The Fax of Life

Column: Hillary’s emails indict the self-regarding culture of Washington

hot sauce
AP

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. I reprint it here:

H,

I spent yesterday with Les Gelb on Nantucket. He had lots to say which might be of interest, but I thought the most important thing to tell you is to make sure are aware of the Parade magazine piece he wants to do about you. He would like to do a day in your life, when you meet with members of Congress and international figures. He wants to show the impact you are having domestically and internationally. He said he would give you a veto over content and looked me in the eye and said, ‘she will like it.’ Maybe you know this, but did not want it to fall between the cracks. Enjoy your vacation and love to all of you.

Xoxo

L

Ah Nantucket! The island redoubt of the well heeled and au courant, where the billionaires go to escape the proles of the Vineyard, where you watch John Kerry windsurf from the starboard window of your private jet. Only a matter of time before this exclusive hideaway made an appearance in the correspondence of Hillary Clinton. And how perfect that it was during a summer in Nantucket, with the breeze coming off the sound and a Waterford pitcher of Cape Codders sitting on the patio table, that Lady Lynn communed with Dr. Gelb, who has worked in the Senate, at the New York Times, at the Brookings Institution, and is now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Difficult to find such established and credentialed personages. In Nantucket they’re everywhere.

"He had lots to say which might be of interest," L reports. I hope she's kidding. Wherever the eminences gather, the conversation is almost certainly turgid and boring, a cliché-ridden bog of credulity and mutual self-regard: Have you seen Joe Nye’s latest article on "smart power," Norm Ornstein says gridlock in Congress has never been worse, I’ve given two TED talks, one in Mumbai and one in London, John Oliver had this hilarious bit where he dressed up dogs as Supreme Court Justices! We got the kids fantastic seats for Taylor Swift through our black card, Cooper is taking a gap year to teach computer literacy to underprivileged youth in Ecuador, how many times do I have to tell people: I'm socially liberal but fiscally conservative, we need to find a way to disrupt the disrupters, I worry about Israel’s future as a democratic state, we found the nicest apartment near the Place St. Michel on Airbnb, I haven’t seen Boyhood but did you know it took them 12 years to make?

This small talk and politesse, the exchange of trivial personal detail and social intelligence, of names and phrases cribbed from last week’s Economist, not only signifies one’s membership in a select group, it also insulates one from the scrutiny and critique and problematization to which outsiders are routinely subjected. What really interested Lady Lynn was Gelb’s upcoming profile of Clinton, and how she might put that information to use for herself. Her email served a dual purpose: It proved her value as a friend to Gelb, whose proposal she championed, and to Clinton, who was able to see that de Rothschild was acting as sentry, on the lookout for opportunities and hazards.

The false modesty—"Maybe you know this, but did not want it to fall between the cracks"—the affected intimacy—"Xoxo"—these are courtly mannerisms overlaid atop an appeal to Clinton’s self-interest. And of course no one involved seems to have given second thought to the implications of Gelb’s promise of a "veto over content," of his vow that "she will like it." There wasn’t any need to. We’re all friends here.

One can’t help noticing, however, the elision of any difference between appearance and reality, a widespread confusion of talking with doing. Gelb "wants to show the impact you are having," Hillary is told, and his method will be to take dictation as she meets "with members of Congress and international figures." But meetings and videoconferences delivered in the same courteous tones as this email don’t have "impact." Policies implemented in the real world do.

Judged by miles flown and plenary sessions convened, interviews given and appearances made, Hillary Clinton was one of the most "impactful," indeed successful, secretaries of state ever. Judged by what actions she took or did not take, however, what policies she pursued or was told not to pursue, she was easily one of the worst—a disastrous "reset" with Russia, a campaign against Iran sanctions her administration later pretended to have supported, misguided and dangerous "outreach" to the Muslim Brotherhood, no serious action to end the Syrian Civil War, the rushed and half-handed and disastrous Libya intervention, the failure to renegotiate the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq that led to our full withdrawal at the end of 2011 and, in combination with the breakup of Syria, the rise of ISIS.

Her failures are hard to comprehend, actually—so great is their magnitude, so dismal the state of world order and American deterrence and prestige—it’s hard to face the fact that she is more likely than anyone to be the next president of the United States.

How does she do it, how is she able to flit above the incompetence and dissimulation and money-grubbing, from one benefit and tribute and resume-enhancing post to the next? Valuing political expediency above all surely helps. But there is also her ability to exploit the liberal dissociation of intention and result, her manner of so overwhelming liberals with statements of compassion and resolve and determination to combat inequity that they never end up paying attention to what she actually did with all that power and cash.

"We should create a day," Clinton wrote to an aide while scheduling the Gelb interview. "Meeting w Webb about Burma, McCain/Lieberman/Graham about Af-Pak, etc. Meeting with Mitchell/Holbrooke etc." Hillary Clinton creates her own days, planning with meticulous care her schedule of rehearsed interactions and focus-grouped poses in order to give the public the face she wants it to see at any moment. What made these latest emails shocking and powerful was the degree to which they revealed just how complicit the Washington establishment is in her shaping of perception, her fine-tuning of reputation and stature. What Clinton is seeking in the presidency is the opportunity to create many more days, for many more audiences, all with the purpose of furthering her and her family’s already obscene and unmerited wealth. And no one will bother to care, because life in this fair land is so distractingly pleasant—especially on August mornings in Nantucket.

Xoxo

M