The anniversary of the U.S. war against the Islamic State passed with little notice. It was August 7 of last year that President Obama authorized the first airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, a campaign he expanded a month later to include targets in Syria. So far this month, the president has delivered remarks on the Voting Rights Act, his deal with Iran, the budget, clean energy, and Hurricane Katrina. ISIS? Not a peep.
The closest I’ve ever come to glimpsing hell was on Monday, when I read an article in the New York Times headlined, “With High-Profile Help, Obama Plots Life After Presidency.”
Reporters Michael D. Shear and Gardiner Harris reveal the “methodical effort taking place inside and outside the White House as the president, first lady, and a cadre of top aides map out a post-presidential infrastructure and endowment they estimate could cost as much as $1 billion,” or about as much as Obama fundraised for the 2012 campaign.
Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, wrote a six-page memo to “Interested Parties” Wednesday on the state of the 2016 presidential race. His message: Everything is under control. “While we always have, and continue to, anticipate a very competitive race,” Mook wrote, “Hillary stands today in a very enviable position.”
“Fewer than 400 families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era,” the New York Times breathlessly reported last Sunday. The popularity of so-called Super PACs, which can raise unlimited funds, has allowed the wealthy to dominate the fundraising scene. “The intensifying reliance on big money in politics mirrors the concentration of American wealth more broadly.” Democracy, we are meant to believe, is at stake.
Two decades ago, in the spring of 1996, Newsweek magazine described a group of voters it called the “radical middle.” Formerly known as the Silent Majority, then the Reagan Democrats, these voters had supported Ross Perot in 1992, and were hoping the Texas billionaire would run again. Voters in the radical middle, Newsweek wrote, “see the traditional political system itself as the country’s chief problem.”
The last week has provided a sad but worthwhile opportunity to assess the global elite, the heads of state and government, the bankers and journalists and celebrities, as they worked overtime to preserve a veneer of progress and stability. From Athens to Beijing, D.C. to Vienna, the desire has been to avoid tough decisions, to prolong deliberation, to pretend as though dangerous emerging trends do not exist. To take action, to provoke, to choose, to commit, to fight, to admit reality would be far too disruptive, would cost too much, and would endanger the social positions our best and brightest have worked so mightily to attain. Better for them to wait things out.
So she doesn’t know how to use a fax machine. Big whoop. If there is a “smoking gun” in the 3,000 pages of Hillary Clinton emails released by the State Department this week, it’s not in her technological ineptitude, or her calling her hairdresser “Santa,” or her continuing to encourage Sid Blumenthal to offer bad advice, or her fetish for ice tea, or her bizarre demand that John Podesta wear socks to bed. The most revealing dispatch, the one dripping with unintended irony and status detail and sanctimony dressed as social conscience, is the email Lynn Forester de Rothschild, centimillionaire, addressed to Clinton on the morning of August 26, 2009. It is 122 preening and obsequious words long.
Hillary Clinton is a woman without conviction, a woman who doesn’t know. She was first lady of a southern state, she sat on the board of directors of Wal-Mart from 1986 to 1992—but is there any record of her voicing opposition to Wal-Mart’s labor practices, of her opposing the sale of the Confederate battle flag? Until recently, has there been any moment in the decades following her appointment to that board, in the many years in which she has been egregiously prominent in public life, when she led on, was prominently identified with, the issue of the flag or racial matters in general?
By the summer of 2013, President Obama had convinced several key Israelis that he wasn’t bluffing about using force against the Iranian nuclear program. Then he failed to enforce his red line against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad—and the Israelis realized they’d been snookered. Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, recalls the shock inside his government. “Everyone went quiet,” he said in a recent interview. “An eerie quiet. Everyone understood that that was not an option, that we’re on our own.”