Christopher Buckley

The age of Hillary

The second President Clinton will be dull. That doesn’t mean she’ll be restful

The age of Hillary
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Predicting what might happen in a Donald Trump presidency is easy. Day 1: A fabulous, really great inaugural, the best ever, with amazing entertainment by fabulous, top people. Day 2: War with Iran. Day 3: War with North Korea. Day 4: Mexico builds a wall to keep out Americans.

But let’s not go there. (Please.) Let us instead conjure what four years of a Hillary Clinton administration might bring. After all, she is, despite the media-led panic about Trump’s improving polls, still strong favourite to become the 45th President of the United States. So what would Hillary’s America look like?

Well, we could start with some predictions about the legislative fate of, say, the carried-interest loophole, student-loan relief, the Volcker Rule imposing ‘risk fees’ on banks and a realistic yet audacious guess as to whether she’ll sign the Commodity Futures Modernisation Act. But then you would stop reading this and turn to Taki’s column. So let’s not.

The difficulty with limning a template of a Hillary Clinton administration is that her existing template is unlimnable. That is, fuzzy. It’s not so much a template as a palimpsest. Mrs Clinton’s policy positions are rarely fixed points. They have a tendency to get up and wander about, whether it’s the Iraq war vote, or the trade deal she was so in favour of until she wasn’t, or the minimum wage of $12 or $15 an hour, or the Benghazi attack being the fault of that asshole in California streaming that totally inappropriate Islamophobic video, or the private emails with the nuclear launch codes and George Clooney’s recipe for penne arrabiata. If Mrs Clinton had an escutcheon, its motto would be ‘Whatever’ (Quisquis? You Brits all know Latin, right?) The catalogue of Clinton policy books has more positions than the Kamasutra. As Groucho Marx said, ‘I’ve got principles. And if you don’t like them, I’ve got others.’

This morphing and shapeshifting has allowed her to survive over the years. The catch is that, while getting away with stuff may sustain you in power, it won’t endear you to the general public. Mrs C has been front and centre on the national stage now for nearly a quarter-century. Result: 60 per cent of Americans find her ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘dishonest’. A triumph. But she is hardly unique. Richard Nixon, aka ‘Tricky Dick’, was on the national stage for 20 years before he made it all the way. And that turned out fine.

In the early 1990s, an era that may come to be called ‘Clinton 1’, Hillary and Bill were on the White House ramparts hurling rocks and pouring hot tar on reporters and investigators assailing them with pitchforks and torches about the Whitewater controversy over their property dealings. (Or was it the mysterious suicide of Vince Foster? The White House Travel Office scandal? Quisquis. Point is: blamelessness has been the one Clintonian constant.)

Their defiant — indeed, adamantine — lawyerly denials and refusals to cooperate in any way with the investigation prompted a friend of theirs to remark (anonymously): ‘They’re being so big-firm about this.’ I’m not a lawyer, so I stared at the phrase. Yes, of course: a reference to the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, where Mrs Clinton had been a partner while her husband was servicing — serving — the people of Arkansas.

Big-firm Mrs Clinton has remained ever since. Majestically. She’s a practising Methodist. One wonders: does she believe in original sin? If Adam and Eve had kept the Rose Law Firm on retainer, what a different cosmos we would inhabit.

This much one might confidently predict: whatever fresh hell befalls during her four years in office, it’s unlikely we will hear from the presidential lips any variation on the standard presidential mea culpa, ‘Mistakes were made.’ (Note the passive voice.) The Clinton solar system is a solipsism. Clintons do not make mistakes. People who work for the Clintons make mistakes.

Mrs Clinton has her admirers, no argument. But if that 60 per cent figure is accurate, she’s going to need more than her faithful hard core to put her over the top in November. Fortunately, many — indeed most — Republicans are resistant to the charms of the Mussolini of Fifth Avenue. Confronted with a Hobson’s Choice from Hell in November, they will hold their noses and vote for her. Or write in Ronald Reagan. And then get stinking drunk and go home and kick the dog.

Of the many difficulties facing Mrs Clinton once she achieves her life’s ambition is a fact that even her most ardent devotees might admit to, if you promised them anon-ymity, voice-altering software and witness protection: she is, well, dull. She is, to para-phrase Falstaff, not only dull herself, but the cause of dullness in others, especially the minions who warble on TV about how wonderful she is. Maybe she is wonderful, but hearing about her wonderfulness has become, 24 years later, excruciating.

Mrs Clinton is many things — intelligent, accomplished, hard-working, quisquis — but she is not herself interesting, except as a historical phenomenon — an American Evita, minus the charisma and the balcony. This is likely to make four years of her feel interminable. One year into her presidency, Stephen Hawking may have to revise his theory of time and posit that it is now slowing down. Or has stopped altogether.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I postulate that Mrs Clinton is not an exciting persona. If she were, it would be her, not a 74-year-old rumpled lefty with Paleo-Marxist cuckoo ideas, attracting massive crowds of young people.

Comrade Sanders’s message may be flawed (rich people bad; government control of the economy good), but it is at least a message. Mrs Clinton has no message other than ‘I am so owed.’

Barring a national calamity — which no one hopes for — her presidency is unlikely to make for good spectating. How many Hillary Clinton speeches have you watched all the way to ‘And God bless the United States of America’?

American presidents are not constitutionally required to be exciting, or interesting, though it helps. Calvin Coolidge, whose name is usually adduced today as a punchline, was one of our most capable chief executives. He was famously — triumphantly — dull.

In our own time, we’ve had two champion snooze-inducers in the White House: Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Both were good, decent men. Ford was dull in an endearing way, Carter in an annoying way. Ford fell down aeroplane steps, which always makes a person likable. The most interesting thing he ever said was that Poles didn’t feel controlled by the commies in Moscow. Whoa! Dad’s off his meds! Carter was a Baptist teetotaller (deeply boring) who carried his own garment bag and lectured us for being depressed, when the reason we were depressed was because he was president.

How Mrs Clinton’s dullness will play out across four years is… let’s not spend too much time on that. I stipulate for the record that I am not making a Trojan Horse argument for a President Trump. Hitler was interesting, too — up to a point.

Mrs Clinton may well inherit — the mot seems juste — a White House at war with a Republican House and Senate. This will make getting any legislation other than designating Tuesday National Cauliflower Day impossible.

Barack Obama came into office wafting on zephyrs of adoring oohs and aahs, trailing angel-dust and proclaiming the dawn of a new golden era of nonpartisan enlightenment — a new shining Washington upon a hill. In less fancy terms: he promised to change the way Washington does business. That turned out well too.

Hillary’s path to the White House will be very different — no allegorical tableau painting in lush Maxfield Parrish tones: ‘Lady Liberty as White House Doorman, Ushering In A Glorious New Age’. Hers will be a muddy crawl across a blasted, body-strewn battlefield not to the sound of trumpets but to the rat-a-tat of machine-guns and an ambush outta nowhere by a Brooklyn accent shouting: ‘I didn’t take money from Goldman Sachs! Why don’t you release the transcripts of your quarter-million-dollar speech?’ Mrs C may inherit the White House as Bill’s legatee, but no one would deny that she’s worked harder than the noble Stakhanov to claim her inheritance.

Who’d predict for her a landslide victory in November? (Don’t ask me — I was confidently predicting that Trump would implode last July.) Assuming that it will be a Trump-Clinton race, she can only make it to the White House front door with a margin of victory provided by nose-holding Republicans and independents opting for what they deem the lesser of two evils.

The kids who were showing up in great numbers feeling the Bern won’t be on a float at her inaugural parade. The furious Trump-ians will boo and toss beer cans at her limousine from the balcony of his new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. As for the morally spent Republicans who put her over the top, they’ll be at home, grumbling and switching the channel. Not much of a mandate.

Mrs Clinton’s relations with a Republican Congress will be inch-by-inch trench warfare. In her favour, she is a veteran of those corridors and knows them well. And she has Maggie Thatcher-level energy and work ethic.

But when she places her hand on the Bible to take the oath of office, Mrs C will be one year shy of her 70th birthday. Success, or just making it across the next finish line in 2020, will require every erg of her energy. And should things not go swimmingly, a lot of that big-firm attitude.

Safe bet-wise: the first Mrs President is going to be very, very good for the Clinton Foundation. As for America, not so much. A lot has been written about how fed up people are with the arrogance and corruption of Washington. That’s why so many are voting for Donald Trump. But if you think Americans are angry now, just wait until they suffer a full term of Clinton 2.