“Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
—Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Benghazi hearing testimony, Jan. 23, 2013.
If I learned one thing in a quarter century of public service, it is beware of government officials asking rhetorical questions. When Hillary Clinton feigned exasperation and snapped at Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, she sought to turn the tables of accountability on those charged with holding her feet to the fire. It was rhetorically brilliant blame masquerading as leadership.
Make no mistake, blame is the right word. Blaming others allows one to assume the role of accuser and gain a perception of control. In a full day of hearings, Republican senators and representatives sought, mostly unsuccessfully, to blame Hillary, and Hillary succeeded in blaming them. Perhaps through subtle misdirection, but blame them she did. By alleging that Sen. Johnson was asking the wrong questions in seeking to understand the past, her past, and the factors leading to her State Department’s inaction while four United States citizens, one of them an ambassador, were attacked and murdered, she shed herself of the yoke of accountability, even while claiming it. It was a masterful performance.
Clinton timed her outburst like the master political jouster she is, and outmaneuvered a room replete with Republican senators seeking to create a camera-ready sound bite of their own. She stole their moment and turned the tables, preserving at least for now her status as a viable 2016 presidential candidate, which after all is really what was at stake in those hearings.
Why shouldn’t Hillary fight fire with fire? After all, she is a politician with ambitions of her own. For better or worse her tenure at State has served to re-politicize a post long held by lifetime diplomats. Recent holders of the position — Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — have been courted as candidates but declined, choosing to remain true to the purer faith of diplomacy over politics.
But Hillary is different. It has been a long time since a future president served as secretary of state. In our nation’s first 75 years a total of six future presidents completed a tour as top diplomat. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, Martin van Buren and James Buchanan all used the post as a stepping stone to the White House. But since Buchanan in 1849, no one has successfully matriculated from secretary of state to the presidency.
Still, in our hyper political universe, many probably consider it unfair for Hillary’s political future to be truncated by the inconvenient truth of terrorism, particularly after Susan Rice’s Sunday talk show sacrifice. Naiveté and ambition are risky bedfellows, but the clearly naïve and blatantly ambitious Rice apparently volunteered for this political suicide mission after blinding herself with the belief that a successful outcome would lead to her ascension to Hillary’s soon-to-be-vacated secretary of state post.
Appearing on four Sunday news shows on Sept. 16, Rice presented as fact the now thoroughly debunked argument that a spontaneous mob enraged by an online video was responsible for the Benghazi murders. The fact that the attack occurred on Sept. 11 was apparently mere coincidence.
In the parlance of chess, Hillary “I don’t like to do the Sunday shows” Clinton had found her rook (in the chess match of American politics Rice was no pawn) and sacrificed her for the greater good, an Obama re-election, her own political future, and the Clinton legacy.
Which all brings us back to the question at hand: What difference does “it” make?
For Hillary’s husband, when asked under oath if his attorney’s statement that he and Monica Lewinski had “not had sex of any kind” was true, President Clinton’s perjury dodge centered on the definition of the verb “is.” For Hillary, the truth orbits around the pronoun “it,” where “it” is the motivation behind the murder of four Americans.
According to Hillary’s own words, this particular “it” does not matter.
Hillary’s rhetorical skills successfully deflected the importance of “it,” which for the record was the desire to commit an act of terror against the United States. Clinton then deftly avoided the accountability of Congress, and did not take responsibility for the circumstances or conditions leading to a successful terrorist attack on, of all days, the 11th anniversary of 9/11.
In government, “it” makes all the difference. “It” informs and defines strategy, the reason for service, for action, for mission. Our leaders are supposed to seek out and define, not avoid — or in Clinton’s case state emphatically — that “it” does not matter.
When leadership actively avoids its purpose, government drifts, becomes ineffectual, destructively political, and ultimately purposeless save self-preservation. Sadly, in the wake of such willful acts of political misdirection and avoidance at the highest federal government levels, local matters such as overpriced hydro plants, poorly constructed housing projects, and opaque computerized election systems seem like little more than trickle down impropriety.
So make no mistake. More than anything, “it” matters.