Hillary and Bill Clinton have one home in Washington, another in Chappaqua, N.Y., and a whole wide world that opens its arms and wallets to them.
But their permanent address is on the fault line where defiance meets self-destruction.
They know what the caricature of them is and they play right into it. They’re familiar with the rap against them and generously feed it. And they tune out their critics, at least the ones they’re not savaging.
Although they’ve long been derided for a surrender of principle when they’re on the hunt for donations, their foundation has raked in money in a manner that opens them up to fresh, predictable accusations of that.
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Although they’ve long been cast as greedy — remember the china, flatware and furniture carted out of the White House? — they hit the speaking circuit in a way that only strengthened that impression. Audiences of Wall Street bankers, fees in the hundreds of thousands, extra coddling: They have demanded, received and inevitably been blasted for all of that.
And now we learn that Hillary’s response to her reputation for flouting rules and operating in secrecy was to put what could be construed as a cloak over her communications as secretary of state by using only a private email account.
There’s pushback from her defenders over how rare this really was. There are explanations and information still to come.
But this was reckless, given the questions that would surely be asked if it came to light, the likelihood that it would, and how she’d wind up looking.
Does she have a political death wish?
Until a month ago, one of the arguments I frequently heard in favor of her presumed candidacy for the presidency was that she’d been vetted like nobody’s ever been vetted, with no surprises left. All the skeletons had been tugged from the Clintons’ labyrinthine closets. All the mud had been dug up and flung.
But that assessment shortchanged the couple’s ability to make new messes. It ignored the “Groundhog Day” in which they star.
Republicans are having a field day. The dominant figure at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week wasn’t Jeb Bush, Rand Paul or Scott Walker. It was Hillary Clinton, in absentia.
Referring to the controversial sources of funds raised by the Clinton Foundation in recent years, Ted Cruz joked that she wasn’t present because the conference’s organizers “couldn’t find a foreign nation to foot the bill.”
Reince Priebus added: “Hillary barely comes out in public these days. If there’s not a private luxury jet and a quarter-million-dollar speaking fee waiting for her, you can forget about it.”
That gibe was over the top. But it touched on a worry that many Democrats have: Can Hillary, of all Democrats, persuasively style herself as a champion of the struggling middle class?
It also demonstrates how much ammunition she’s needlessly giving a future Republican rival.
That is, if she runs and if she gets her party’s nomination. Democrats should look closely at the revelations of recent weeks and think hard about finding a primary opponent for her, one more fearsome than those who have stepped forward so far.
Only then would she get the practice she may need in answering the latest charges against her. Only then would Democratic voters see how well she handles that. Only then would they be forced to reckon fully with her habit of clinging to her ways.
She and Bill have lived their entire political lives under fire, some of it deserved, some of it not. It’s as if they decided at a certain point that they’d never get a fair shake and should cut the corners that they could and behave as they wished. Their foes would storm the gates regardless.
But there are times when the Clintons are their own worst enemies.
Aggrieved by the way her detractors saw her as haughtily above it all, Hillary decided on an approach to emails as secretary of state that has made her look haughtily above it all.
Is that entitlement? Or hubris?
An inability to change? Or a refusal to?
I approached someone who knows the Clintons well, asked how to make sense of this and got an answer that echoed observations about them from the past: “They’d rather seek forgiveness than permission.”
Because they have passion and talent, forgiveness has routinely come. But the longer they live on that fault line, the greater the chance of an irredeemable misstep, and the taller the odds they’ll reclaim an old address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.