Hillary's Dull Day

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 9:56 AM

I lost track of how long Hillary Clinton's opening statement was yesterday. I was trying to keep my eyes open.

Her confirmation as secretary of state did not hinge on exciting testimony. In fact, dullness was probably an asset. But there is something about Hillary's monotone -- as she droned on about "partnering with NGOs" and "a global education fund to bolster secular education around the world" -- that brings on the need for a nap. Even John Kerry looked like he was forcing himself to pay attention.

None of this matters in the end; the former first lady is assured of going to Foggy Bottom. She proved during the campaign that she can give a rousing speech. But she often descended into eye-glazing wonkiness, which I believe made her seem a tepid alternative to Obama's yes-we-can stemwinders.

The Senate confirmation hearing is a kabuki ritual that, except in the most contested cases, has a high snooze factor. It was in Hillary's interest not to rock any boats, and her rhetoric -- "I am proud to be an American" -- barely caused a ripple.

When the Republican members started saying nice things about her, you knew she was going to skate. Dick Lugar did raise the issue of Bill-related conflicts, but in that ultra-civil Lugarian way of his. Eventually the cable nets got bored and brought on their pundits, and we were seeing more Chris Matthews than Hillary. He pronounced her appearance a "tour de force." She did seem to have done her homework, but that hardly comes as a surprise.

LAT: "Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared before senators today as President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be secretary of State and immediately faced new demands for controls on the charitable activities of her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Even before she offered the Senate Foreign Relations Committee her opening statement, Clinton was told by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the committee's ranking Republican, that the former president's Clinton Foundation could represent a temptation for foreign governments and other overseas entities to try to influence U.S. policies."

NYT: "Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday deflected calls for greater limits on her husband's fund-raising, struck a sharper tone toward Israel on violence in the Middle East and emerged from a daylong confirmation hearing headed for swift approval as secretary of state."

New York Post: "Senators treated colleague Hillary Rodham Clinton with kid gloves yesterday during her confirmation hearing to become secretary of state as they lobbed softball questions her way."

The big HRC news of the day actually comes from the AP:

"Secretary of State appointee Hillary Rodham Clinton intervened at least six times in government issues directly affecting companies and others that later contributed to her husband's foundation, an Associated Press review of her official correspondence found.

"The overlap of names on former President Bill Clinton's foundation donor list and business interests whose issues she championed raises new questions about potential ethics conflicts between her official actions and her husband's fundraising . . .

"Sen. Clinton wrote to the Federal Communications Commission in February 2004 expressing concern that changes to competitive local exchange carrier access rates could hurt carriers such as New York-based PAETEC Communications. PAETEC's chief executive is Arunas Chesonis, whose family and charity later contributed to the Clinton foundation.

"Sarah Wood, executive director of the Chesonis Family Foundation, was invited by a part of the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, to join the initiative after it was established in 2005, Wood said Monday. The Chesonis family personally paid $15,000 for Wood's membership in CGI in September 2007, and the Chesonis foundation paid $20,000 for it in March 2008, Wood said."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page pounds the same issue:

"Take Mr. Clinton's post-presidential fund-raising, the scope of which he finally disclosed in late December after years of refusing and under pressure from the Obama transition. Amid the holidays and economic news, this window on the Clinton political method has received less attention than it deserves. Here is the spectacle of a former President circling the globe to raise at least $492 million over 10 years for his foundation -- much of it from assorted rogues, dictators and favor-seekers. We are supposed to believe that none of this -- and none of his future fund-raising -- will have any influence on Mrs. Clinton's conduct as secretary of State.

"The silence over this is itself remarkable. When Henry Kissinger was invited merely to co-chair the 9/11 Commission, the political left went bonkers about his foreign clients. In this case we have a Secretary of State nominee whose husband may have raised more than $60 million from various Middle East grandees, and Washington reacts with a yawn . . .

"In signing up the Clintons -- always two for the price of one -- Mr. Obama is no doubt hoping to unite his party and mute Democratic criticism when mistakes happen. He is also hiring someone whose prominence and allies make her impossible to fire, even as she and her husband have a history of cutting ethical corners. Good luck."

In Slate, Christopher Hitchens says Hillary should be rejected:

"Picture, if you will, Hillary Clinton facing a foreign-policy conundrum. With whom will she discuss it first and most intently: with her president or her husband? (I did tell you that this wouldn't be difficult.) Here's another one: Will she be swayed in her foreign-policy decisions by electoral considerations focusing on the year 2012, and, if so, will she be swayed by President Barack Obama's interests or her own?

"The next question, and I must apologize in advance for once again making it an un-strenuous one, is: Who else will be approaching Bill Clinton for advice, counsel, and 'input' on foreign affairs? It appears from the donor list of the Clinton Foundation that there is barely an oligarch, royal family, or special-interest group anywhere in the world that does not know how to get the former president's attention. Just in the days since the foundation agreed to some disclosure of its previously 'confidential' clients--in other words, since this became a condition for Sen. Clinton's nomination to become secretary of state--we have additionally found former President Clinton in warm relationships with one very questionable businessman in Malaysia and with another, this time in Nigeria, who used to have close connections with that country's ultracorrupt military dictatorship."

No one argues she isn't qualified. It's all about Bill.

Not so smooth sailing for another nominee, who's brought back echoes of Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood:

"President-elect Barack Obama's pick for Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, failed to pay more than $30,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes over a four-year period, a revelation that could damage his credibility and hurt his chances for an easy confirmation," the Boston Globe says.

"Two years of unpaid taxes were discovered during a 2006 audit by the Internal Revenue Service, and another two years of unpaid taxes were found during a background investigation by Obama's transition team before Geithner was nominated in late November. If confirmed, Geithner would oversee Obama's massive economic recovery package and lead a department that includes the IRS . . .

"The revelation was a stunning development and a potential blow to the portrayal of Geithner as an economic wunderkind."

Some liberals are not going to be pleased that Obama stopped by George Will's Chevy Chase home last night for a dinner party that included Bill Kristol and David Brooks. I think it's great that the president-elect is reaching out to the other side; Brooks was an early fan before turning critical later in the campaign. But it's noteworthy that he's mounted no such charm offensive with liberal columnists. Of course, he's got another week to go.

Fred Barnes may have compiled Bush's 10 overlooked successes in the Weekly Standard, but National Review's Rich Lowry gives us the 10 most important mistakes. Here is the first batch:

"-- Not getting congressional buy-in on detention policy immediately after 9/11. Going to Congress would have forced more deliberation when the administration was rushing into the hasty improvisation of Gitmo and made it harder for Democrats to grandstand once it became controversial.

"-- An ineffective management style. Bush the 'CEO president' wisely wanted to delegate. Alas, the quality of some of his Texas loyalists wasn't particularly high, and when people under Bush failed, his first instinct was to stand by them stalwartly (see Rumsfeld, Don) rather than to hold them accountable.

"-- Not replacing George Tenet after 9/11. Someone should have taken responsibility after the terror attacks. Tenet's exit wouldn't have prevented the WMD debacle, but at least he wouldn't have been around to give his dramatic 'slam-dunk' demonstration in the Oval Office.

"-- Deferring to his generals. Bush believed that his job was to listen to his generals and give them what they wanted. This made him overly passive during much of the Iraq War. It wasn't until his generals had nearly lost the war that Bush fully stepped up to his role as commander in chief, going around the brass to order the surge, the most successful and consequential initiative of his second term.

"-- Not taking charge during Katrina. As soon as the National Weather Service bulletins were warning of the possible destruction of an American city, Bush should have rode herd on the tangled homeland-security bureaucracy and, once the storm hit, federalized the response to save New Orleans from the incompetence and limited capabilities of its state and local governments."

There's something to be said for honest conservatism.

Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, takes issue with Barnes's top-10 list:

"For Fred Barnes, a born-again Christian, the second on the list is authorizing torture. In order to say this without blanching, Fred has to use the euphemism actually pioneered by the Gestapo for torture without physical scars -- 'enhanced interrogation' -- and has to pretend that there is a debate among sane people over whether waterboarding is torture. There is no such debate."

Sullivan's view is bolstered by this Bob Woodward scoop today:

"The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a 'life-threatening condition.' "

The official says that "his treatment met the legal definition of torture."

Is the New York Times obsessed with the president-elect and his little e-mail device? Consider:

Nov. 16: "Lose the BlackBerry? Yes He Can, Maybe"

Jan. 8: "Obama Digs In for his BlackBerry"

Jan. 9: "For BlackBerry, It's a Priceless Plug"

Jan. 12: "The High Security Risk Attached to Obama's Belt"

What's next? "R U @ the WH? A Look at Obama's Abbreviations"?

Sarah Palin has still more to say about the media. Here's what she told Esquire:

"Bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie annoy me. . . . I'll tell you, yesterday the Anchorage Daily News, they called again to ask -- double-, triple-, quadruple-check -- who is Trig's real mom. And I said, Come on, are you kidding me? We're gonna answer this? Do you not believe me or my doctor? And they said, No, it's been quite cryptic the way that my son's birth has been discussed. And I thought, Okay, more indication of continued problems in the world of journalism."

And: "You have to let it go. Even hard news sources, credible news sources -- the comment about, you can see Russia from Alaska. You can! You can see Russia from Alaska. Something like that -- a factual statement that was taken out of context and mocked -- what you have to do is let that go."

The context was about her expertise in foreign policy.

Here's how Anchorage Daily News Editor Pat Dougherty responded to a letter of complaint from the governor about the Trig reporting:

"You may have been too busy with the campaign to notice, but the Daily News has, from the beginning, dismissed the conspiracy theories about Trig's birth as nonsense . . .

"In fact, my integrity and the integrity of the newspaper have been repeatedly attacked in national forums for our complicity in the 'coverup.' I have personally received more than 100 emails accusing me and the paper of conspiring to hide the truth (about Trig's birth.) . . .

"We have been amazed by the widespread and enduring quality of these rumors. I finally decided, after watching this go on unabated for months, to let a reporter try to do a story about the 'conspiracy theory that would not die' and, possibly, report the facts of Trig's birth thoroughly enough to kill the nonsense once and for all.

"Lisa Demer started reporting. She received very little cooperation in her efforts from the parties who, in my judgment, stood to benefit most from the story, namely you and your family."

When they didn't come up with much, Dougherty killed the story.

Washington Post names two managing editors who are both "firsts" -- my report here.

The Chicago Tribune may have acknowledged in an open letter that readers disliked much of its redesign -- too loud, too few stories, too many ads -- but Editor Gerould Kern is declaring victory:

"You may have seen some articles that characterized Thursday's [wraparound] as an apology or a repudiation of the new design. Clearly, this is not the case. We were fulfilling a promise made at the time of the launch -- to listen to our readers and improve the new format. Companies that are responsive to their customers routinely do this. The new Chicago Tribune is a success. It is achieving the goals we set. I am proud of the reinvented newspaper and the work you are doing."

But Sun-Times columnist Lewis Lazare says:

"Kern's letter was all done up with lots of big headlines and graphics that made his remarks seem more emphatic and potentially more embarrassing than they needed to be. Among other things, Kern said in his letter that readers were upset because the paper had become 'too loud.'

"Yet there Kern was Thursday, still seeming to yell at his unhappy readers. . . . But as we fully digest news of the redesign of the Trib redesign that is beginning, we must not forget who is really responsible for all the egg that now has landed squarely on the faces of Trib management. Yes, that would be Sam Zell, the loud, proudly foul-mouthed owner who grossly overpaid for a giant media conglomerate called Tribune Co. and then promptly drove it into bankruptcy even as he was demanding change -- and wreaking havoc -- everywhere within the company.

"So should we be overly surprised the Trib now is starting to backtrack from its attempt to look hipper, feel fresher and connect more readily with an audience that still is -- by and large -- suburban, older and hugely conservative?"

Even as that controversy percolates, the Trib announces it is going tabloid for sales in newsstand and newsboxes.

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