Poor Hillary Redux

February 21, 2011

Last week I wrote a short essay about Hillary Clinton, expressing some sympathy for the situation in which she finds herself. Of all the figures in public life, she presents to me the biggest puzzle of self-responsibility. To what degree ought she to be held accountable for the things she does? I really don't know.

Shortly before I typed out my confusions, an event occurred at George Washington University which reminds me why when I see Mrs. Clinton addressing a public audience I am reminded of the Manchurian Candidate.

Mrs. Clinton had just returned from Mexico and went to the university, just a short walk from Foggy Bottom, to denounce repressive actions by governments against dissenters. In her audience was Ray McGovern, former longtime CIA agent who became convinced during the Bush administration that U.S. foreign policy had gone off the tracks and was employing tactics antithetical to traditional American values. It wasn't all that unusual a position.

He went to George Washington to express disagreement with Mrs. Clinton's actions, not by shouting at her or creating a disturbance, but simply by standing silently facing away from her. As she was warming to her theme of how awful it is for governments to use violence against peacefully protesting citizens, McGovern was assaulted by a large man who is yet to be identified and a member of the campus police. He was seized and dragged forcefully from the room in full sight of Hillary Clinton, who didn't miss a beat in her speech but kept right on as though autopilot was in force.

McGovern was placed in handcuffs so roughly that his arms began to bleed down into his pants, and hauled way in a police vehicle to a local station where he was held for three and a half hours, and then released. The charge against him was disorderly conduct -- that is standing up silently.

What a tremendous opportunity it was for Mrs. Clinton! How totally she failed to seize it! It was though her brain wasn't working.

All she had to do was to interrupt her speech, tell the security guys to let Mr. McGovern go, invite him to stand on the stage with his back to her, to show that she was acknowledging his dissent. The next day the papers would have been filled with headlines praising her.

Instead she chose to ignore the reality taking place right in front of her face -- actually not more than a few steps way -- and went ahead denouncing the exact actions that were being performed in her name. Could she have subjected herself to a more terrible irony?

I wonder if there's something wrong with her. Has she been so programmed that any spontaneous action is ruled out? Her performance in this instance makes me wonder how her mind works when she's confronting situations of national significance. Is it on autopilot then also?

I am forced to suspect that she represents, and models, a psychological condition which affects a large segment, probably a majority, of public officialdom. They are so much under the thumb of certain required ideas that when anything questions or interrupts that subjection, their brains freeze. They simply don't know what to do. The possibility of thought has been eliminated.

This pushes on to a further hypothesis about how they are among themselves. And this is where things get really terrible. Perhaps they don't dare utter any concept outside approved thought. Perhaps everyone is watching everyone else, so that everyone is terrified of being considered deviant. Perhaps everything that can be said, and, ultimately, thought, is in a neatly wrapped package.

When packaged ideas rule then contradictions and inconsistencies don't matter. When security forces in other nations beat up protesters, that's bad, because other nations are -- or can be -- bad. But when the same thing happens inside the United States, that's okay because the United States is good -- and can never be not good.

You may think that such notions are so simplistic they couldn't be entertained by a functioning adult brain. But how else can we explain so much that we see happening in our public spaces? Might it be that Hillary Clinton is incapable of seeing anything wrong or problematic when a protester at one of her speeches is beat up? Might it be that she cannot make a connection between brutality in Cairo and brutality in an auditorium at George Washington? Might it be that her own brain has been packaged?

As I said in my essay last week, I feel bad about Hillary. And this incident makes me feel even worse for her. The common response is to get angry when we see public officials doing nasty things. But perhaps instead of getting mad we should be hoping for their liberation. After all, what could be more terrible than to be in the grip of a mind of the sort Hillary exhibited at GW? Think of it: to have that mind right inside, and infecting, your own head!

©John R. Turner

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