Now Clinton Has to Even Out Her Contradictions
Hillary Clinton has been a national political figure for a quarter-century, longer than any presidential candidate. Yet contradictions and conflicting portraits of her persist.
She is smart, well-versed in domestic and foreign-policy issues, revels in working things out and commands strong loyalty. She also is overly suspicious, insular, often nontransparent and disposed to cutting corners. She has a history of reaching across the partisan divide, yet, as the Republican convention in Cleveland last week showed, is despised by many in the opposing party.
Comparisons inevitably are made with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She lacks her husband's keen political instincts and persuasive talents as a campaigner. But she is more direct and disciplined.
Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who knows both Clintons fairly well, sees another difference: "Hillary listens."
In contrast with Obama, she is much more interested in the mechanics of governance and politics. She lacks his ability to inspire and embrace bolder agendas.
The questions over the 15 weeks until Election Day will focus on her philosophy, experience, judgement and, if Donald Trump has his way, integrity.
In a column in the Guardian, Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times and an expert on money and politics, concluded that Clinton is "honest and trustworthy."
During this campaign every reliable fact-checker has found she has been much more truthful than Trump. Yet, too often, she seems to convey a sense that she feels above normal rules. Her use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state was not, as the FBI concluded, a prosecutable offense. But it was "careless," as FBI Director James Comey declared, and her real rationale was to keep some of her official correspondence from adversaries.
On domestic issues and the economy, she is as liberal as Obama. She will stress proposals such as public-private partnerships. More important, she'll be willing to cut deals. As a senator, she forged relations with Republican colleagues including the maverick John McCain and the conservative Trent Lott.
"She has a real appreciation of how to work across the aisle," former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle says.
On foreign policy she is more hawkish than Obama. She supported the Iraq War, led the international effort to intervene in Libya -- according to a book by Jonathan Allen, she once thought the latter would be her "signature issue" -- and wants a more robust policy in Syria.
She is loath to admit mistakes. It took her years to acknowledge that the Iraq War vote was wrong. She still gets defensive about Libya, even though it has become a a terrorist haven and Obama has expressed regret. (Among the gifts that Hillary-hating Republicans have given her is focusing on the tragedy at the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, for which she was found to bear no responsibility, and letting her off the hook for the overall Libya policy.)
As secretary, she competently handled many challenges, but produced no big accomplishments or evidence that she is a major strategic thinker. Michael O'Hanlon, a national security scholar at the Brookings Institution, says her tenure was "more solid than spectacular."
If elected president, she'll be sure to name superb talents for substantive posts. She was a real champion of the late Richard Holbrooke, a brilliant foreign policy strategist who was known to be difficult. She would put a special emphasis on the most qualified women, perhaps persuading Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to move over to Treasury -- anyone from Wall Street is a political non-starter -- and maybe tapping the national security expert Michelle Flournoy for defense.
Whether she would find equally able White House aides of the kind who might challenge her -- the "two or three sons of bitches" that John F. Kennedy said a president needs -- rather than just long-time loyalists is a private concern of prominent Democrats who support her.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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