Hillary’s Kabuki Theatre

 

Roy:          Swear to God, Doc, this guy is *not* who you think he is.

Clint:        It’s a well-known fact that if a camera’s not on him, he treats old people and children like dirt.

Earl:         And dogs.

Roy:          Yeah, don’t forget the dogs.

        —Kevin Costner as Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy, Lou Myers as Clint, and Dennis Burkley as Earl in Tin Cup

 

It seems that former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a new book out titled Hard Choices, a supposed memoir of her time in the State Department.

How convenient.

Critics have complained that there’s nothing new there, and one suspects that’s true when you note that even the title is, er, “recycled” from Cyrus Vance’s memoir of his time in the same post under Jimmy Carter.

Really?  You not only couldn’t even come up with an original title, and had to steal one from Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State?

I haven’t read Mrs. Clinton’s book, and won’t, but what I’ve seen and read about it raises some issues it’s timely to consider.

Mrs. Clinton—in the kind of thing that gets eaten up by folks who get their news from People magazine, Stephen Colbert, and The View, and then vote in unfortunate numbers—makes the very personal and pastoral claim to have written the book herself, longhand.  To which I say, to employ a sophisticated legal term of art:

Bullcrap.

First, I find it difficult to believe that someone in her position wrote a 600 page book themself, and indeed with a little digging we find that she in the small print in fact credits a number of former State Department staffers and a President Clinton speechwriter with assistance.  Second, I don’t buy for a minute that in the 21st Century, after five years in the most techno-savvy administration in history, she wrote anything longhand.

Pandering to her populist base, she also claims to have written the book in her “little farmhouse in Chappaqua.”  Have you seen her “little farmhouse”?  Puhleez.

Rusty, why so skeptical?

Well, friend, it’s because Mrs. Clinton has, and continues to display, a certain pathological tendency to—let’s be kind for the moment—embellish things, particularly when they have to do with coloring her political narrative.  Take her comments about the “little farmhouse.”  The daughter of a Chicago business owner and graduate of Wellesley and Yale would desperately like you to believe that she’s one of the common folk; that she’s of ordinary stock; that she feels your pain.  In that same interview, she elaborated on taking lucrative speaking fees, explaining that she and President Clinton had nothing when they entered the White House in 1993, and when they left in 2001 they were so “dead broke” and “in debt” they couldn’t get mortgages for houses:

“We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.  We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s [ahem, Stanford] education.  You know, it was not easy.”  (insert mine)

Don’t cry for me, Argentina/ The truth is, I never left you 

Taking her statements at face value for a second—come on, you can do it—what does it tell you about basic management skills that after her career as a partner in the most prestigious law firm in Arkansas, and eight years rent- and expense-free with a $400,000 a year Presidential salary, plus royalties and advances from the five—count ‘em, five—books they published between them during that time, she and her husband were broke?

But the real point here is her claims of ordinary brokeness like she’s been living on the set of Good Times all her life are, of course, poppycock.  She claims they had nothing when they entered the White House; but Bill Clinton told the FEC during the 1992 campaign that they had a net worth of between $350,000 and $1 million.  That’s not Bill Gates’ neighborhood, but for a couple in their mid-40s in 1993, that was hardly nothing.  She says when they left the White House they were broke; but in 2000 they reported income of over $400,000, and Hillary’s Senate campaign reported assets of between $781,000 and $1.8 million.  And those mortgages she couldn’t get for those houses?  Notice she had to say that in the plural.  Those houses, by the way, cost $1.7 million (Chappaqua, New York, September 1999), and $2.85 million (D.C., January 2000), respectively.

Yeah, tell that to a single mom in a rat-infested rent-controlled Harlem slum while you’re trying to convince her how in touch you are with her poverty.

[As an aside, if they had the millions of dollars in debt she claims they did when they left the White House, it’s worth noting that the reason for that was the legal bills incurred, in a more than ironic continuation of today’s theme, as a result of her husband’s habit of lying under oath, a habit that got him disbarred.]

I don’t begrudge the Clintons their financial success (although I might question how they got there); as of 2009, they claimed a net worth of between $10 million and $50 million, and her husband has made more than $100 million in speaking fees since leaving office. Yet she tries to posture herself as the ever-relating champion of the middle class instead of the elite Ivy League blue-blood 0.1% person she is.  And this shameless pretending, for political purposes, to be something she’s not is not an isolated incident with her.

Recall the 2008 campaign.  In an effort to use her time as First Lady as some sort of substantive credential—I will, however, give it more credit than a life spent as a “community organizer”—to burnish her image as a tough, battle-hardened foreign policy veteran, then-Senator Clinton recounted in some detail a harrowing story of making an emergency strategic landing under sniper fire in Bosnia.  Trouble is, while she had in fact been to Bosnia, the parts about the corkscrew landing and sniper fire were flat made up.  When caught in the lie, she explained she was tired.

Don’t we all hallucinate crash landings and sniper fire when we don’t get enough rest?

That wasn’t the only time on the campaign trail that Mrs. Clinton falsified some part of herself to shade her political image.  There was the speech she gave to a largely black audience in Selma, Alabama in which she quoted a song by gospel singer Rev. James Cleveland, adopting a lousy southern black drawl in the process.  At best this was cheesy political theatre.  At worst, it was effectively a racist donning of “blackface” in an attempt to pander to her audience’s racial identity, rather than reason to their intellect on the substantive issues.

Then there was the long time tale of her mother naming her after Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame, “in an effort to inspire greatness.”  How sweet.  Except that previously-unknown Edmund Hillary climbed Everest with Tenzing Norgay in 1953, when young Hillary Rodham—who presumably had already been so named—was a first-grader.

We could recount the questions surrounding her participation in investments in commodities futures and Whitewater.  We could dredge up the ghost of Vince Foster.  But I want to go back even farther, because Mrs. Clinton, nee Rodham, has a long history of lies.

In 1974, Hillary Rodham was hired to work on the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation of Watergate.  Jerry Zeifman was her supervisor, and he says he fired her

“[b]ecause she was a liar . . . She was an unethical, dishonest lawyer.  She conspired to violate the Constitution, the rules of the House, the rules of the committee, and the rules of confidentiality.”

Specifically, according to Zeifman, his contemporaneous diary reflects that Miss Rodham lied to him about not pursuing rules changes after being instructed not to, attempted to advocate for denying President Nixon legal counsel.  More disturbing, when informed that the denial of legal counsel would be contrary to the procedure used with Supreme Court Justice William Douglas in 1970 and that the files on the Douglas impeachment reflecting that precedent were publicly available, Miss Rodham without permission removed those files to a location where they could not be accessed by then public.  In other words, when she learned there were documents contravening some unconstitutional action—denying an accused the right to counsel; see the Sixth Amendment—she wanted to take for political purposes, she hid them.

So, Mrs. Clinton is out with a new self-serving book, which she promotes with demonstrable lies aimed at polishing a false political portrait of herself.  That is, indeed, nothing new.

Of course, what difference, at this point, does it make?

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Trading Bad

“What I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games.  Sometimes it seems like a bad trade.  But bad trades are part of baseball.  Who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake?”

        —Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham

 

I suppose these things happen.

In 1989 the Minnesota Vikings gave the Dallas Cowboys five players and six draft picks (including three #1 picks and three #2 picks) for an aging Herschel Walker and a couple of mid-late round draft picks that, other than receiver Jake Reed, didn’t turn into anyone you’ve ever heard of, and the Vikings haven’t even sniffed the Super Bowl since.  Dallas converted those picks into (among others) Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith, Pro Bowlers Darren Woodson and Russell Maryland, receiver Alvin Harper, and three Super Bowl wins in four years in the early-to-mid-1990s.

A lopsided deal, to be sure.  But as far as I know, nobody died in the process.

By now you’ve seen that the Obama Administration made a deal with the Taliban to exchange five jihadists from Guantanamo Bay for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held prisoner in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009.  On its face this doesn’t seem like a major issue, and one might even call it a victory any time we can secure the return of an American POW.  The U.S. government has on many occasions and under a number of administrations engaged in spy swaps and other forms of prisoner exchanges.

But this one struck me as different from the get-go, and as more facts emerge—and I confess we’re still pretty early in that process—the worse this thing looks.

To begin with—and maybe this is just my ignorance—I thought it a bit odd that the Taliban even had a U.S. prisoner to exchange.  I did not know they were in the business of keeping live American prisoners, and indeed it turns out that Sgt. Bergdahl was the only one they had.  Which in itself begs the question why they had him alive in the first place; what value was he to them?

Then there was the notion of the exchange rate.  I do not mean to imply that any human being is more or less valuable than any other, but in return for this single infantry sergeant the Obama administration gave up five reportedly senior Taliban officials and military leaders, including men with direct ties to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (don’t sweat that, because Obama got a pinky-promise from the government of Qatar that they’ll keep an eye on these guys for the next year, just to make sure they don’t revert to their more violent tendencies; you’ll forgive us, however, if we wonder if that’s as good as the one Obama gave Bart Stupak (D-MI)).  Not only is that effectively trading generals for foot soldiers, but it’s not even a 1:1 deal.  Of course, we’ve seen how Obama negotiates with anyone outside the GOP, so that isn’t particularly a surprise.

But I can excuse all of that.

What I can’t excuse are the details that are emerging about the apparent circumstances of Bergdahl’s “capture,” and the way the President went about making this deal.

All the facts are not in; the Pentagon says it will investigate the matter, and unlike the many other promises from this Administration that it will investigate this, that, or the other thing and hold those responsible accountable—see Benghazi, Fast & Furious, IRS, NSA, VA, etc.—this one I sort of believe.  But what appears to be coming clear is that Bergdahl was not an ordinary POW captured in combat.  Multiple reports from men in his unit—apparently until now suppressed by the Pentagon, undoubtedly at the direction of the White House—indicate that Bergdahl instead was a deserter who walked off his post and voluntarily into the hands of the Taliban (which might explain in part why he was in the unique position of being in Taliban hands alive).

That’s bad enough, and I understand that the military takes such a dim view of desertion that the penalties for such an action are, well, somewhat on the stiff side.  One could reasonably ask why you would give up anything in exchange for a deserter.  But what really should bother everyone about this is the fact that the U.S. military spent as much as 60 days trying to find and rescue Bergdahl, and as many as 14 U.S. soldiers died in the process.   Add to that the however many Americans killed in the process of capturing the five jihadists released from GITMO in order to get Bergdahl back.  By making this deal, the Obama administration has cheapened those sacrifices, if not nullified them entirely, all for what really amounts to a political smoke screen—since when does Obama give a crap about the military—aimed at distracting attention from the VA debacle (which was distracting attention from the Benghazi and IRS scandals, which were distracting attention from FUBARCare . . . ).

That ought to make you sick to your stomach.

Worse still, all of the nearly 3,000 Americans killed in Afghanistan—every one of them a volunteer, by the way—presumably died defending this country and the American way of life; a way of life that was supposed to be grounded in the rule of law and separation of powers guaranteed under the Constitution.  Say what you will about whether that’s what we’re accomplishing in Afghanistan from a policy standpoint—and it’s a fair complaint after twelve mostly rudderless years, and three years after the last plausibly legitimate objective was achieved—for people who volunteer to go there and serve, that’s what they believe they’re doing, and it’s why they’re doing it.  Yet, the Bergdahl trade represents yet another act in this Administration’s continuing imperial erosion of that concept.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act, the White House was obligated to give Congress 30 days’ advance notice before releasing any GITMO detainees.  Obama ignored this, and told no one in Congress ahead of time, except apparently Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who claims he was notified just before it happened.  Even liberal Harvard law professors and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) acknowledge that this was a violation of the law.  The Obama Administration claims—depending on when you ask them—it could not give notice because Bergdahl’s health was deteriorating such that his life was in immediate danger and they could not risk a delay scuttling the deal, or that the Taliban was going to kill him; but video of Bergdahl’s release appears to show him in reasonably good health, and it’s unclear why he would have suddenly been in immediate danger after having been in captivity for five years.  At this point in this Administration, does anyone with a mind even bother listening to the explanation du jour?

Part of the problem here is that it turns out that an exchange of GITMO prisoners for Bergdahl had been under consideration as far back as 2011—in itself begging the question why the sudden urgency now—and Congress told the President no.  But the bigger issue is the underlying attitude of this Administration that if in its sole judgment circumstances warranted a more expedited approach, then the law passed by Congress and signed by him simply didn’t apply.  This President has such utter contempt for Congress, the Constitution, and the separation of powers, and views himself so above the law, that none of it matters.  This prisoner exchange, like so many actions by this lawless President, is totally at odds with the framework of freedom so many have died in that godforsaken hellhole to defend.   Left unchecked, it leaves us yet another step down the path of voiding the price those servicemen and servicewomen paid.

And that’s a bad trade, indeed.