Mark Bauerlein: In NPR interview, Clinton obtusely confused her fate and that of the country. This kind of thinking is her vulnerability
He says this is why Clinton's pledge that she won't rule out questioning election results amounts to nothing. She has no standing
Editor’s Note: Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University, senior editor of the journal First Things and author of “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future; Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Hillary Clinton’s latest allegations of Russian interference in the election gives the plot a personal spin.
In an NPR interview that aired this week, she told Terry Gross that in September 2016, the intelligence community had learned of a Russian “campaign of disinformation, a cyber campaign against my campaign, against me, and it meant to discredit me, defeat me if they could, and to help Trump.”
And later: “I think Comey cost me the election, and it was aided and abetted by Russia.” Even the sympathetic Gross had to offer that “some people are trying to figure out” how much Clinton’s charges are “about trying to defend our democracy” or “how much of it is just self-justification.”
And there we get to Clinton’s prime vulnerability, this obtuse confusion of herself and her country. She repeats it in direct answer to the question: “But I think they go hand in hand”– that is, her fate and the fate of the USA.
It’s like a lesson in early childhood that won’t get dislodged. What happens to her is always representative of something much bigger.
When Donald Trump hounded her in the second debate, she says, “he was Exhibit A of the remaining problems we have in making sure that women are not treated unfairly and with disrespect.”
The Citizens United case, which began with an anti-Clinton film, “was an effort against me which led – because there’s a Republican majority in the Supreme Court – to the worst decision.”
The old charge of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” alleged by the then-first lady in 1998, surfaces here once more when she claims, “And Terry, I have to say that the Republicans have been afraid of my husband and me for many years.”
There is just enough truth to those statements to let her believe it, but not enough for them to sound right in the mouth of someone who just a few months earlier was aiming to become the 45th president.
It’s an uncanny script, this Clinton modesty. She says that what happens to her isn’t really about her, but about the rest of us – even though she’s the lightning rod, the epicenter, the focus.
This is why Clinton’s blockbuster pledge that she will not rule out questioning the election results amounts to nothing. She has no standing to do so.
She has aligned her political identity so closely to the national interest that she cannot weigh in on matters that transcend politics, such as the integrity of our elections. One cannot imagine her sitting down with an astute journalist like David Frost, as Richard Nixon did, and producing a fascinating disquisition on her own errors.
People didn’t support Clinton because she is a civic leader. They liked her policies, that’s all – the standard liberal-progressive moves she would have made in office. But she’s not in office, she has no real political power, and so she’s irrelevant.
It’s a tragic outcome. If, after Trump’s triumph, Clinton had delivered a series of policy speeches on health care, entitlements, and foreign policy that did not have a whisper of politicking, she would have received exactly what she craves, a widespread opinion that, perhaps, she should be in the White House, not the other guy.
But to do that, she would have had to alter her character. She is stuck reliving the last months of 2016, scrambling to become the stateswoman she can never be, always hitting the false note. Her final admission to NPR, however, rings wholly true: her memory of sitting on the dais at the inauguration in January, listening to Trump rail at politicians like her and thinking this is, indeed, “a surreal experience.”