In 2008, Hillary Clinton repeatedly found ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in her failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, losing to Barack Obama. In the intervening seven years, she has not improved much as a candidate. Immediately after winning pundit plaudits for surviving her appearance at the Benghazi hearing by shrugging off the investigation as nothing more than silly politics, Hillary then made the same argument about … the Veterans Administration wait-list scandal:
She said the problem is real, but cautioned that “it’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be” on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” on Friday.The former first lady blamed Republicans for using the issue as part of an “ideological agenda” and said they want the VA to “fail.”“Now nobody would believe that from the coverage you see, and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans, in – in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have,” Clinton said.“They try to create a downward spiral, don’t fund it to the extent that it needs to be funded, because they want it to fail, so then we can argue for privatization.”
Er … what? Fellow Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick flat-out rejected that argument:
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, an Arizona Democrat, disagreed.
“The problems we’ve seen at the Phoenix VA are devastating and real,” she said in a e-mailed statement. “The VA scandal has nothing to do with partisan politics and everything to do with systemic failure, negligence and lack of accountability.”
Jazz wrote about this on Saturday, but it’s worth a second look to emphasize the damage it does to the post-hearing narrative. As I point out in my column for The Week, the scandal was significantly widespread enough that it was detected in 64% of all VA facilities — by the VA itself in an internal audit. Barack Obama was forced to admit it was anything but an isolated incident, and also forced to demand a high-level resignation:
Even President Obama, whose administration failed to deal with this fraud for more than five years despite having been warned specifically about it during the 2008 transition to the White House, didn’t try to defend the indefensible. “What they’ve found is that the misconduct has not been limited to a few VA facilities, but many across the country,” Obama said in May 2014. The exposure of this scandal led to a singular moment of executive accountability in this administration as Obama demanded and received Eric Shinseki’s resignation as secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki remains the only Obama Cabinet official forced to resign for poor performance.
This was all over the systemic fraud that Clinton argues now was mostly a figment of Republican imaginations.
Why is Clinton defending the VA and dismissing the real and admitted plight of veterans? Maybe to distinguish herself from Bernie Sanders, who seemed open to allowing for private care based on lack of access at VA facilities in the spring of 2014. More likely, though, is that Clinton decided to ride the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy for one too many victory laps around the track after the Benghazi hearings.
In doing so, Clinton may have deflated the political boost she gained the previous week. Clinton had already come under fire for her cavalier attitude in the initial Benghazi Senate hearings, with her infamous “what difference at this point does it make” rejoinder to Sen. Ron Johnson over the deaths of four Americans in a poorly secured State Department facility operating in an area known to be rife with radical Islamic terror groups. After having established the argument that Republican probes into what led to those deaths are nothing more than election-year politics, Clinton now suggests that the deaths of dozens if not hundreds of veterans in a badly managed government monopoly matters less than defending the big-government approach to health care.
If Hillary’s making the same argument to blow off an acknowledged systemic scandal at the VA, what does that say about her Benghazi defense? And what does it say about the media’s rush to crown her the winner in the exchange last week? After all, we still haven’t seen all the e-mails Hillary produced, and we may see the e-mails she didn’t produce, thanks to the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the secret e-mail server. As an experienced prosecutor, Trey Gowdy knows how to guide witnesses into potential traps by committing them to a particular set of answers ahead of the evidence being unveiled. Did he do so last week? It’s hard to say, but it’s also impossible to declare either one of them a winner in that exchange until all the evidence is in.
Liz Peek agrees, and says that James Comey may be the real danger to Hillary in the long run:
Comey has shown a nettlesome tendency to stray off the Obama reservation. Most recently, he challenged White House orthodoxy by linking the rise of homicidesaround the country to stepped-up scrutiny of the police. In a speech at the University of Chicago Law School last week, Mr. Comey described the “YouTube” effect that has created a “chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year.” Police, he suggested, are so concerned about starring in a video that goes viral that they are attacking their job more tentatively to the detriment of law and order. The New York Times reported that Comey’s remarks “caught officials by surprise at the Justice Department, where his views are not shared at the top levels.”
Comey has also parted ways with Obama on the ‘Black Lives Matter’ controversy. In his speech in Chicago, the FBI director declared that “all lives matter” three times; at the White House, Obama was simultaneously defending the Black Lives Matter mantra while participating in a panel on criminal justice reform. The president helpfully explained that the protesters use the phrase ‘black lives matter’ “not because they said they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter; rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.” …
Justice Department investigators and the FBI are reviewing Clinton’s explanations and behavior. We will know in the next few months whether she or her aides will face charges. Republicans are skeptical that Obama’s Justice Department will prosecute any misdeeds discovered to have been perpetrated by his former Secretary of State and the likely Democratic nominee. With James Comey leading the investigation, and unlikely to participate in any cover-up, they should have faith in the system.
At the very least, Republicans should not assume that the issue is settled. And neither should the media that rushed to toss hosannas at Hillary last week. Her bizarre and paranoid rant discounting the deaths of dozens of veterans at the hands of a corrupt VA as nothing more than a political attack on single-payer health care should also remind Democrats that Hillary remains the same haughty, entitled, and unlikable candidate that she turned out to be in 2008.