When was the last time Hillary Clinton used her lucrative public-speaking platform to address the issues of NSA and surveillance in the context of national security — or at all? Politico has been counting the days, and Josh Gerstein cites September as the last mention from the presumed Democratic frontrunner to succeed Barack Obama on those responsibilities. Since then, Gerstein says, Hillary “skirts” the issue:
Clinton aides indicated at the time that she largely abandoned her planned speech at the National Constitution Center because President Barack Obama decided to address the nation that same night about his decision to seek congressional approval to use force in Syria. Indeed, she mentioned Obama’s imminent White House address and called for a “strong response” to the Syrian crisis.
While Clinton’s decision to put aside her original speech that night was understandable, her near silence on the issue since has been more open to question. As the national debate over the National Security Agency’s broad array of data collection programs has rolled on, courts, lawmakers, blue-ribbon panels and even Obama himself have weighed on the legality, effectiveness and wisdom of the snooping. Clinton has not.
But it’s not clear how long she can keep up the silent treatment: As she mulls a bid for the White House in 2016, she’s beginning to face pressure to outline her views on the surveillance issue more clearly.
Other potential 2016 contenders — ranging from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.) — have weighed in. Paul, who has taken a staunchly libertarian stand against the NSA programs, filed a class-action lawsuit over the surveillance last week. By contrast, Christie and O’Malley have warned about the dangers of retreating in the battle against terrorism.
Completely sidestepping such questions would seem odd — and probably unsustainable — if Clinton wants to remain close to the national political debate.
This is why it’s bad news to start a presidential campaign too early. Once it becomes known, then every issue requires a position and a statement. It’s why top-tier candidates try to wait as long as possible before testing the waters. It keeps the press from beating them up, and it might be why Mitt Romney is taking a more public profile in 2014 — as a way to screen other Republicans from press scrutiny until after the midterms.
On the other hand, Hillary is so high profile that it probably wouldn’t matter. Even if she tried to get off the radar screen, she’s not going to disappear entirely, or much at all. Besides, she should be at least asked about the Obama administration’s national-security policies, including surveillance. As Secretary of State, Hillary would have at least been a customer of those practices, if not a participant in some fashion.
At least this focuses on the present and the future. In my column for The Week today, I again offer my advice to the GOP to stop partying like it’s 1998:
If voters had little interest in Lewinsky in 1998, why would they take an interest in the affair 18 years later? More importantly, why would voters blame Hillary for the Lewinsky affair when they’ve long since forgiven the husband who conducted it? Paul and others may see this as a means of skewering the Democratic “war on women” talking point — which is demagogic and silly — but punishing the wife for the philandering of her husband won’t win them many points among women, either.
Besides, this is all water under the bridge. Even those disgusted by Bill Clinton’s behavior aren’t going to change their politics over it at this late date. Romney lost two bids for the presidency and has little credibility among the conservative grassroots because of his campaign failures, but in this case he’s correct. Voters won’t care about how Hillary handled the affairs of her husband, or even an abuse of power by Bill Clinton in the issuing of presidential pardons in the final days of his term, especially the pardon for Marc Rich.
Voters will care about Secretary Clinton’s record at the State Department, especially since it is the only executive experience Hillary can claim, and Republicans have a wealth of material to use. She started by handing a “reset button” to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov as an apology for the Bush years, and ended her term with the U.S.-Russian relationship at its worst level since the end of the Cold War. Her tenure included an Arab Spring policy that fueled a military intervention in Libya without congressional approval, leaving Libya as a failed state where terrorist networks metastasized. That led directly to the sacking of an unconscionably unprotected consulate in Benghazi and the death of four Americans, as well as a rebellion in Mali that required French intervention to stamp out. On the other side of the ledger, Hillary can claim no trade agreements, no peace settlements, and really, no landmark achievements of any kind. Even longtime Clintonite Lanny Davis, who counseled Bill Clinton during the 1998 impeachment, could not name a single achievement from Secretary Clinton in four years at State.
Republicans need to focus on the future, rather than keep relitigating a debate they lost nearly two decades ago. Voters don’t need another round of blue-dress nostalgia. The GOP should just stick to the subjects of 2016 rather than party like it’s 1998.