I almost pity Hillary Clinton. This was supposed to be her year. Eight years after a previously unknown senator from Illinois snatched the brass ring away from her outstretched claws, the woman who made a career out of being a walking Tammy Wynette lyric was finally going to step out from behind her husband’s considerable shadow and become the most powerful woman — check that, the most powerful human — on the planet. The old girl was so confident that her time had arrived, her campaign message was little more than “it’s her turn” with a side of “she’s female,” as if waiting around for a few decades and having lady parts are all that’s required to captain the ship of state.
And then, just like that slow-motion train wreck eight years back, everything went sideways. With her campaign predicated almost entirely on inevitability, Clinton struggled so mightily with even simple questions that her lack of responsiveness became a running joke even among sympathetic media sources. Attendance at her events paled in both size and vigor to opponents in both parties. She was even forced to “relaunch” her White House bid in mid-June, a humiliation doubtless compounded by the fact that her husband was (is and will likely always be) a far bigger draw than she.
Questions about her tenure as secretary of state were amplified by her blasé attitude toward the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, culminating in a couple of congressional Q&As in which she treated the preventable deaths of four Americans — one a purported personal friend — as a minor inconvenience. Her family’s charitable foundation’s finances were revealed to be as tangled and indecipherable as a crime syndicate’s and with sources less reputable. In an effort to seem relatable, she embarked on ill-considered stunts with distasteful celebrities like Lena Dunham and various Kardashians, spectacles which backfired spectacularly outside the tiny bubbles of reality television and Malibu mansions.
And her ever-worsening email scandal has progressed from “headache” to “brain tumor.” Consider this: The unbelievable dereliction of an unsecured email server hiding in a third party’s bathroom seems almost petty compared to more recent revelations of active circumventions of national security protocols. With her twilight years well underway, the woman married to Monica Lewinsky’s ex-paramour may not be in perfect position to become the first woman president, but she is right on target to become the first person to run for president while under indictment.
And then, there’s the “Bernie” factor. Just as Nana was ready to write her acceptance speech, along came Gramps to steal all the pens. A hoary old communist from the home state of Ben & Jerry’s and Phish who’s been skulking around the back benches of Congress since Hillary was skulking around the back rooms of Little Rock, Arkansas, suddenly has all the gender studies majors shouting: “Feel the Bern!” Where Hillary has claimed affinity with the poor and downtrodden while rubbing elbows with the rich and shameless, Sen. Bernie Sanders has connected at a visceral level with the hardcore liberals who think attending a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” at Oberlin College makes them intellectuals. What Sanders’ supporters lack in numbers, they more than make up for in noise.
Granted, where Clinton’s presidential dreams can be described as “fading,” Sanders’s can be described as “pipe.” Sanders is polling ahead of Clinton in primary gateways New Hampshire and Iowa — certainly a burr under Clinton’s saddle. But Sanders is barely polling ahead of Clinton in those states, one of which is right next door to his house. However, he has clearly drawn blood, a fact attested to by Clinton’s recent deployment of her daughter as an anti-Bernie attack poodle. Of course, it’s Hillary’s campaign; so the smear tactics involve attempts to paint Sanders as too far to the right, earning little more than bemused wonder from all sides.
But Hillary’s troubles demonstrate much deeper issues — not only with her ability to sell herself to the voting public, but to her own party. Her very public bumbling shines a light into the deepest recesses of the Democratic Party’s cold, dark heart. If they’re struggling to convince themselves that Hillary is the right woman for the toughest job on Earth, what does that say about her credentials? Moreover, if they can’t convince themselves, what does that say about their chances of convincing the rest of us?