Karma chameleon in chief: Hillary Clinton and the politics of expediency

The maintenance of what Mickey Kaus calls the “Clinton mode of production” requires at least one member of the family to hold office, so that powerful and wealthy people might obtain a frisson of access and influence through financial gift-giving. What the Clintons understand is that the easiest way to hold office, and thereby keep up the mansions and private jets and villas and beach vacations, is to flatter and cater to the ever-changing morality and self-conception of the liberal ruling caste, to understand what troubles their guilty consciences, to put yourself forward as the representative of their fluctuating and malleable concerns.

Such an approach requires a canny operator able to obscure changes in policy behind a smooth veneer of likability and guile—and if we have learned anything so far in this campaign it is that Hillary Clinton is not such an operator. She is clumsy, stilted, tentative, suspicious, rehearsed, monotonous. She might satisfy, but does she inspire? Do any of the voters nodding their heads at her latest declaration of the conventional wisdom consider themselves “Hillary Clinton Democrats”? What does she stand for besides her own ambition?

It would take someone like Bill Clinton to overcome another obstacle: The differences between the primary electorate and the general one. The social issues on which the left is proclaiming victory may become insignificant next year when voters compare them to a moribund economy and a collapsing international order. The combination of an uninspiring and untrustworthy candidate and a political environment hostile to the incumbent party might overwhelm Hillary Clinton’s meager skills. Like Boy George, Hillary doesn’t quite know how to finesse the contradiction between her past and her present, between what she’s selling and what the general electorate might want. Voters are fickle, after all. They come and go.