With Joe Biden announcing it was too late for him to get into the Presidential campaign, her effective performances at last week’s debate and yesterday’s Benghazi hearing, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems the inevitable nominee of the Democratic Party—unless the ongoing FBI investigation leads to an indictment. Given the sour public mood and upside-down world of her would-be GOP opponents, her prospects for becoming President seem brighter than ever. Even public doubts of her honesty and trustworthiness haven’t diminished her lead in head-to-head matchups.
Clinton’s carefully prepared testimony at yesterday’s day-long Benghazi hearing showed her strength as a leader. Under rabid partisan grilling, punctuated by stunning rudeness and a tone reminiscent of the old House Un-American Activities Committee, she resisted any inclination to show contempt for her challengers or anger at their questions. She was, for the most part, calm, patient, fact-driven, nuanced and impressive, refusing to provide any damaging sound bites that could be easily used in negative campaign ads.
She still shows a tendency to parse her language, making one uneasy that we’ll never know the full story. But there have been eight investigations, and this most recent one turned up nothing new. Even some of the Republicans admitted that afterward. Not all questions were answered to a skeptic’s satisfaction. She’s not perfect, and the performance of the State Department when it came to security for diplomats in Benghazi or elsewhere in volatile areas of the world was seriously flawed. But she has taken ownership of the failure to provide adequate protection for the late Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three others who died with him in 2012 and said State has since made systemic reforms.
GOP defenders decry the partisan behavior of the Democrats on the special committee. They could hardly be expected to sit by silently as Republican chairman Trey Gowdy repeatedly attacked Clinton’s performance and character. California Democrat Adam Schiff pointed out the number of times the majority members had talked about Clinton coat holder Sid Blumenthal’s access to the former Secretary of State and how she looked to him for advice. Even if she fell short in explaining their complex relationship, it was a wasteful digression from the stated purpose of the hearing, and reinforced how politicized this whole process has been.
The venom spewed at Thursday’s hearing was as close to a McCarthy-like attack on a government official as we’ve seen in decades. Hillary was well prepared and presented a model of a tough leader, one who has to make decisions quickly, based on information available at the time, and who has to bring others on board to support that decision. In many situations, there is no right decision but making the best of a bad situation.
In some ways, that’s what this election may be all about. Given what the Republicans seem to be offering, Hillary might take comfort in the exhortation, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty; compare me to the alternative.”
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