On one level it is comical. As if to outdo President Obama’s contempt for private enterprise, Hillary Clinton on Friday declared, “Don’t let anybody tell you that, you know, it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.” Yeah, Obama was giving those businesses way too much credit. But of course this makes zero sense so she had to retreat, insisting she “shorthanded this point the other day.”
Being entirely unclear she declared, “[S]o let me be absolutely clear about what I’ve been saying for a couple of decades” (a cringe-worthy reminder that she’s been stuck mouthing the same platitudes for years and years and years with nary a word change). She continued, “Our economy grows when businesses and entrepreneurs create good-paying jobs here in an America where workers and families are empowered to build from the bottom up and the middle out — not when we hand out tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs or stash their profits overseas.” How was her prior statement remotely a shorthand version of the later, scripted one? It obviously wasn’t.
This latest gaffe confirms that when Clinton’s lips move she is telling us what she thinks her base wants to hear, not sharing any original or sincerely felt position of her own. Moreover, her utter lack of spontaneity has now become a primary characteristic. As one Capitol Hill Republican put it, “She overcompensates when she’s in uncomfortable territory.” Like trying to be a populist. Or trying to attack the corporations whose trough she has fed on for millions of dollars in speaking fees. Or trying to appear nonchalant about a challenger from her left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who actually believes anti-business rhetoric.
How is it that Clinton is, well, such a bad politician? Remember in 2008 she wasn’t all that scintillating, appearing stiff and remote and running on experience in a “change” election. For decades Bill Clinton had been the politician and she, the operator behind the scenes. Electoral politics most obviously had not been her own life’s calling. As we age, old habits of mind become more ingrained. Whatever tendencies one has magnify and whatever limitations one suffers from become more impervious. Then, consider that for nearly six years as secretary of state and former secretary of state she has perfected the art of saying not very much at all. No wonder her public performances are so painful to watch.
Some would say she’s out of practice, but it is more accurate to say that her minimal political skills have atrophied. Now when pressed to innovate or loosen up, Clinton falls flat, makes errors and then calls attention to them by going back to correct her gaffe. During the book tour her defenders said she would warm up and find her groove again. Has she gotten any better in the last few months? Not that we can see.
Indeed, we are right back to 2008 when Clinton’s sense of entitlement and delight in playing the role of feminist icon were poor substitutes for political dexterity and personal charm. The Democrats might feel compelled to pick her for their nominee in 2016, and in all likelihood they will. But her political deficits and failure to improve even under the glare of pre-presidential race coverage should tempt many ambitious liberals. If they do jump in, Iowa becomes do or die for her. Again.