards of a Japanese-held island, under fire from the enemy Queeg abruptly orders a yellow dye-marker dropped, hastily abandoning the Marines in their landing craft to withering enemy fire as he literally has the ship turn and flee the battle. Then, he lies about it. This is followed by a crusade to uncover the fate of a quart of missing strawberries eaten secretly by the ship’s mess boys, turning the ship upside down in search of an imagined key that gave someone other than the mess boys access to the strawberries — even after he learns the mess boys are the real culprits.
All of this is accompanied by Queeg’s peculiar habit of agitatedly rolling a pair of marble-sized steel balls together, a curiosity that is particularly in evidence as he denies whatever he has just done, blaming others for the results and always accusing one or various members of his crew of plotting against him. The situation comes to a head when Queeg orders his ship into the teeth of a typhoon, then panics as the ship is on the verge of foundering. His executive officer, Lieutenant Steve Maryk, relieves him of command and saves the ship — then faces a court martial as a result. Although the evidence piles up against Lieutenant Maryk through some clever lawyering by the Navy prosecutor, the case falls apart when Captain Queeg takes the stand and under stiff questioning by Maryk’s lawyer eventually displays all of the characteristics of instability and paranoia his crew has seen up close. The case against Maryk is quietly dismissed by disturbed Navy officials, and Queeg is relieved of his command for good.
WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE to do with what Karl Rove has termed the “fatally flawed” candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton?
One of the central lessons of The Caine Mutiny is that when a human being possesses a fatally flawed character trait that is repeatedly displayed and then, as with Queeg, matched with considerable power, there can only be one outcome — and that outcome is never good.
Hillary Clinton is the only candidate in the 2008 race on either side who has already been in the White House for eight years. There is no speculation to be had on how she would respond under the pressure of the presidency. She has a record already, and is not shy about spinning that record either. Taking credit in this campaign for the presumed achievements of the Clinton Administration, she makes it abundantly clear that she has been there and done that.
Time spent on such inanities as Senator Clinton’s cleavage is correctly dismissed by longtime Clinton aide Ann Lewis as “grossly inappropriate” and “insulting.” What is not only highly appropriate and deeply relevant to the Clinton candidacy is a serious understanding of the candidate’s well-documented record as the spouse of a sitting governor, presidential candidate and president. “It’s just a question of time before he [Captain Queeg] goes over the line,” correctly insists one of the Caine’s officers after yet another incident occurs, adding that Queeg “crawls with clues” that his behavior could have fateful consequences for the ship.
And indeed, the two recent biographies of Hillary Clinton, A Woman in Charge by Watergate icon Carl Bernstein, and Her Way by New York Times investigative journalists and Pulitzer Prize winners Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta are shot through with clues that demonstrate Hillary’s problem with the Queeg factor. Both books repeatedly show that when Hillary Clinton possesses even close proximity to executive power, she, like Queeg the Navy ship Captain, is unable to resist abusing her authority, then lying, stonewalling or covering-up the abuse in question, blaming others if the mood suits.
* As controversy rose over her role in the affairs of Arkansas’s Madison Guaranty Trust, Gerth and Van Natta say that “she…prevented disclosure of evidence that she had padded her legal bills, (and) had frequent business and legal dealings with state regulators who worked for Bill when he was governor…” The reason? To help her husband’s “chances of winning and to preserve Hillary’s reputation as one of America’s top lawyers.”
* During the political mess over the affairs of the White House Travel Office early in the Clintons’ first year in office, Bernstein reports that Hillary Clinton’s clumsy efforts to get “our people” (the President’s cousin, among others) in to replace the 30-year employees resulted in a deliberate effort by the White House to stonewall and obscure her role in the episode.
* On a trip to St. Louis to meet with the traveling Pope, Hillary intervenes in a discussion between the President and his trip director over whether to take his briefcase with him when leaving Air Force One. “You don’t need it. Leave it here. You always do that. Leave it. We have maybe five minutes of downtime. Just leave it.” Arriving in the city the President learns the Pope will be three hours late, and angrily orders a return to the plane so he can work. Hillary is overheard whispering, “[Y]our staff always does that. They never, ever serve you well.”
* Says Bernstein, quoting former Clinton White House aide Mark Fabiani: “When the New York Times threatened to run a front page story saying that she lied about having released all the Whitewater records there wasn’t ever a thought about saying ‘Well, she wasn’t in charge of releasing the records.’ Because she was in charge of it. She was the one that made the decision.” And as to the Travel Office scandal? Fabiani is quoted as saying “…she was at the center of that whole effort.”
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