When sizing up a politician’s potential for filling the role of commander-in-chief, there are a number of things the average voter might assess. For instance, you might want someone who can keep her cool under fire.
On Thursday, appearing before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Hillary Clinton proved that she had that stuff. Even if she offered the occasionally sharp rejoinder to questions from Republicans on the committee—a committee that the Republican House majority leader all but admitted was convened to harm her presidential bid—her demeanor remained remarkably consistent throughout.
In assessing a prospective president, you might also want to consider a candidate’s stamina, seeing as he or she is angling for perhaps the most demanding job on earth. After at least nine hours of testimony in an 11-hour stretch, Clinton proved she’s got stamina in spades. We likely won’t be hearing much more talk about whether she’s too old for the job.
And when pondering the qualifications for the purported leader of the free world, you probably want someone who can be tough. One thing we learned from Thursday’s remarkable hearing is that there’s tough—and then there’s Hillary-tough. And Hillary-tough is a thing to behold.
The hearing, like the other umpteen inquiries on the same topic, centered on the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which took the lives of four Americans, including Chris Stevens, who was then the U.S. ambassador to that broken nation. Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for president, was, of course, then the secretary of state. Amid the confusion of the attack and its aftermath, U.S. officials sowed confusion when some, such as U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, suggested the attack stemmed from a spontaneous protest said to have taken place in response to an anti-Muslim video produced in the U.S.
As it turned out, the Benghazi attack was no mere incident of spontaneous mob violence; it was a well-planned operation launched by an affiliate of al-Qaeda. And while Rice had gone on the national Sunday talk shows the weekend following the attack with the protest-mob narrative, Clinton never did. In a statement issued following the assault on the consulate, she simply said, "Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted to the Internet."
Grilling Clinton at Thursday’s hearing, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, tried to conflate that statement by Clinton with Rice’s misstatements. But Clinton was having none of it, patiently explaining that saying that some have sought to justify the attack in those terms is not the same thing as saying the video caused the attack.
To be sure, there were real problems in the State Department’s operation of the Benghazi consulate. Why, indeed, was it left so unprotected? But these were not the questions Republican committee members sought to answer; the truth of mere human failings would do little to advance the massive conspiracy theory that right-wing Republicans have been selling about the Clintons since before the current candidate’s husband took office in 1992.
That conspiracy theory is a jumble of dark, murderous inferences against the Democratic power couple, all ginned up to suggest that the Clintons’ ultimate aim is to destroy America. In the latest iteration of the grand conspiracy theory, right-wingers hope to convince the public that Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration deliberately left the consulate unprotected for the express purpose of letting Americans die at the hands of Islamic extremist terrorists.
All of which calls the question: Why on earth have right-wingers always been so unhinged in their hatred for the Clintons?
No, it wasn’t Bill’s draft-dodging or his weasly answer when asked if he had ever smoked pot. It wasn’t even his philandering. It was that he was married to that woman—a woman with a brain as big as his, ambitions as big as his, and who had been the breadwinner of her family, freeing her husband to seek low-paying positions such as governor of Arkansas. Worse, she wasn’t keeping her breadwinning under wraps. She had a high-powered career as an attorney, and she was proud of the fact. And even worse than that, Bill made it clear that he was proud of her accomplishments.
In the right-wing mind, there is nothing so ruinous to America as the liberation of women. The right’s entire ideological structure is built on worship of the Great White Father and veneration of the stern, Caucasian, disciplinarian dad. It’s a worldview centered on a jealous, blue-eyed Father God, a military dispatched to teach the world a lesson, and a president who serves as the national patriarch.
A President Hillary Rodham Clinton poses the gravest threat to that worldview yet—perhaps even graver than the threat to it posed by the nation’s first black president, given that more than half of Americans are women.
Given the composure, stamina, and toughness she demonstrated yesterday, Clinton’s performance at the Benghazi hearing made her right-wing—and mostly male—interrogators look pretty stupid by comparison. If you think the right’s rabid response to her first presidential candidacy, or to the presidency of Barack Obama, was over the top, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Because there’s nothing so threatening to patriarchy than a smart woman—especially one who is playing to win.