Friday, March 28, 2008

The Bosnian Panopticon

Clinton's unforced, repeated errors in lionizing her 1996 trip to Bosnia were milestones, or better said, millstones in her Presidential campaign. It's no coincidence that old-line Democratic machine politicians (Richardson, Pelosi, Leahy) followed them by openly defecting and calling for her to end her run. Today's surprise endorsement by Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey, where Clinton still holds a 12-point lead in the polls, is one indicator of how damaging the fallout must be. While switching their allegiances, Richardson and Casey bore the relieved, euphoric looks of men who just reached the legal drinking age.

Hillary's fabrications were bizarre, banal political mistakes: so basic as to strain credulity. She was caught with video footage, yet continued to defend an unwinnable pretext. Now, let's imagine we are in front of cameras running for high office...would we repeat our whoppers 5 and 6 times verbatim, then stick by them as if there's no such thing as archival footage? 1996 is hardly too long-long ago and far-far away for insulation, and she should have expected people to check up on claims which were prima facie poetic. To knowingly make them at such great risk for a teensy upside, coming at a time when her campaign's position was improved, seems the political equivalent of insanity.

Or perhaps delusion. Maybe she really believed she was brought into a free-fire zone. Still, no military hierarchy on earth would ever put their President's wife in harm's way, simply to spare professional reputation. No reputations are more jealously guarded, and she may not have realized how profoundly her comments insulted the Tuzla base commander who hosted her and her daughter; one can easily imagine reactions of profanity and spittle-laced asperity, followed by marshaling the Army's considerable PR avoirdupois to set the record straight.

That's speculation. What is not speculation is that the Clintons are highly effective politicians with black belts in media management. Better than black belts, really--they're more like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-level adepts. The media didn't go after the elephants, the whales, the sequoias of previous scandal in the room throughout this whole election cycle. Any intentions to do so were masterfully construed as partisan low blows, personal attacks and not matters of record, off limits and beneath the standards of journalistic ethics. The strategy was brilliant and completely, mystifyingly successful. Even last week, Chelsea Clinton replied to a citizen's question about Monica Lewinsky with a blunt, "That's none of your business." And last weekend, Clinton advisors responded to a blog post by Obama's Iowa coordinator as "disgusting comments" and "gutter politics" for drawing a parallel to the same subject.

Hillary Clinton's Bosnia blunders, transparently false and clumsily self-serving, were like a very-best-of-CD gift set for a previously wrapped-up press. The newsies know Clintonian trustworthiness better than the public, and dodging imaginary snipers provided means to gain fresh purchase on the essence of their wrongness. Her every word was slam-dunk-debunked. It's a wonderful lens to view all the other indiscretions through, a way to boil the byzantine bits down into one digestible stew. The press doesn't have to return to the wearisome details of, oh, heck...there's a Clinton closet for every letter in the alphabet. Why bother going there, when here we've got Hill running across the hostile tarmac of her memory, a foreign policy resume padded with zig-zagging for her life?

Obviously, this has significantly strengthened the odds of an Obama victory; the new Pew Research poll has him up by 10 points, despite pronounced weakness among democratic social conservatives presumably ired by the Reverend Wright comments. (Of course, one in four of those respondents still think Obama is a muslim.) Net-net, if questioning Clintonian integrity is in season again, the campaign for the Democratic Nomination has entered an entirely new phase: denial. Calls for the Clintons to bow out have been made by the party establishment, and ignored.

While the calls aren't going to stop, the Clintons are not mere mortals; like the Bushes, they have "arrived," are cushioned and cosseted by personal reality-bubbles, so a concession appears neither likely nor soon. Rather, I suspect it's time to run up the "embattled fighter" theme, cue the inspirational music from 'Rocky,' and hit back like disgruntled royalty.

No comments: