The Corner

The Ironic Mrs. Clinton

I’ve been saying this for a while now, but Hillary Clinton’s sudden criticism of Obama’s foreign policy — when she was secretary of state no less — is a perfect example of how everything she says is assumed to be agenda-driven. Here’s how I put it last June:

Clinton may be president one day, but she’s already presidential in one sense: Her statements are never really taken at face value. Every utterance is examined for its ironic content and parsed like the rough draft of ad copy. What will people take away from this? What message is she sending to her fans? What spin is she offering to the media? What bait is she giving her enemies? How true is it?

Does anyone, on the left or right, think Hillary Clinton chose this moment to break from the old narrative of a collaborative relationship with the president to this new version where she was the brave, albeit unsuccessful, maverick inside a blundering foreign-policy shop for any reason other than personal self-interest? Oh, it may be that what she is saying is true, or largely true, or merely true enough to sell the spin. But the point is that veracity is a secondary consideration. Moreover, the timing is laughably suspect.

Nothing Clinton does or says is free from this kind of skepticism. Indeed, cynicism is the first instinct. For instance, here’s the Washington Post headline on Juliet Eilperin’s story: ”Clinton Bluntly Criticizes Obama’s Foreign Policy.” The subhead? “Potential ‘16 hopeful seeks distance from the president she served.” And here’s the lead:

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton has not yet said whether she will pursue the presidency. But for a candidate-in-waiting, she is clearly carving out a foreign policy distinct from the man she used to serve.

Now, of course, every presidential contender is judged through similar prisms. But Clinton is something different. She’s like an avatar of herself. The homunculus inside is playing a video game called politics and Hillary’s every move is judged as a tactical or strategic maneuver. Nobody (at least nobody who follows politics), fan or foe, can see her as anything other than a political projection, an amalgam of ambitions (her own, her husband’s, her fans’). In the long run, I still believe this will be her undoing. Because at this moment in our politics authenticity is the most vital commodity on the left and the right, particularly populist authenticity. That is something Hillary hasn’t learned to fake yet.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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