Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ron Johnson's Telling Conversation with Hillary Clinton

Before we get in the weeds of this post, let's first recall a helpful PR tip: Men in power can never appear to lose their temper or become frustrated with women in power. They just can't. They will never fail to walk away from the exchange appearing condescending and arrogant. It may not be fair, but "them's the breaks." This is why Joe Biden was all sweetness and light during his Vice Presidential debate with Sarah Palin in 2008; but glib, dismissive and downright surly during his debate with Paul Ryan last fall. If a man in power raises his voice or loses his cool during a conversation with a woman in power he will come off looking like a bully. Maybe worse.

Someone forgot to remind Ron Johnson of this principle before he met Hillary Clinton this morning. I don't necessarily think that Johnson crossed a line here during his line of questioning, but he certainly did take enough steps toward that line; enough to trigger the alarms of not just Clinton, but more than a few viewers too. The optics were not great for Johnson. To be sure, the garbled initial part of Clinton's answer wasn't very impressive either, but I would guess that more people will connect with her display of emotion than will try and parse her words anyway.

Which brings us back to the substance of Johnson's interrogation. Since almost the end of last September, Johnson's been pounding the Benghazi beat pretty hard, just about as hard as any other issue he's bothered touching during his short time in office. That's fine: there are some big issues to discuss over the incident, like the whether US involvement in Libya is appropriate in the first place? Is the security of our diplomatic missions being adequately addressed? Was the CIA's role in Benghazi compromised and were they the target of the terrorists? What, if any, was Al-Qaeda's involvement in the incident? Is there any connection between Benghazi to the recent events in Mali or the hostage crisis in Algeria; and, if so, does this make North Africa the new hotbed for Islamist extremism? Even a simple walk-through the tick-tock of events on the ground in Benghazi on September 11th would have been helpful. Instead, Johnson decided to focus on the process by which "taking points" were made and disseminated in Washington. This has been Johnson's singular focus from the very beginning, and it hasn't changed regardless of how often his questions have been answered.

(To be perfectly honest, the basic gist of Johnson's questions was so predictable that I'm a little disappointed Clinton didn't have a prepared response. The folks at State should have seen this coming. But that's another issue.)

So let's answer Johnson's question: Why didn't Clinton call up the rescued State Department employees as they were being evacuated from the consulate? Because victims of terrorist attacks need to be debriefed by people who are trained to do that sort of thing, hopefully while the event is still fresh in their memories, precisely so that the intelligence community can reconstruct the incident and determine what the hell actually happened. The end.

But Johnson already knows this ... or at least he should. There are a number of reasons while the official Benghazi story was slow to evolve and they start with CIA's involvement in the consulate and the attack. The White House -- and not just the Obama Administration, but any White House -- should be understandably reticent to reveal aspects of intelligence operations and procedures.

But Johnson already knows this, too (or at least he should); and that's what makes whacking the Benghazi pinata so appealing to him: the White House likely can't provide an adequate public explanation of events without revealing a national security secret or two. Johnson's opponents may not think he's too bright, but it does not take much to realize when you've backed someone into a lose-lose situation. No wonder Johnson's been trying to squeeze blood from the Benghazi stone, even if it means essentially accusing the administration of a cover-up ... something that's already been thoroughly debunked.

Now let's return to the optics of this morning one more time. We've talked about how Johnson's been going out of his way to alienate women voters before (see section #4, waaaaaay at the bottom), but it doesn't look like the Senator's done much to correct the problem. Whatever one may think about the exchange at the hearing this morning, following it up with an interview with Charlie Sykes during which Johnson basically dismissed Clinton's testimony as premeditated "emotional" evasiveness -- as if women aren't accused of being too emotional enough as it is -- will probably not endear him to ovarian electorate.

Sharper readers will notice that even though we just criticized Johnson for his "emotional" theory we praised Clinton for her use of emotion earlier in this post. Does that mean I'm talking out of both sides our my mouth? Nope, and here's why: most women will interpret Johnson's dismissal of Clinton as evoking female "emotional volatility" in general, but that's very clearly not what Clinton was trying to convey with her answer to Johnson's question. She was angry, angry that two dudes like Johnson and Sen. Rand Paul, a pair of men who cumulatively have as much experience in elected office as Clinton does solely at the State Department, were telling her how to do her job ... and in hindsight, no less. (She wasn't the only one.) No one needed to parse her words for Clinton to get that point across.

Except for Johnson, apparently.

1 comment:

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