The Clintons like to sail pretty close to the wind to gain advantage in all circumstances. If we haven't learned that about them by now, we haven't learned much. It does little for them as paragons; it may do a lot for them as powers.
Not infrequently, it ain't pretty. The sails go flapping and they're stuck, seemingly dead in the water. But they're never becalmed. Soon enough, they're off and running again, eyes on the prize.
That's how it looks after the "soft open" (to borrow a Vegas casino term) phase of Hillary Clinton's second presidential campaign. Controversies over her use of private e-mail as US secretary of state and over the Clinton Foundation's massive foreign contributions have dented her popularity some and raised popular concern about her credibility. But they haven't impacted her command over the Democratic primary field and she continues to run pretty well against all Republicans even before the GOP's massive clown car demolition derby really gets underway.
The question for Hillary has always been whether or not she has a compelling rationale, a sense of historical mission beyond simply being the first woman president of the United States.
With her big formal announcement Saturday at Roosevelt Island in New York's East River, she begins addressing what counts most of all. I say most of all because it's striking in retrospect how little, in retrospect, the Clinton scandals have actually amounted to.
Whitewater wasn't much, even with the most jaundiced view. The Monica Lewinsky scandal was a married guy lying about his private sex life.
That Bill Clinton was actually impeached, that all that stuff took over most of the national public affairs bandwidth for years, shows how deranged America's political and media cultures had become.
Not that the Clintons' behavior is always admirable.
Looking at the latest controversies, in grubbing so relentlessly for big money, in privatizing communications as one of the nation's leading public officials -- in other words, in continuing to sail close to the wind -- do they lead America further down the rabbit hole of political devolution? Or do they merely do what they think they have to do in the long run in order to win and attempt to make positive change?
Are they cynics or are they realists?
Merely the possible fate of a troubled nation hangs on that answer.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how compelling and convincing Hillary is this weekend as she tries on the mantle of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Word is she will say that Eleanor Roosevelt is her idol for fighting for human rights and against conservative reaction to progress. And in delivering her speech from a venue celebrating FDR's "Four Freedoms" -- freedom of expression and of worship, freedom from want and from fear -- she will lay out her own four policy cornerstones. Her "four fights," as it were, on the economy, helping families and communities, getting unaccountable money out of politics, and defending America.
After the thin gruel of her latest book and her lecture tour -- it took me weeks to read her memoir as secretary of state, and I found her UCLA appearance most interesting for what she and her folks would consider the wrong reasons -- what lies ahead looks rather fascinating.
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