I know it seems a geological eon ago, but do you remember the resignation of Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle? In the wake of Clinton's major Wisconsin defeat, I remembered how Doyle never told Clinton about the campaign's massive hemorrhaging of cash. And how Clinton similarly kept Solis in the dark when she took out her $5 million personal loan. Given that Hillary Clinton's campaign has now been reduced to a nonstop mantra of "ready to lead on day one," it made me wonder what that incident reveals about her competence, transparency and trust--the essence of her ability to lead.
I'm no campaign insider, but from everything I can see, Clinton follows a discomfortingly familiar path in surrounding herself with people who are so intimidated they won't stand up and disagree with her, and won't tell her bad news. Personal loyalty is fine, but we've had plenty of that in the current administration, with disastrous results. The charges and counter-charges around Doyle's departure suggest either that Clinton's built a team that is sharply lacking in basic skills, like high school math, or that she has a character that makes people afraid to challenge her, even people like Solis who have known her for years.
Think about her foreign policy advisors. As political scientist Stephen Zunes explores, almost every one of them supported the war in Iraq, (while Obama's overwhelmingly opposed it), and many have spoken out on supporting the Petraeus "surge." Had Clinton surrounded herself with Iraq war skeptics, this might cast a shadow on her own stand. But those she's selected use the same rationalizations,
In fact, Clinton has a consistent pattern of refusing to admit mistakes. Had she flat out admitted her Iraq war vote was wrong, she might well now be the presumptive nominee, but she chose instead to evade its implications through an endless succession of rationalizations and technicalities. She did the same thing with her vote on a regressive bankruptcy bill, which she now claims didn't matter since the bill ended up not passing. And she's doing the same thing with NAFTA. Bill Clinton staked much of his political capital in making it the centerpiece of his first term achievements, in the process creating so much anger and backlash among labor and environmental activists that many stayed home and helped the Gingrich Republicans sweep to their 1994 upset victory. Now, Hillary is saying, she'd always privately argued against against it, so bears no responsibility for its hollowing out of America's industrial base.
So I worry that if she does get in, we're gong to end up with one more president who lives in an insular bubble of yes-men -- whatever their gender. I worry about the competence question -- raised first by Clinton's squandering of her massive lead, and just underscored by a report that her quintessentially professional campaign failed to file enough delegates in the critical state of Pennsylvania to actually take full advantage of the votes they could gain. Successful campaigns don't always correlate with successful presidencies. But if you're running on the basis of experience, it's not a good sign when you end up in such a state of melt-down that your sole recourse is endless character attacks and a refusal to gracefully acknowledge defeat.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles