Congressional Republicans’ three-year inquiry into the deaths of four Americans during a violent 2012 incident at the U.S. Embassy in Libya entered its eighth (waxing gibbous) phase last week when the newly empaneled House Select Subcommittee on Benghazi followed in the footsteps of seven previous Congressional committees, convening for their first and only hearing with their one and only witness: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Coming off a relatively shart-free performance in the first Democratic debate, Clinton’s stock was rising: every media outlet insisted that she won the debate, even though public polling and that one annoying guy in your News Feed told a different story.
In any case, Republicans reasoned, whatever bounce Clinton might have seen in the days after the debate would certainly crumble when the valiant Trey Gowdy, armed with two stacks of printed emails and an overmatched antiperspirant would rip off her mask and reveal the malevolent puppet master that engineered the attack. Or ignored it? Mislabeled it! She definitely did something wrong, and it probably had to do with her email, and the Republicans were all set to keep her in that hearing room until she confessed to something.
Before I go any further with this I should make it clear that I am no Hillary Clinton apologist. I suppose I would vote for her before I would vote for a rabid gorilla, or Ted Cruz, but she is not my first choice in this election. I don’t think we need any more repeating names in the White House, and I don’t like the rookie mistake she made with the email server. Most of all, I don’t really know what she stands for, other than wanting to be president, which after almost a quarter-century in national public life, really shouldn’t be a mystery.
Having said that, as someone who is more than open to arguments against her candidacy, I truly don’t understand what she is supposed to have done wrong in Libya, other than sit at the head of an organization that learned the hard way that its security was inadequate. Security failed, and she took responsibility for that, but as seven different Republican subcommittees have concluded, there was no criminal negligence. Nevertheless, Gowdy and company kept accusing her of refusing requests for greater security at the embassy. Is the suggestion that she somehow wanted this to happen?
The first question to ask of any conspiracy theory is “why?” Why would Hillary Clinton allow a security breach at a U.S. Embassy? In what conceivable way would it benefit her, as Secretary of State, to have people die on her watch? If there’s no reasonable answer to that question, you can probably stop investigating.
In the absence of any clear line of attack, the committee spend the day crawling all over Clinton on stuff like how late she stayed at the office the first night of the attack, why wasn’t she readily accessible to all 70,000 State Department employees, nickel-and-dime stuff, so petty that it belittled the people who died there. If there is a specific crime that they are accusing her of, I haven’t been able to figure out what it is, which is a pretty good sign that they’ve got a weak case.
The House Select Committee, as well as most of the comment sections trolled for this piece, also seemed very upset that Mrs. Clinton was slow to publicly call the incident a Terrorist Attack, as opposed to a Violent Demonstration. It is unclear to me what difference this makes to anyone. Were the people murdered on a whim, or on a schedule? Who gives a shit? They were murdered! They should be alive and now they’re not because someone killed them. Is a murderous attack somehow less awful if it’s not planned ahead of time? Does it somehow exonerate the inarguable security failure to call it a Violent Demonstration?
I also don’t understand why it matters what Clinton or Susan Rice or whoever told the press in the first two days after the failure. Maybe they didn’t want to admit it was a terrorist attack in case, you know, more terrorists might follow up with a copycat attack? In the event of a terrorist attack, I am comfortable with cloudy information in the name of counterintelligence for, let’s say 72 hours. Since when are we supposed to immediately announce exactly how we were beaten? I’m no Condoleezza Rice but that seems like poor tactics.
Anyway, the strategy for the hearing appeared to be to keep Mrs. Clinton on the witness stand (or whatever you call it at a Congressional hearing) for so long that she would get tired and exasperated and blurt out something incriminating that they could bludgeon her with for the rest of the campaign, some kind of Binders Full of Women, You Can’t Handle The Truth moment.
Everything was arranged just so to break her; nothing was left to chance. The room was kept at a balmy 79 degrees. A loaded diaper was hidden in an air duct directly under her chair. The committee’s podium seating was raised eight inches, and tiny hidden speakers played very quiet, high-frequency white noise. The hearing was scheduled only after an undercover team of Republican menstruologists determined the peak and duration of Mrs. Clinton’s personal Shark Week.
Which of the many unflattering Hillarys would they draw out of the smiling phony behind the microphone? Angry Hillary? Self-Pity Hillary? Condescending Hillary? Obviously Lying Through Her Plastered on Smile Hillary? The comment section licked its lips in anticipation.
What viewers of all the 24-hour news channels saw instead (except for Fox News, which bailed on the coverage when it became clear that things were not going to plan) was that rarest of Hillarys: Relatable Human Hillary.
Film director Stanley Kubrick was famous for making some of the greatest movies of all time, including DR. STRANGELOVE, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and FULL METAL JACKET. He was also famous for his unusual method of directing actors, which was to make them do dozens, even hundreds of takes, even of seemingly inconsequential scenes with little or no dialogue. He had Shelley Duvall run up a flight of steps with a knife 35 times before he got a shot he liked for THE SHINING; he made Tom Cruise walk through a door 95 times for EYES WIDE SHUT. Duvall supposedly had a nervous breakdown as a direct result of Kubrick’s methods, with chunks of her hair falling out.
His reasoning was supposedly that he wanted to tire the actors out until they weren’t acting anymore, until they were just doing what they were supposed to be doing without affect or “performance.”
There was a moment in the 2008 campaign, in like June, when Hillary had planned to be going over her stack of 25,000 John McCain flash cards, but was instead losing a tight primary race to a first-term senator with a funny name. She was obviously, visibly seething behind her rictus mask of exaggerated delight, the one she had worn day after day after day to state fairs and town halls and pancake breakfasts. It was supposed to be her year. She did everything they said she should do, she did it all in the right order, with the clasped hands and the slight nonthreatening head tilt. It was her turn, and she was losing to a nobody just because he was “young” and “charismatic” and “seemed like a human person” and “against the disastrous war she voted for from the beginning.”
She was tired, and she was losing, and the mask just fell. She choked up talking about how passionately she cares about the issues and the country as a whole, and saying the race was really personal for her. She stopped the braying, bellowing Campaign Trail voice, she dropped the Reasonable TV Politican voice, and just talked like a person.
And suddenly her poll numbers shot up, she won a key state, and she kept the race interesting for another six months. And that’s what happened again at this marathon, 11-hour hearing. They kept her there so long, all the fakeness that drives us all so crazy about her melted away and she just seemed like a normal person; the effect lasted through her interview on the Rachel Maddow Show the following day.
I still hope Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, but if Clinton is going to win this election she is going to have to stay in touch with the stripped-down, exhausted, Shelley Duvall within her. Unfortunately, Stanley Kubrick passed in 1999, so he cannot direct her campaign, but it so happens that I am available. If Ready for Hillary LLC can meet my price, I will happily follow Mrs. Clinton around with a cattle prod (set to low, of course!) to make sure that she never gets more than 90 minutes’ sleep at a time. It may sound inhumane and I don’t relish it either, but I love this country, and it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.