The ‘Unusual’ Story Of Hillary Trying To Join The Marines

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Nov 13, 2015 2:40 PM
The ‘Unusual’ Story Of Hillary Trying To Join The Marines

This story has been circulating ever since the Ben Carson West Point fiasco, which saw Politico somewhat retract their piece on the subject; they changed the lede and headline, but gave no official editor’s note highlighting the correction. Now, we have this: Did Hillary attempt to join the Marines in the 1970s?

CNN’s Jeff Zeleny noted that this is an “unusual” story, given Clinton’s background working for anti-war Sen. Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern’s presidential campaigns. McGovern’s 1972 run tarnished the Democratic Party’s position on national security matters ever since Nixon slaughtered him in 1972. But some things just don’t add up:

As the U.S. Marine Corps turns 240 years old this week, Hillary Clinton dusted off an old story that has previously been met with skepticism: When the Yale-educated lawyer moved to Arkansas in 1975, she says she tried to join the Marines.

She laughed Tuesday, the day before Veterans Day, as she recalled being turned away by a recruiter.

"He looks at me and goes, 'Um, how old are you,'" Clinton said at an event in New Hampshire. "And I said, 'Well I am 26, I will be 27.' And he goes, 'Well, that is kind of old for us.' And then he says to me, and this is what gets me, 'Maybe the dogs will take you,' meaning the Army."

[…]

Clinton made the comments a breakfast with voters at a forum called the "Candidate Café," sponsored by WMUR-TV. It was not open to other reporters, but a clip of the event was posted on the station's website.

A Clinton spokesman declined to comment to CNN about further details on the incident.

Of course, they wouldn’t because if this turns out to be a sham–exploiting the military for political points isn’t necessarily the best public relations move. Yet, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was able to dodge the bullet when he was exposed for lying about serving in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler went through the details of this tale, and found that they are hazy at best. The gaps are so big that the Clinton campaign should provide more details on the case. Kessler brings us back to the origins, where Hillary, 17 months after becoming the first lady, tells this story at a Capitol Hill lunch honoring military women.

You’re too old, you can’t see and you’re a woman,” Mrs. Clinton said she was told. “Maybe the dogs would take you,” she recalled the recruiter saying. (Actually the military slang is “dogfaces.”)

“It was not a very encouraging conversation,” she said. “I decided maybe I’ll look for another way to serve my country.”

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd and then-Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser expressed skepticism of this anecdote at the time:

Dowd noted:

  • “At the time, Hillary Rodham was an up-and-coming legal star involved with an up-and-coming political star.”
  • “She had made a celebrated appearance in Life magazine as an anti-establishment commencement speaker at Wellesley College, where, as president of the student government, she had organized teach-ins on her opposition to the Vietnam War.”
  • “She was a Yale law school graduate who had worked on the anti-war Presidential campaigns of Eugene J. McCarthy and George McGovern.”
  • “Mrs. Clinton told friends that she had moved to Arkansas for only one reason: to be with Bill Clinton.”
  • The Clintons married on Oct. 11, 1975, in Fayetteville.

[…]

[Kornheiser noted:]

Last week, I was stunned to learn that in 1975 Hillary tried to enlist in the Marines. (Possibly she was looking for a few good men, as she was about to marry a man who was looking for a few good women.)

My first reaction was that it sounded like something that arose out of a drunken bar bet. You know, like when guys dare each other to do something stupid — say, take off their trousers, pull their underpants over their head and whistle the theme to “Gilligan’s Island” — except this must have been a group of female lawyers. Imagine it. A bar scene. Hillary Rodham Clinton-to-be says, “Yeah, well, if you’re so smart, I dare you to argue the pro-life position, that the state has the right to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.” And Camille O’Rourke-Lefkowitz responds, “Oh, yeah? Well, I dare you to shave your legs and join the Marines.”

Kessler added that Clinton’s friends said she was “looking into” joining the Marine Corps. There’s the angle that she possibly wanted to enter the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Two unnamed former Marine lawyers confirmed that, at the time, this branch of the military “desperately needed lawyers” and it would be insane for the Marines to reject Clinton if she did indeed inquire about enlisting.

There’s also the testing portion of this account, where the female faculty of the University of Arkansas School of Law, where Clinton taught in the 1970s, would test the careers, which were assumed to be not a realistic career path for women. The problem is that women have been in the Marine Corps since 1918:

By the height of the Vietnam war, there were about 2,700 women Marines served [sic.] both stateside and overseas,” according to the Women Marines Association. “By 1975, the Corps approved the assignment of women to all occupational fields except infantry, artillery, armor and pilot/air crew.”

In fact, when Clinton first told this story in 1994, a Marine spokesman felt compelled to issue this statement: “We won’t attempt to dispute the first lady’s recollection, but if she was ill-treated by a Marine recruiter in 1975, it certainly is unfortunate, unprofessional and a mistake we regret.”

Complicating matters is that in 2008, Bill Clinton told an audience that his future wife tried to join the Army. “I remember when we were young, right out of law school, she went down and tried to join the Army and they said ‘Your eyes are so bad, nobody will take you,'” he said.

Of course, this leaves open the possibility that she did try to join the “dogs” after the Marine Corps brush-off.

Kessler added that in 2007, then-New Republic writer Michael Crowley asked her about this incident, where she said dismissively, “I can’t tell you…you go look at that.” He also only offered two Pinocchios for this narrative since he cannot say it didn’t happen because two friends confirmed it was at least discussed. Nevertheless, “There are enough holes here that Clinton has an obligation to address the circumstances under which she approached the Marines, now that she had once again raised it in a campaign context.”

Clinton has embellished, no–flat out lied about some aspects of her foreign policy excursions, including the infamous “I landed in Bosnia under sniper fire” story, which was roundly debunked once video footage of her arriving in Tuzla, Bosnia under safe conditions.

This is yet another area where the Clinton campaign is leaving the press in the dark. With the email server, the campaign offered a false narrative, which quickly crumbled and soon became the story of the summer. This could be yet another instance, where Clinton’s distrust of the press could bungle a rather straightforward answer regarding her possible foray into the Marines. By avoiding answering the question, she plays right back into the detrimental narratives that plague her; that she’s got something to hide, it’s all politics 24/7, and she’s secretive. This will probably get rehashed back in the general, as will the email server and the dealings within the Clinton Foundation. For now, maybe Hillary is just marching forward, she’s got a commanding lead in the polls, she’s the prohibitive Democratic nominee, and there’s no reason to answer these questions right now, if ever.

Right now, Democratic voters feel she can bring real change to Washington (are they accounting for her political baggage), and will be a more effective leader than Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to a new NYT/ CBS News survey.

Maybe in Clintonland they know they have this thing locked up. They have more important matters to attend to concerning running mates, targeting likely swing voters, maximizing turnout for democratic voters, especially women, and sharpening their opposition research on the 2016 GOP field. Maybe they’re saying all of this Marine Corps nonsense can wait.

Last Note: Around 10 p.m. last night, CNN's Zeleny circled back and updated his story about G.I. Clinton, saying that this whole saga with the Marines could have been an "exercise in women's rights." Again, getting back to Kessler's notion about testing career paths that were not (at the time) geared towards women.  Ann Henry, who Kessler also cites in his analysis, is Zeleny's source as well. 

Should we be shocked? No.