WASHINGTON — I have been following Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first foreign policy jaunt with my customary discernment in matters regarding the Clintons. Frankly I am very uncomfortable with her title, secretary of state. She termed her Asian trip a “listening tour.” Does that bring back memories? She met with foreign leaders but she commanded more attention for meeting with “giggly” students on campus and appearing on an Indonesian variety show called “Awesome.” There she discoursed on the pop culture of teenagers but demurred when asked to sing. She mugged for the paparazzi, glad-handed crowds and explained her informality as “a way that is not traditional, not confined by the ministerial greeting and the staged handshake photo.”
So after watching this trivialization of statecraft, I shall continue to think of the former senator from New York not as Secretary of State Clinton but as candidate Clinton. Not surprisingly, candidate Clinton has brought to the State Department the most politically seasoned staff ever. As she campaigned in Asia, she was accompanied by at least two of her longtime political operatives. One is Huma Abedin, from candidate Clinton’s days on the Hill. Abedin carries the title “senior adviser.” What she knows about foreign policy remains a mystery, but she knows the Clinton political operation. On this trip, according to the Washington Post, Abedin “silently will hand Clinton a glass of water when her voice rasps during a briefing.” Another veteran Clintonista on the trip has been Kiki McLean, a former press aide to Bill Clinton in his days as governor.
There are more Clintonistas joining candidate Clinton at the State Department, which suggests there will be friction ahead between her political operatives and diplomats and foreign policy specialists who are supposed to be untainted by politics. Candidate Clinton is bringing as her chief of staff Cheryl Mills, the Clinton loyalist who as White House lawyer in 1999 spoke ardently on the House floor against the Boy President’s impeachment. Philippe Reines, press secretary for Hillary on the Hill, will play that role at State. The candidate is also bringing along Lissa Muscatine, her speechwriter from yesteryear, and scheduler Lona Valmoro. Even the Clintons’ old aide Maggie Williams is working for Hillary, though perhaps not this week. Socks, the White House cat, has passed away. Like the Clintons’ famous dog, Buddy, the expiry took place while the Clintons were on the road. Doubtless it is only a matter of time before the Clintons’ loyal factotum Sidney Blumenthal moves into a State Department office and talk of conspiracies against the candidate begins — how about a “Vast State Department Conspiracy”?
Another reason it is difficult for me to take Hillary seriously as the nation’s top diplomat is that she is bringing to this high cabinet post, the incongruous girlishness that she always brings to public life. There is nothing new about a woman secretary of state. The post has been held by Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. Neither displayed a hint of girlishness. Neither continued Hillary’s adolescent competition of the boys against the girls.
In Asia candidate Clinton, according to the New York Times, answered questions from a “giggly” Korean girl about “how she knew she had fallen in love with her husband.” As aforementioned she talked in Indonesia about her love of rock and roll, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (she is 61 years old and apparently locked in a time warp, with no development in her musical tastes for forty years). In Tokyo, the Times reports, a “nervous young woman” asked candidate Clinton how she might “become as strong as she [Candidate Clinton] was.” Hillary responded: “Well, I played a lot of baseball and I played with a lot of boys.” Can you imagine Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, say while dealing with China, being asked how he knew he had fallen in love with his beautiful wife Nancy? Can you imagine Secretary Kissinger explaining the strength of his personality by telling a Japanese youth, “Well, I played a lot of baseball, and I played with a lot of girls”?
Throughout her public life Hillary Clinton has proved to be a formidable figure not because of her intelligence and certainly not because of her high moral character. She has been propelled to the heights of public life because she is an exhibitionist. Many of our public figures are. There is very little in their lives that is too personal for them to publicize and to exploit in seeking attention. This is one of the reasons our public leaders are so mediocre. They are celebrities.