In an election cycle where authenticity has become the main currency for voters disenchanted with politics, few presidential contenders come into the field as “dead broke” as Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party’s presidential front-runner spent 2014 trying to explain away her family’s supposed poverty in light of its nine-figure gross income after leaving the White House and her claim that $100 million does not make people “truly well off.”
She has spent most of 2015 trying to backtrack on several false statements regarding her secret e-mail server and its use in hiding what should have been publicly available communications records from her time as Secretary of State. Bernie Sanders has spent the last few weeks hammering Clinton on her flip-flopping positions on the Keystone XL pipeline, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and same-sex marriage.
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Over the past week, though, Clinton may have set a new mark for unforced errors and backtracking. Fresh from what the media hailed as a victory over the House Select Committee on Benghazi, to which Clinton testified with an I-can’t-believe-we’re-still-talking-about-this mien, the presumptive nominee had finally developed some positive momentum after months of declines in polling numbers.
Pundits hailed the fortnight of the debate and House testimony as the best ten days of her campaign in 2015, as Clinton derided the inquiry into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi as nothing more than cheap election-cycle politics. Democrats rushed to support that narrative and called for an end to the probe.
Then Clinton stepped all over the narrative with another unforced error in an uncontrolled environment. On Friday, she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that the wait-list scandal at the Veterans Administration was also a ginned-up controversy by Republicans. Some problems existed, Clinton granted, but they weren’t “widespread,” and the GOP only talked about them to push for an end to the single-payer system at the VA.
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That brought the momentum narrative to a sudden halt. An internal audit by the VA not only found that wait-list fraud was “widespread,” it was in fact systemic. Barack Obama admitted this in May 2014 – even before Clinton misrepresented her wealth during the book tour – and demanded VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. Sanders, who had been chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee at the time, worked with John McCain on comprehensive reform of the troubled agency.
The attempt to paint a picture of victimhood for Clinton backfired utterly. Both Democrats and Republicans publicly denounced Clinton’s efforts to minimize the fraud, which cost dozens of veterans their lives. McCain called them “disgraceful” and demanded an apology. Not only did that distract from her momentary triumph, it torpedoed her earlier claim of victimhood as well.
Days later, however, Clinton suddenly became the Stalwart of Defrauded Veterans. Wednesday morning, her campaign’s press secretary claims Clinton’s remarks had been “misinterpreted.” Brian Fallon also announced that Clinton had developed a plan for systemic reform of the Veterans Administration and would roll it out in November. “Even now, too many of our veterans are still waiting an unacceptably long time to see a doctor, or to process disability claims and appeals,” Fallon told CNN.
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The VA itself found that 40 veterans died in the Phoenix area alone while waiting for months to get medical treatment. A more recent report suggests that the reforms of the existing system have not improved matters as 8,000 vets have waiting for 90 days or more just to get an appointment at the Phoenix VA. Yet the only interest Clinton took in this scandal – other than to dismiss it as partisan politics – is when it dented her own prospects for election. Suddenly, rather than singing hosannas about the love veterans have for the VA, Clinton wants to take charge with a reform of her own.
Clinton is only a victim of her own thirst for power at all costs.
Clinton is only a victim of her own thirst for power at all costs. She lied about her e-mail server in order to thwart legitimate oversight of her work at the State Department, and she lied about the VA scandal to score cheap points on her Republican opponents at the expense of veterans. McCain castigated Clinton for her “blind ambition” as the basis of her strange comments on the VA, but her ambition is all that truly defines her. There is no other authenticity to be found in Hillary Clinton, and this strange episode makes that perfectly clear.