Political Hay

Ahoy the Entourage!

And shiver me timbers -- it's the crew from Hillaryland.

By 6.27.07

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How many professional political operatives can you name? I don't mean politicians or party bigwigs; I mean the people on their staffs. I'm not thinking of the Secretary of State or the Undersecretary for Lima Bean Inspection, but of the bureaucrats who control access to them, swimming like pilot fish near their big-mouthed masters.

If, like me, you're at or approaching the age when friends make jokes about being a "pillar of the community," then the names Erlichman and Haldeman probably ring a distant bell. G. Gordon Liddy has another familiar moniker. After that, it's a dry well until you get to Karl Rove, unless you're obsessed with the minutiae of government.

Political operatives tend not to seek the limelight, either because they regard any grand jury with the same loathing that vampires reportedly reserve for cloves of garlic, or because public exposure puts them off their game, as Lewis "Scooter" Libby could testify.

Why, then, did the Washington Post run a June 21 feature story by Lois Romano on the "Gatekeepers of Hillaryland? This was a fawning profile of the mostly-female people in a "closely-knit Praetorian Guard around Clinton that plots strategy, develops message, and clamps down on leaks."

If you suppose that the Watergate "plumbers" were never as zealous in their approach to leaks, you're right. Oddly, the "Hillaryland" label didn't come from WaPo editors, but from the group itself. The story is vague about how many inner-circle advisers Hillary actually has, but admits that it's more than a dozen. Moreover, they like that label, which tells some of us all we need to know about their boss's desire to remake America into her own personal theme park.

Having decided to green light a story that wandered away from its natural home among horoscopes and swimsuit-slimming tips in women's magazines, WaPo editors weren't shy about mixing their metaphors. Before settling on allusions to imperial Rome, they flirted with 17th-century France, in a subhead suggesting that the inhabitants of Hillaryland were, like the Three Musketeers, "all for one and one for all."

Near the end of the piece, past Tamera, Patti, Ann, Capricia, Neera, Huma, Evelyn, Maggie, Solis, and Mandy, three men are singled out as "naturalized citizens in Hillaryland." The tone of the story is so breathlessly self-parodying (communications director Howard Wolfson has been "a Hillaryland member since 1999") that one wonders whether these men have helium-infused voices and letters of introduction from the Lollipop Guild. Wrong land? My mistake. But an easy one to make.

Which brings us back to the question of why these staffers ever made it to page A01 in the first place. With some newspapers and some campaigns, this profile is the kind of thing that would fill the news hole on a slow day. But Hillary Clinton's campaign is invariably described as a well-oiled and impressively disciplined machine, which means several people in it had to sign off on talking to the Washington Post before anyone would return a reporter's phone call. Hillary and her crew wanted this story out there, and I suspect it's because they wanted to scare Democratic rivals with the size and experience of their organization.

Another thing the story does, however, is prove that Bay Buchanan was right. In her recent book, The Extreme Makeover of Hillary (Rodham) Clinton, Ms. Buchanan describes the junior senator from New York as a bright and ruthlessly ambitious student handicapped by a lifelong lack of political vision, for which she compensates by seeking advice from as many trusted people as she can find. Buchanan backs that assertion by pointing to Hillary's commencement address to the Wellesley College graduating class of 1969, and to the doomed health care reform campaign she spearheaded in 1993 and 1994. Both efforts foundered in part because Hillary indulged in her mania for consultation, missing (again) the distinction between management and leadership.

Assuming the sketch of Hillaryland that the Washington Post gave us last week is accurate, it confirms Buchanan's hypothesis. Moreover, any politician with as many handlers as Hillary has puts a new and disquieting spin on "it takes a village."

Village, hell. Cronyism is an art form in Washington, but Bill Clinton's wife collects gurus the way some other women collect shoes. There are more people on the payroll in Hillaryland than there were in the Bolivian army detachment that went after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. If the size of a celebrity's entourage is inversely proportional to his or her sense of self-worth, then you can be sure that Hillary Clinton has no business even aspiring to a position where she controls missile launch codes and can nominate the next Justice of the Supreme Court.

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About the Author

Patrick O'Hannigan is a writer in North Carolina.