One of the first, and perhaps most stinging, critiques of Hillary Clinton’s book tour came from Game Change co-authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, with Halperin lamenting, “I don’t understand writing a book of that length without a message,” and Heilemann calling the book “mush.”
We shouldn’t expect much more than mush from Hillary Clinton between now and November 2016. If she’s truly pressed for a theme, expect nothing meatier than “It’s time for a woman.”
For one of the most controversial figures in American politics for the past two decades, Hillary Clinton offers strikingly bland rhetoric and proposals, making her memoir title Hard Choices ironic.
For better or worse, Hillary Clinton will not be pledging, several days before Election Day, to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” Whatever instinct she had to overturn the applecart burned away in the backlash to Hillarycare in 1994. From her husband’s 1996 reelection campaign to her 2000 Senate campaign to her 2008 presidential campaign, her hard edges were sanded off, and almost every one of her words and proposals has been carefully chosen to maximize appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
No doubt the woman is a progressive liberal and would push American policy in a leftward direction. And from time to time, her temper shows, and a glimpse of the old claws can be seen. But she’s undoubtedly a comfortable creature of the establishment now. She speaks at $200,000 a pop to Goldman Sachs and scoffs at Occupy Wall Street. She is the Democratic party’s establishment, queen of the Acela class, perfectly at home with corporate executives as long as they’ve donated to the right party. She will not seek the presidency to change the way Washington operates because the way Washington operates has been quite good to her.
Her town hall on CNN last Thursday, hosted by Christiane Amanpour, was a master class on speaking extemporaneously for an hour and appearing to answer questions about the toughest issues of the day without actually saying anything someone could disagree with.
Amanpour and the questions from the audience began with the worsening chaos in Iraq. Hillary responded, “I think it’s imperative that the government of Iraq, currently led by Maliki, be much more inclusive, much more willing to share power, involve all the different segments of Iraq.”
Indeed, it would be great if Maliki were that kind of leader or there was any indication he wanted to govern in that way. But at this point, there’s not much reason to think he’s capable of that.
Perhaps sensing that her initial answer sounded more like wishing than offering a sense of an appropriate U.S. response, Hillary added, “If Maliki is not the kind of leader who can do that, then the Iraqi people need to think seriously about the kind of leader they need to try to unite Iraqis against what is a terrible, imminent threat from these most extreme terrorists.”
Think seriously, Iraqi people!
Earlier this week, her successor as secretary of state, John Kerry, continued his habit of altering U.S. policy by speaking off the cuff, suggesting the U.S. could cooperate militarily with Iran against ISIS. Hillary’s response to working with Iran:
“When it comes to third parties, whether they be Iran or any of the other countries in the region, that has to also be carefully thought through.”
Think through carefully, U.S. policymakers!
On immigration, she pronounced, “The horror of a father or a mother going to work and being picked up and immediately whisked away and children coming home from school to an empty house and nobody can say where their mother or father is, that is just not who we are as Americans.”
She boldly staked out a position opposing child abandonment as a consequence of deportation policy.
Pressed about the waves of unattended children crossing the U.S. southern border, and what is to be done with those children, Clinton answered, “Well, they should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are, because there are concerns whether all of them should be sent back. But I think all of them who can be should be reunited with their families. And just as Vice President Biden is arguing today in Central America, we’ve got to do more.”
Stop doing less, America!
When a questioner tried to follow up on her tense exchange with NPR’s Terry Gross, who was attempting to determine precisely when Hillary’s view on gay marriage shifted, Clinton responded with rhetoric one step removed from a Hallmark card:
“In large measure, based on the experiences that I had with so many people who I knew and cared about, and it really became very clear to me that if we’re going to support marriage in our country, it should be available to everyone regardless of who they love and that this marriage equality issue is a great human-rights issue.”
“I have to say I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes. I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet, although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances.”
Got that, people in extreme medical conditions? Only under appropriate circumstances!
Then the topic shifted to gun violence.
“I think as a teacher or really any parent, what’s been happening with these school shootings should cause everybody to just think hard.”
Think hard, everybody!
“I believe that we need a more thoughtful conversation. We cannot let a minority of people — and that’s what it is, it is a minority of people — hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.”
Perhaps the most intriguing comment Clinton made was the suggestion that a viewpoint can terrorize the majority of people.
Hillary Clinton also said, “We’re going to have to do a better job protecting the vast majority of our citizens, including our children, from that very, very, very small group that is unfortunately prone to violence and now with automatic weapons can wreak so much more violence than they ever could have before,” either misspeaking or not understanding that automatic weapons are already illegal.
Asked about whether Congress should mandate that employers provide paid maternity leave, Hillary punted:
“Some local communities are passing paid-leave provisions. New York just did so. And I support trying to figure out how we’re going to do more to give families that peace of mind and the — the guarantee they’re not going to either lose their job or their income, while they try to fulfill the most human of responsibilities. So, we need to look to see how we make that work, what the conditions would be, but it’s unfinished business, in my view.”
This is not the rhetoric of sweeping change or the thinking of a potential president who intends to drastically alter the way government does business.
In a time of peace and prosperity, a status-quo candidate can be quite appealing. The problem is this:
Americans are pessimistic about the direction of the country, and they have been for years. Despite her currently rosy poll numbers, one has to wonder how many Americans will be able to summon enthusiasm for a president who represents a more cautious version of the current leadership.
A President Hillary Clinton will not clean out the Augean Stables of K Street, nor overhaul our Necronomicon of a federal tax code, nor raise hell about the culture of complacency that dominates so many corners of the federal bureaucracy. There’s little or no reason to think that she would seriously antagonize the teachers’ unions who steadfastly protect the status quo in the U.S. education system, tackle the hard choices on entitlement reform that have been kicked down the road for decades, or force Americans to seriously confront what skills they’ll need to compete in the global economy.
The Hillary Clinton presidency would be more of the same . . . with perhaps fewer rounds of golf.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO and is the author of The Weed Agency.