The late Christopher Hitchens was one of Hillary Clinton’s most bullish critics. When Clinton was nominated to be secretary of state, he noted a chasm of opinion: “It still divides us,” he said on Hardball, “as between those of us who think that a job must be found for Hillary Clinton, that the country would be somehow disgraced if she wasn’t in an important position, and those of us who could do without her.”
Hitchens’ main concern was that Clinton would use her leverage as secretary of state to benefit foreign friends and cronies. He was vindicated the next year when James Riady, the Indonesian businessman who’d been barred from the United States for illegal contributions to Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, mysteriously obtained a waiver and returned to Arkansas. Say what you will about the Clintons, they don’t waste any time.
But Hitchens’ first point, that fealty to Hillary would divide us, was also prescient. That divide still exists today, albeit in a different form. In one camp are those who believe that Hillary should be judged on her merits and held accountable when necessary. In the other are those who admire her to the point of deification, who believe her critics are beneath her, and who scramble the fighter jets every time someone gives her a sour look.
After more than 20 years in the public eye, Clinton still has one of the most dedicated fan bases in American politics. And after she testified on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, they started fawning.
Clinton was “professional and authoritative for hours in the witness chair,” declared the New York Times. She “stood up to the raging bulls with grace and fire of her own,” gushed Joan Walsh. She “served up a potent brew of righteous outrage,” breathed Dana Milbank.
She was “steely but sometimes emotional” who began “with restraint” before she “choked up.” But her “anger boiled over” when she was questioned by the “rookie” and “intellectually underwhelming” Sen. Ron Johnson, along with other “unimpressive” critics who “don’t quite measure up to her and never will.” They like “nothing more than beating a dead horse” and revealed a “stature gap between Clinton and these possible 2016 rivals.”
Mercifully, Clinton “disarmed her critics,” including Sen. Rand Paul who “wasn’t intimidating but funny” and was “not worth wasting her breath.” She wore a “heavy green jacket, dark pants, and thick jacket.” At one point, she “wav[ed] her index finger.”
Oh, and her questioners were “angry men.” Angry white men, in fact. That alone should disqualify them from criticizing her.
Reading those quotes, it’s hard to escape the feeling of being vacuumed through a black hole into another solar system. Were these people watching the same hearing? Was another Hillary Clinton testifying before another Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday? Why are the walls starting to pulse and breathe?
Clinton was there to answer questions about an attack that left four Americans dead, embarrassed the United States, resulted in the dissemination of false information, destroyed the life of a now-imprisoned filmmaker, involved a suspicious cover-up of information, and called into question the Obama Administration’s ability to respond to foreign attacks.
She offered no answers, dodged questions, and blamed others. She claimed ignorance over cables from one of the most important ambassadors in the Middle East. She contradicted her own assistant secretary of state in blaming Republicans for security cuts. She stammered over America’s role in shipping weapons from Turkey to Libya. And when asked about the cause of the deadly attack, she shouted, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
It was a shameless and unenlightening performance. And yet the press is obsessing over her theatrics and wardrobe choices. Anyone who disagrees is just, to dust off the 1990s term, a Clinton hater.
In fact, the opposite is true. Clinton’s Republican critics spent untold hours praising her. Sen. Marco Rubio was uncharacteristically cautious. Sen. John McCain, despite seeming angry, barreled through his questions and allowed Hillary to ignore them. There was no outbreak of Clinton hatred at the hearings. Instead there were skeptics trying, often feebly, to get answers.
But there was an outbreak of Clinton love among her supporters. What mattered wasn’t her substance or honesty, but the fact that she looked awesome. Her fans never seemed to consider that this attack was a failure of government and it was her responsibility to provide answers.
Then again, there’s a lot her fans never seem to consider. From Hillary lying about being attacked by snipers in Bosnia, to justifying remaining in the 2008 race by citing Bobby Kennedy’s assassination; from her involvement in her husband’s despicable pardon of Marc Rich and commutation of Puerto Rican terrorists, to her central role in Travelgate, commodities trading, and the numerous other scandals of the 1990s: none of it ever makes a dent in the Hillary love-fest. Her acolytes are unshakeable.
A colleague and I were talking about the Kennedys the other day, and we were both pondering how a political family with so many moral failings still had such star-struck fans. Hillary benefits from a similar phenomenon. Her fan club is smaller than the Kennedys, and more centralized in Washington. But it’s just as devout, and just as impervious to inconvenient facts.
It’s unhealthy to lionize any politician. But the Hillary love has become a matter of faith, and it’s time for her admirers to shake the spell. She needs to answer questions about Benghazi and her Republican critics have every right to hold her accountable.