The enormity of the task that awaited Hillary Clinton last Thursday morning became visually clear to me minutes before she arrived at the venue of the Benghazi Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. Television crewmen gave us a brief footage of Bill Clinton, her husband, as he emerged through the door of their Washington, D.C. residence to see her off. Dressed in a blue T-shirt and what looked like a pair of light blue jeans, the former president, the most gifted of all natural politicians, was looking exactly the way he looks these days: skinny and a little frail, and all certainly the result of leading the life of a vegan.
On his mind, I guess, was a prayer for the wife as she took a few measured steps to the black SUV waiting to convey her to the venue. He knew what she was up against. He, after all, had experienced such trials before. He is an old war horse from so many titanic battles with the Republicans in which they, the Republicans, were all ridiculously overmatched. It was a day that could mar or further boost her already reinvigorated campaign to be the first female president of the United States. And then, the president disappeared back into the house. There, sitting in front of television as he had done the previous week in his hotel room in Las Vegas watching his wife debate and trounce her opponents, he would watch the Republican members of the committee try to beat his wife to pulp.
At other times and other circumstances, he triumphed over his political adversaries because of his immense rhetorical skills and an abundance of emotional intelligence that allowed him, among other things, to bond instantly with the electorate. His wife, on the other hand, has unfairly been panned by the press and political “enemies” as “stiff”, “unnatural” and “unable to connect.” But these are characterizations that I have never shared. For in Hillary I see not a stiff creature, but a woman with a compelling life story, and a woman who has been able to tell that story in a way that has appealed to our deepest instincts as true human beings. However, she is also a strong woman who has an amazing fund of intellectual intelligence. But who is to know where emotional intelligence ends and intellectual intelligence begins, or which is which? But we leave that to the disputations of schoolmen.
Fade out… fade in: Inside the committee room waiting, were the Republican hatchet men and women, salivating like a menagerie of beasts about to devour a prey they assumed was helpless. But in that room also were Democrats loaded for bear and eager to discharge their ammunition at the sight of a rabbit. Leading the Republicans was congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. A former prosecutor, Gowdy has something of a pinhead and a voice designed by nature to strike terror into the heart of a timorous opponent. Supporting him, notably, were congressmen Mike Pompeo of Kansas and Peter Roskam of Illinois respectively, each of them cutting the perfect profile of a schoolyard bully. Vile, vicious and vituperative, the duo would soon compete between themselves to out-Vishinsky Vishinsky in their ferocious questioning and haranguing of Hillary.
Leading the Democrats was Ranking Member Elijah Cummings from the state of Maryland. The only Black member of the committee, Mr. Cummings is baldheaded with a no-nonsense countenance. If Gowdy and his gang thought they were mean-spirited and cantankerous, Cummings, a former lawyer steeped in the theatrics of courtroom drama, was given to fits of volcanic, if righteous, anger. He had several compelling moments of angry response to the Republicans during the “trial of Hillary Clinton,” one of which was so oratorical it drew the only applause of approbation from the audience. There were, respectively, Adam Schiff, representing the state of California, and Adam Smith, elected from the state of Washington. Where the former was occasionally emotional but so effective, the latter was poised, articulate and devastating in his assessment of the work of the committee charged with looking into the murders of four American diplomats in Benghazi under Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. With surgical knives on their tongues, the duo, joining the three other Democrats, eviscerated the committee, dissected its anatomy and basically told the whole world that whatever report the committee eventually came out with, it would not be worth the paper on which it was written.
So far, this is the eighth committee empaneled to investigate the deaths. Seven previous committees had absolved Hillary of blame. But because the Republicans hate Hillary so much they don’t want her as the next president of the United States, they set up the Benghazi Committee to see if they could come up with enough material, a smoking gun potent enough to derail her campaign. Among the things the Republicans sought were angry facial and bodily gestures, angry verbal responses, damning inconsistencies and just about anything that could further their allegation that she “is a liar.”
And so, for eleven hours, her “prosecutors” had her “detained” in a Capitol Hill committee room, grilling her, badgering her, yelling at her in hopes that she might snap and make unforced errors. But because she was smarter and more decent and sophisticated than all her “enemies” put together, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the wife of the 42nd President of the United States, sat there absorbing, like lightning rod, all the fire and contumely directed at her by Republicans who, outside of that room, could never hold a candle to her. They flared up and bullied her. She did not break and respond in kind. They pointed to some non-existent “inconsistencies” and made barely-disguised remarks that she was a liar. Nothing. They mocked her as she consulted her notes. Nothing. They recycled questions already asked a thousand times in the preceding hours. Nothing. They did everything they humanly could to get under her skin. Nothing. And all those things and more they did for ELEVEN hours to reduce her to smithereens. Nothing.
The malevolence of their scheme, coupled with the viciousness of its implementation, approaches — please permit the analogy — those noted by historians among the jurors of Socrates and the crucifiers of the Lord Jesus Christ. But in the end, Hillary won. She won because Gowdy, speaking to the press later, said nothing new had been unearthed after frittering away another eleven hours and almost $5 million of tax payers’ money. She won because she was poised, unflappable and calm and dignified under the flurry of withering, gratuitous attacks in the name of questioning. She won because she reined in every temptation to descend to their low level by exploding like a volcano spewing forth ash and lava. She won because she had a command of the facts of the situation and knowledge of what her job description was as a former Secretary of State. She won because she did not have a nervous breakdown as a sign that she could not be president. She won because, yes, she was presidential, and because she can be president.
Donald Trump had a three-hour debate the other day and almost collapsed in one heap in front of his podium. He whined bitterly afterwards and sent demands to all future presidential debate organizers that, unless the time-span was thenceforth reduced to two hours (commercials included), he was no longer participating in the game. Now, ladies and gentlemen, is there anyone among the Republican presidential candidates who could sit for that length of time and endure blistering fire as Hillary did? If you know of one, you may please let us know.
I could have given almost anything in the world to be in that room with Bill Clinton as he watched his wife take the barrage of insults and fire in that attitude of calm and containment. But because I wasn’t there, I can only hazard this guess as being his first response as Gowdy brought his kangaroo court to an end: “Goddamn, motherfuckers! Don’t mess with a Clinton!”