Hillary Rodham Clinton Book Presentation

I’ve tried to avoid the Clinton book tour bullshit this past month or so. Not good for my blood pressure. When I checked in occasionally, it was to discover that nothing much has changed. The Clintons are still self-pitying money-grubbers – $12 million in speaking fees since she left the State Department? – and now their offspring, exploiting her nepotistic advantage with all the scrupulous ethics of her parents, is continuing the grift. If you ask of Clinton what she’s fighting for, what she believes in, if you want to get her to disagree with you on something, good luck. Any actual politics right now would tarnish the inevitability of a resume-led coronation. That the resume has little of any substance in her four years as secretary of state does not concern her. She was making “hard choices”, and if we cannot appreciate that, tant pis.

I’d like to find a reason to believe she’s a political force who stands for something in an era when there is a real appetite for serious change. She could, after all, decide to campaign vociferously in favor of the ACA this summer and fall (universal healthcare is, after all, one of her positions), but that might siphon money away from her foundation and candidacy. She could get out there and start framing a foreign policy vision. But, again, too risky. I see nothing that suggests a real passion for getting on with the fight – just the usual presumptions of a super-elite, super-rich and super-cocooned politician of the gilded age.

So I did watch the Daily Show interview last week, and was not surprised. As in most of her softball media appearances, she was both unctuous and vapid. But even I was aghast at the sheer emptiness and datedness of her one attempt to articulate a future for American foreign policy. She actually said that our main problem is that we haven’t been celebrating America enough, that we “have not been telling our story very well” and that if we just “get back to telling” that story about how America stands for freedom and opportunity, we can rebuild our diminished international stature. One obvious retort: wasn’t she, as secretary of state, you know, responsible for telling that tale – so isn’t she actually criticizing herself?

Next up: could she say something more vacuous and anodyne? Or something more out of tune with a post-Iraq, post-torture, post- Afghanistan world? Peter Beinart had the same reaction: “As a vision for America’s relations with the world,” he wrote, “this isn’t just unconvincing. It’s downright disturbing”:

It’s true that young people overseas don’t remember the Cold War. But even if they did, they still wouldn’t be inspired by America’s “great story about [promoting] human freedom, human rights, human opportunity.” That’s because in the developing world—where most of humanity lives—barely anyone believes that American foreign policy during the Cold War actually promoted those things. What they mostly remember is that in anticommunism’s name, from Pakistan to Guatemala to Iran to Congo, America funded dictators and fueled civil wars.

Larison piles on:

Changing the substance of policies is never seriously considered, because there is little or no recognition that these policies need correction or reversal. This takes for granted that opposition to U.S. policies is mostly the product of misunderstanding or miscommunication rather than an expression of genuinely divergent interests and grievances. I don’t know that Clinton is naive or oblivious enough to believe this (I doubt it), but it’s instructive that she thinks this is a good argument to make publicly. She is more or less saying that there is nothing wrong with U.S. foreign policy that can’t be fixed by better marketing and salesmanship, and that’s just profoundly wrong. It’s also what we should expect from someone as conventionally hawkish and “centrist” on foreign policy as Clinton is.

My fear is that she doesn’t actually mean any of this. She just needed to say something, and so came out with a stream of consciousness that is completely platitudinous and immune to Fox News attacks. It’s a defensive crouch that is always her first instinct. Think of the Terry Gross interview – and her discomfort in grappling with actual disagreement, from her own base that time. Her goal is always safety. And safety won’t cut it in a populist age.

So if she runs, my guess is she’ll wrap herself tightly in the maximalist concept of American exceptionalism and make this her appeal as a post-Obama presidency. See? she’ll say to the same voting groups she went for last time. I’m a real American, and I believe in America. And yay America!

Maybe this is merely a function that she isn’t running yet (and still may not). Why stir the pot if your goal at this point is merely selling books and raking in more corporate, Goldman Sacks dough? But when, I wonder, has she been otherwise? She remains scarred by the 1990s, understandably so. But the country has moved on in a way she seems to find hard to comprehend.

(Photo: Hillary Rodham Clinton, former United States Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady of the United States, speaks during the presentation of the German translation of her book ‘Hard Choices’ (‘Entscheidungen’ in German) at the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater on July 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. By Adam Berry/Getty Images.)