Hillary Clinton attempted to “come clean” about her emails again, like a sinner squirming in the hands of an angry god, but the partisan gods do not seem to be appeased.
She conceded in Iowa on Wednesday that she “knows people have raised questions about my email use as secretary of state, and I understand why. I get it. So here’s what I want the American people to know: My use of personal email was allowed by the State Department. It clearly wasn’t the best choice. I should have used two emails, one personal and one for work.”
This is a typical Hillary cocktail of evasion, exaggeration and misrepresentation, served up in clintonspeak, a language writ by Bubba, test fired in Arkansas and perfected in Washington, where euphemism and the passive voice (“mistakes were made”) are highly prized. She carefully does not say she did anything wrong, only that some people, who don’t know what they’re talking about, think she did, and she’s sorry about that much. Given that people are usually ignorant and prone to misunderstand their betters, she might have done things differently, and if the hicks want an apology, that’s all they’re going to get.
The Democrats, eager to prove that character doesn’t count and who were confident all through the winter and early spring that Hillary was their last and only great white hope, are no longer so sure. Many of them rolled their eyes at anyone who asked questions, first about Benghazi and then about the infamous email server in Hillary’s bathroom. Now the eye-rollers are careful to stay close to the panic button. When pollsters for Quinnipac asked men (and women) in the street this week, “what’s the first word that comes to mind at the mention of Hillary,” most of them said “dishonest” or “untrustworthy.” Not exactly someone to christen as a candidate for president.
The tone and content of her contrition, such as it was, in Iowa satisfies no one. “Taking responsibility” for sins and shortcomings has become a fashion, but everyone understands that it’s not supposed to mean anything, any more than a politician’s promise, after a tragedy, to keep an unfortunate’s family “in my thoughts and prayers.” Everyone knows such a pleader hasn’t actually dropped to his knees in prayer since he last prayed as a child, for his cat that stuck his tail in the electric fan.
Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland who’s a lonely candidate to supplant Hillary in the Democratic race, warns Democrats against “circling the wagons” to protect Hillary. “Until we start having debates,” he says, “our party’s going to be defined and branded by questions like, what did [she] know, when did she know it, and when will the FBI conclude its investigation? That’s not a formula for success.”
And it’s not just a long-shot asking questions. The New York Times, which has been a faithful cheerleader for the princess in the pantsuit, asked 75 Democratic governors, legislators, candidates and party rank and file what they made of what’s going on and discovered “bewilderment.” How had she allowed such a cloud to linger over her campaign. How could she be so tone-deaf, so immune to concerns that she’s trying to sleep through the hard stuff, expecting to wake up safe and snug in a bed in the White House.
“They’ve handled the email issue poorly, maybe atrociously, certainly horribly,” says Edward Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania who has been a Hillary supporter. “The campaign has been incredibly tone-deaf, not seeing this as a more serious issue. She should have turned over the email server at the start, because they should have known they would be forced to give it up. At this point there’s nothing they can do to kill the issue — they’re left just playing defense.” And playing defense not very well, he might have said.
All this naturally leads to Joe Biden, who was only yesterday regarded as the great white joke, and now becomes the Democrats’ only hope of any shade. Over the past fortnight Hillary has watched faithful friends among the reporters, correspondents and pundits drop away, becoming critical friends if not yet critics. President Obama, whose influence in his party is still considerable, made it clear that ol’ Joe is his favorite, and that now is the time for every good man to come to the aid of the party.
Hillary never learned politics, not even from the master politician so close at hand, and she’s trying to learn on the job in the biggest league there is. Some of her friends say all she really wants now is to be a grandmother, but she made a pact with Bubba and he’s holding her to it. That’s no way to treat Granny.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.