Hillary Clinton refuses to take a position on the Keystone XL pipeline, saying she was involved in the decision-making process (which was not to make a decision) so she does not want to complicate matters for her successor.
1. The phony laugh.
2. The illogical excuse for not answering. (Is she ever going to tell us her position? What about other positions she was involved in on which she already has weighed in?)
3. The lack of political courage. (She apparently can’t bear to annoy either Big Labor or the pro-green billionaire donors.)
4. The empty blather that follows her refusal to answer a simple question. (Is anything she says memorable?)
5. There is no policy idea in there. On one hand, she notes the United States is fast becoming the leading oil and gas producer, but then she says we need to move away from that. (How? Why?)
6. Describing a problem instead of setting out her own view or policy solution.
If she had given that answer on a Sunday talk show, chances are she would get no follow-up question. She took up more than a minute saying nothing, and if the interviewer pressed her, she would spend another minute or two insisting that she had said something and then repeating her non-answer. If the interviewer wants to ask more questions (for which there will be no answers either), he or she had better move on.
She is expert in the art of saying nothing, convinced that her popularity does not require cogent answers, only her persona. She reminds one of a spokeswoman intent on making no news and committing her boss to no definitive position. (It is remarkable that outfits such as Goldman Sachs pay her $200,000 to say this sort of thing.)
The mainstream media are unlikely to challenge Clinton aggressively, but her opponents should. The key is pointing out that she is filibustering, giving a ludicrous excuse and telling us nothing about what she would do if she had authority to make such a decision. Here are just a few of her common tactics and the appropriate retorts:
Excuse: We had to dig ourselves out of [fill in the blank — the 2008 recession, the war in Iraq, poor standing in the world, etc.].
Answer: 1.) The recession technically ended years ago; the Iraq war was resolved successfully when George W. Bush left office; he passed on superb relationships with key allies (Israel, Britain); and he successfully assembled a coalition of 40-plus countries to fight the Iraq war. 2.) Are you going to blame President Obama for handing off a load of problems if you are his successor? 3.) The Obama administration made things worse (e.g. policies that deterred a robust recovery, pulling out of Iraq, fighting with Israel).
Excuse: Telling us how much she cared and was “focused” on a subject (e.g. women and girls, human rights).
Answer: That’s commendable, but the results were meager or nonexistent. When faced with a trade-off (e.g. human rights vs. avoiding conflict), Clinton invariably sacrificed that objective (e.g. giving Iranians the cold shoulder in the Green Revolution, never reevaluating the decision to go back onto the United Nations Human Rights Council).
Excuse: It’s complicated.
Answer: Most issues that rise to the presidential or cabinet secretary level are complicated, so such an answer only reveals a lack of ability or preparation.
Excuse: Listing all the trips she made, the meetings she had, the leaders she met.
Answer: No one really cares about the “inputs.” What matters is the outcome.
Excuse: She objected to whatever bad policy failed.
Answer: Clinton remained in the Obama administration throughout the first term. She could have quit and highlighted serious disagreements on key issues. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence on a number of issues that she took herself out of the loop (as Iraq Ambassador Chris Hill observed on the status-of-forces deal) or continued to back the policy after she left office (e.g. praising the president’s reversal on the red line, praising the Iran interim deal).
There are many more excuses we could list, but you get the point. People who want to knock Clinton out of her comfort zone should learn her moves and be prepared to counter them. It is not that hard, but you have to be willing to challenge her and have the goods on her when she bobs and weaves. Too often, the media don’t, but her opponents in 2016 must.