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Hillary Clinton’s ironies

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Almost two weeks ago a conservative news site posted an audiotape that was intended for a piece in Esquire magazine but that was never published. It was part of a collection of recordings of interviews done with Hillary Rodham Clinton in the early 1980’s. The posted segment detailed Ms. Clinton’s “most significant criminal case” of her legal career- her defense of a man who was on trial for raping a 12 year-old girl. Ms. Clinton gave her all to the defense and the man was able to plead down to a lesser charge and received a significantly lighter sentence.

In her interview, Ms. Clinton stated that it was her job to give her client the best defense possible. It’s hard to fault her for that. However the issue for Clinton’s detractors is not that she offered a solid defense- it was that she believed the accused was guilty- yet wrote in a court affidavit at the time that she had been told the girl was “emotionally unstable” and had been known to “seek out older men and engage in fantasizing,” and that the child had “made false accusations in the past about persons claiming they had attacked her body.” Clinton also wrote that the alleged victim “exhibits an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her own way.” In short, Clinton blamed the victim, attacked her character and suggested she asked for it. Clinton also laughed at one point during the interview about not believing in polygraphs anymore after she had the defendant take a lie detector test in order to help his case and the results were that he was telling the truth.

Because this case was so long ago when Ms. Clinton was very young and the interview that has unearthed it was also conducted years ago- it’s not too hard to find reasons why it might not be that relevant to the Hillary Clinton we know today. There is merit to this argument- people grow, mature and change over time. But there is such an irony to this one- that of reconciling that young defense lawyer with the woman we know as a champion of the rights of children and women.

Fast forward to more recent history- and we have the irony of Benghazi. What makes the Benghazi incident ironic you ask? To begin with it happened on her watch- when she was the Secretary of State and the safety and welfare of foreign diplomats was her ultimate responsibility. The ironic twist involves Ms. Clinton’s famous “3am” television ad that ran in Texas just ahead of the March primary there- the ad that led to her often repeated campaign tag line- “ It’s 3am, who do you want answering the phone?” Apparently Ambassador Stevens did call the Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli for help a number of times the night of September 11th, although earlier in the evening. The phone wasn’t picked up at first because Mr. Hicks didn’t recognize the number-but after repeated calls it was and the attack was reported and help was requested. A call went right out to the top brass in Washington, D.C., but help never arrived and the full story has never been revealed.

When questioned later at a hearing on the incident, Ms. Clinton took “full responsibility” but when pressed for details became angry and said “What difference does it make now?” This in spite of the fact that Ambassador Stevens had sent a classified cable up the chain of command on August 15, a month before the attack- stating that the Benghazi compound could not withstand a “coordinated attack” like the one that took place on September 11, 2001, the first 9/11. How’s that for irony? Now that she may be running for President, Ms. Clinton is speaking more about Benghazi and her desire to know what happened, get the facts and ensure something like that can’t happen again. Perhaps this is a sign that she has grown through the experience, like she did from her defense of an accused child rapist while a young attorney.

Politicians are known for saying one thing and doing another, changing their views when it is convenient- and having amnesia when necessary- so what might help is a system of on-going fact checking where anyone seeking office has to disclose their past stand on an issue and actions related to it so they can be compared by voters to the man or woman who stands before them now, asking for their support and telling them why they are the right person for the job. Maybe then we could answer the question with confidence “Who do you want answering the phone?”