EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (including some intrepid Indiana Jones of the future who will one day stumble on the last missing piece of the “Clintonemail” server at the bottom of a Chilean volcano, and after using technology no one can dream of today, find this e-mail amongst all of the others, including thousands upon thousands of credit-card renewal notices and similar data ephemera, from AshleyMadison.com to [email protected]),
One of my favorite movie clichés is the bit where the old pros — and maybe one eager rookie — get together for one last job. I’m thinking of movies like The Magnificent Seven, or The Return of the Magnificent Seven, or the first five minutes of the under-appreciated Extreme Prejudice. The collection of experts at the beginning of The Andromeda Strain is a great variant of the genre and so is the whole “There’s an Animal in Trouble” theme song from the Wonderpets and the first half of The Blues Brothers. But perhaps more apt would be the hunt for, or reuniting of, veteran grifters for a long con, like in The Sting or the Ocean’s Eleven franchise.
Anyway, the ChappaDataQuitIt or E-PotDome story (okay, we’re still looking for a better nickname) reminds me of those kinds of movies. The silent whistle has been blown. The sleepers activated. The old timers have been notified. I like to imagine Lanny Davis right in the middle of a meeting with an African dictator when, suddenly, his assistant hands him a note. All it reads is “Cankles Is Down.” Lanny abruptly terminates the meeting, pushes back a briefcase full of krugerrands, and races to some hellish Third World airport, telling his aide, “Let the Redskins know they’re on their own. The Clintons need me.”
David Brock slinks out of his leather onesie and races to his command center, bustling with Dorito-dust frosted 20-somethings at computer terminals. “This is a level-one-alpha scenario. Cancel all leave. Turn off all X-boxes . . .”
Sidney Blumenthal, consciously dressed like that French guy in The Matrix, leaves his table-for-one, and heads home to sacrifice some creatures to Baal in preparation.
They’re all coming home.
Save for one. Poor Geraldo Rivera, locked in a reinforced steel cage deep in the bowels of News Corp, is pacing his cell like a vampire’s familiar ordered to return to his master but unable to. The sounds of his howling, can be heard, ever so faintly, in the background during the O’Reilly Factor. Poor Greg Gutfeld has been tasked with keeping him locked up and is using his cattle prod a bit more than necessary . . .
The fact that Team Clinton is relying on the old rat squad once again is vastly more significant than most commentators have suggested. Yes, yes, it’s bad politics. A candidate looking to offer a fresh face forward, figuratively speaking, has no choice but to keep his or her own face (John Kerry notwithstanding). But she surely has plenty of options for who she picks to represent her in public. Mrs. Clinton has millions and millions of dollars at her disposal. She has people placed at the highest reaches of the government and the media. There are over 200 people working, formally or informally, for her as policy advisors already. And yet she chooses to get the old band back together instead.
Why? There are many possible answers, but the only plausible one is that a Clinton only trusts Clinton loyalists. This fits everything we know about the Clintons. And it speaks volumes about the thickness of her bubble.
It’s Hillary All the Way Down
But it also speaks even louder about what kind of president she would be. If you want to know what Hillary Clinton would be like as president, you’re seeing it right now. There is no other Hillary. This is her.This was the point of my LA Times column on Tuesday (which I had to tear up and rewrite for syndication after her press conference). The pathetic parsing and dishonest dissembling (excuse the redundancy, I was going for alliteration), on display in her U.N. press conference is exactly what you’d see from Madame President. For 30 years, Hillary Clinton has been defensive bordering on paranoia (with occasional forays far over the border). For 30 years, Hillary Clinton has responded to every challenge — not just every scandal, but every challenge (like HillaryCare) — by convening huge task forces of loyalists. For 30 years, she’s hidden from making tough decisions until events forced her to make them. For 30 years she’s relied on the counsel of Wormtongues like Sidney Blumenthal.
Eventually, Clinton will emerge to answer questions about her private email system and her alleged failure to provide relevant documents to Congress. How forthcoming she’ll be, and on what timetable, depends on how big a mess she’s in.
But let’s assume there are no damning emails lurking anyplace where they can still be found. Or even give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she did nothing wrong. Her utterly typical response so far still raises questions that are more interesting than “Where’s Hillary?”
Is this how she would run her presidency? Do we want a president whose first response to trouble is to retreat to her bunker?
Hillary wants Americans to think that a Clinton Restoration will bring back the economy and global peace of the 1990s. (Leave aside the poltroonish notion that electing her would bend the universe back two decades.) So the last thing Hillary Clinton needs at this stage is to telegraph to the world that a Clinton Restoration will also restore the metaphysical tackiness that came with their rule. And yet that is exactly what she’s doing, not merely by deploying her minions but by once again donning the blouse of victimhood and exercising the same legalistic prevarications that made “parsing” a household word in the 1990s.
How to Listen to a Clinton
Oh, one quick point about that press conference, and really all statements by the Clintons. This is really just a tip for the young’ns who didn’t live through the Clinton era. When listening to a Clinton, the trick is to listen to what they’re not saying. Bill Clinton is, naturally, the master of such things. Listening to him tell the truth is like listening to one hand clapping. Hillary has no natural gifts for lying, but she has studied at the feet of the master for most of her adult life. The result is that she can play the notes well enough, but she can’t quite find the magic in the music.
So at her press conference this week, she said, “I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail. There is no classified material.”
She doesn’t say whether she received any classified material. She then says, “There is no classified material.” As A. B. Stoddard noted on Special Report last night, “is” is the Clinton’s favorite verb. Bill breathed new life into it and she’s keeping the flame alive.
Then Hillary said:
In going through the e-mails, there were over 60,000 in total, sent and received. About half were work-related and went to the State Department and about half were personal that were not in any way related to my work. I had no reason to save them, but that was my decision because the federal guidelines are clear and the State Department request was clear.
She goes on in this vein. “I didn’t see any reason to keep them.” And so on.
This makes it sound like in the natural course of events her e-mails would just go away. “I chose not to keep all those wire hangers when I moved.” “Let’s not save the rest of this pizza because we’re going on vacation tomorrow. Just throw it out.”
But, as Jack Shafer notes, what Hillary really means when she says she didn’t “keep” the e-mails is, “I ordered my staff to delete the e-mails.” If you say “didn’t keep,” it sounds innocent. If you say, “I destroyed them,” it sounds Nixonian.
Also left out is the manner in which she erased them. She makes it sound like it was all junk about yoga routines and wedding planning. But even she doesn’t know that. Clinton’s team did keyword searches for official e-mails, culled those out of the pile, and then simply destroyed the rest. Such searches, I am told, do not search file attachments. This is the electronic-records equivalent of grabbing your “official” payroll records and then pouring gasoline on all of your off-book records and throwing a match on the floor as you walk out.
In fact, I’m kind of amazed that Hillary Clinton didn’t ask Al Sharpton for some “IT help.” After all, it’s a short trip from Harlem to Chappaqua, even with the back of your Escalade loaded with cans of gasoline.
The Perils of Identity Politics
In case you hadn’t noticed, Mrs. Clinton plans on running for president with a bold and exciting platform of not having male genitalia. She’s far more open about this agenda than Barack Obama was about his — usually unstated — vow to be the first black president of the United States.
It’s not a terrible strategy, necessarily, though I think it has more flaws than have been widely discussed. We’ll leave those flaws for a future date. (That’s the great advantage of the Clintons — if you’ve got a criticism to make about them, they’ll always provide you with an opportunity down the road to make it again. It’s a bit like having a surface-to-air missile system you really wanted to use against Godzilla; there’s always another Godzilla attack coming.)
Here’s the problem. No human being is a category of person. Categories are abstractions instantiated in our minds that we use to organize experiences. Don’t take my word for it, just ask Aristotle.
Yes, all human beings fall into various categories of people. But those categories don’t tell you all that much about the people within them. Imagine you own an auto-repair business. You need to hire a new mechanic. One day a guy named Todd shows up and applies for the position. Todd just happens to be a seven-foot-tall, gay, left-handed, Muslim Asian-American with a unibrow and a mild form of Tourette’s syndrome. In his off hours he’s a big fan of anarcho-capitalist short stories, but he votes for the Green Party in every election. In short, Todd’s an interesting guy. He’s also a fantastic mechanic. And once you can get past the fact that he occasionally shouts “Your mother sews socks that smell”* and “Allahu akbar! This muffler is a mess!” you realize he’s a huge asset to your business.
Then one day Todd tells you that he’s going to quit because he wants to help his boyfriend Chad open a homoerotic necrophilia-themed nightclub in Miami called “Hanging Chad’s.” Now you need a new mechanic. Odds are that when you post the job listing at Monster.com or wherever, you won’t list any of those things as requirements. “Seeking Very Tall Gay Muslim Who Likes Randian Fan Fiction, Voted for Nader, and Who Shouts Profanity at Awkward Moments to Fix Cars. Must Have Unibrow and Supply Own Set of Left-Handed Tools”: This is not the best way to attract the best mechanic.
In other words, categories are interesting, even important, but they don’t tell you as much about a person as some claim.
It’s perfectly fine to want a woman to be president of the United States. All things being equal, I guess I might prefer it, too. But the question before the country isn’t, “Should we elect a category?” It’s, “Should we elect Hillary Clinton?” And these are wildly different questions. She’d “accomplish” being the first female president in the first second of her presidency. She’d then be Hillary Clinton for the next 126 million seconds of her presidency (Someone will check my math, I’m sure).
When someone asks, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a female president?” the correct answer, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to be sure, is “Yes.”
When asked, “Wouldn’t it be great to have Hillary Clinton as president?” The correct answer, again with varying degrees of enthusiasm, is “Oh, dear God, no. No, no, no. No.”
What Hillary Clinton is trying to do is to make these questions synonymous. If you’re against having Hillary Clinton as president, you’re against having a woman president. It was a game that Barack Obama played with some sophistication. The “Ready for Hillary” crowd is about as subtle as a case of the clap.
Which brings me back to where I started. The thrill of having a woman president — even if you’re the kind of person who gets thrilled by such things — will be temporary, at least for most of us. The tedious, grating ache, that another President Clinton would generate will last a lot longer. Hillary Clinton wants people to think voting for her will deliver something new, fresh, and exciting. What this utterly typical PR fiasco shows is that what they’ll actually get is familiar, tired, pathetic, dishonest, and embarrassing.
Various & Sundry
If you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t been around much at NRO or on Twitter the last week or so. That’s partly because I was travelling, and partly because I’ve been a wreck. Last week, I slipped on some ice on the front steps of my house. We have these slate stairs leading to my front door and I came down with all of my weight on my back right ribs right on the sharp edge of the stairs. Even though I was in a winter coat it was basically like taking a cleaver to a rack of ribs. It messed me up pretty bad. Every cough or sneeze feels like I’m tearing a muscle in half, which is pretty inconvenient since I’m getting over a cold. Last week I was taking Oxycodone and cold medicine, which sounds like the greatest party ever down at the trailer park. But it’s not so great for giving speeches, writing stuff, or perambulating dingos.
Speaking of dingos, Zoë has her first session with a dog trainer this weekend. I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, we’re taking it easy.
Speaking of taking it easy, I will be on vacation starting next week. I don’t know if I will be writing a G-File though.
Speaking of drugs, my conversation with Bill Bennett on his new book about pot legalization will be on C-SPAN this weekend.
My column from yesterday is on Jeb Bush. So far it seems to please no one. Jeb fans hate it for obvious reasons. Jeb-haters hate it because it’s too gentle on Jeb. All I can say to the fans is that you should want someone pointing these things out now while there’s time for him to take such concerns into account. As for the Jeb-haters, I think criticisms that aren’t grounded in simple animosity have more impact. Also, I don’t hate Jeb, so I don’t think I should pretend otherwise just to please those who do.
*Oh so, here’s the footnote for that asterisk after “Your mother sews socks that smell!” Saturday Night Live did a great parody of The Exorcist like 30 years ago. Laraine Newman played the Linda Blair role, and instead of shouting the nasty line from the movie (which, out of common decency, never mind respect for spam filters, I will not repeat) they changed it to “Your mother sews socks that smell.” The funny thing is I always remembered it as “Your mother shucks socks and tells.” But you get the picture. My favorite reediting of a profane line for broadcast TV, by the way, is in reruns of Scarface when Tony Montana says, “Manny, this town’s just a great big chicken waiting to get plucked!”
Speaking of funny lines. Here’s a quiz I liked: “North Korean Slogan or TED Talk Sound Bite?
Speaking of North Korea, did you see how the Norks described the horrific slashing of our ambassador last week? They called it a “Knife Baptism of Justice.”
By the way, did you lose a cat?