If there is one law of politics the Clintons know better than anyone, it is the power of perception. Their masterful ability to twist, bend, and manipulate the truth -- even something as basic as the word “is” -- has afforded America’s Power Couple a Teflon-like resistance to scandal and corruption that is the envy of less savvy politicos. In Clinton World --where both public and professional personas follow a meticulously crafted storyline that has been thoroughly polled and vetted -- nothing is left unscripted; least of all, Hillary’s political swan song.
The location of New York’s tiny Roosevelt Island for Hillary’s first major rally of her 2016 presidential campaign, offers a small taste of how heavily the Clinton handbook will play into her campaign. Not to be interrupted by the riff-raff of New York City, limited access to “Hillary Island” allowed for total attendance control; described by The Daily Beast as a “pleasant little police state.” The island’s namesake, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and its Four Freedoms Park provided the perfect backdrop for Hillary’s reinvention from cloistered liberal elitist to American populist hero.
If successful, the transmogrification of one of the Washington Establishment’s most entrenched fixtures into a working class hero, will be the Clinton PR machine’s magnum opus. However, even it faces the limitations of how much the public is willing to swallow in order to believe such a contrived narrative. In the end, Hillary’s greatest hurdle to the White House may prove to be Clinton herself. Indeed, “Hillary vs. Hillary” may prove just as exciting a bout as the likely Main Event between her and the GOP nominee.
Unlike Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary does not have the benefit of a clean slate when it comes to public service on the national stage. Whereas Obama could skate by on superficial campaign promises, Hillary’s new populist rhetoric clearly clashes with a very public legacy both in office and out, that is decidedly Establishment in nature.
In fact, little about the Clintons’ posh lifestyle, and their phobia of anything outside their neatly manicured sphere of influence, demonstrates any genuine connection with “the people” Hillary now champions. If a campaign could be run on clever Internet memes and social media alone, she would prefer such managed, strategic “interactions” to the unpredictability of public appearances. Such a framework reduces the risk of uncomfortable outbursts from a clearly out-of-practice Clinton, like that in New Hampshire recently when she barked at an adoring fan to get to the “back of the line” when he asked for an autograph.
Even Hillary’s campaign speech on Saturday, light as it was on substance, illustrated how out-of-touch she is with her own policies as a “leader.” Not wanting to waste an opportunity to slam the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, Hillary called for constitutional action to “stop the endless flow of secret, unaccountable money,” which she claims is “corrupting our political process.” Never mind that Hillary is facing serious ethical questions about her own “endless flow of secret, unaccountable” foreign money, totaling in the tens of millions of dollars into the coffers of the Clinton Foundation, even as she negotiated with those very countries as Secretary of State.
Hillary also remains stubbornly tone deaf to the criticism of calling for greater transparency, when, as Secretary of State, she intentionally ignored such laws. To the average citizen, who expects government officials to be accountable to the law, such hypocrisy is obvious; in Clinton World, Hillary is the victim.
Instead of responding in a manner reflective of a true People’s Champion, Hillary treated the e-mail scandal as a joke; a “distraction” orchestrated by her enemies. For those who have followed the Clintons over the years, it was simply another vintage-Clinton maneuver; one which National Journal writer and long-time Clinton reporter Ron Fournier called the “predictable, paint-by-numbers response from the Bill and Hillary Clinton political operation” -- deny, deflect, and demean.
The next 16 months for Team Hillary will be less about any substantive plans for rescuing America from the abyss; and more about a continuous reeducation campaign to persuade voters she is not the out-of-touch elitist from Chappaqua who has not driven a car in 20 years, but instead, the hip, pantsuit-wearing grandma ready to carry the presidential banner for all American women into the Oval Office.
There is an Aesop’s Fable that comes to mind here. A farmer finds a viper freezing in the snow and places it in his shirt to save it from dying. Revived by the warmth, the viper resorts to its true nature, turning on its benefactor with a fatal bite. “Oh!” cries the farmer, “I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel.” Some may genuinely buy into Hillary’s conversion fairytale, and others may feel she deserves the White House as a matter of Manifest Destiny. But the essence of the Clinton fable is well-established and no amount of pity, or forced perception, will change the inevitability of corruption and ethical misconduct to come with another Clinton in the White House. They cannot help it. It is their nature. Shame on us if we succumb to its siren song.