Well, it’s the difference between cool and reality — and, as Hillary’s confident reply appeared to suggest, and the delirious media reception of it confirmed, reality comes a poor second in the Obama era. The presumption of conservatives has always been that one day cold, dull reality would pierce the klieg-light sheen of Obama’s glamour. Indeed, that was the premise of Mitt Romney’s reductive presidential campaign. But, just as Beyoncé will always be way cooler than some no-name operatic soprano or a male voice choir, so Obama will always be cooler than a bunch of squaresville yawneroos boring on about jobs and debt and entitlement reform. Hillary’s cocksure sneer to Senator Johnson of Wisconsin made it explicit. At a basic level, the “difference” is the difference between truth and falsity, but the subtext took it a stage further: No matter what actually happened that night in Benghazi, you poor sad loser Republicans will never succeed in imposing that reality and its consequences on this administration.
And so a congressional hearing — one of the famous “checks and balances” of the American system — is reduced to just another piece of Beltway theater. “The form was still the same, but the animating health and vigor were fled,” as Gibbon wrote in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. But he’s totally uncool, too. So Hillary lip-synced far more than Beyoncé, and was adored for it. “As I have said many times, I take responsibility,” she said. In Washington, the bold declarative oft-stated acceptance of responsibility is the classic substitute for responsibility: rhetorically “taking responsibility,” preferably “many times,” absolves one from the need to take actual responsibility even once.