Michael Kinsley has a piece out today in which he broadly complains about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton without first figuring out what, exactly, is the problem with her. As a result, instead of making "an" argument, he makes "all" arguments, and leaves it up to the reader to just pick among them. The interesting part is that once you've allowed all the weird contradictions Kinsley makes to cancel each other out, what you're left with more effectively proves that it's Kinsley, not Clinton, who has a problem.
This is precisely the sort of blatherskite that people known as "editors" typically keep from being published. And it's ripe for a fisking, so let's attempt to enumerate the contentions made by Kinsley here. Warning: It is a roadmap with a lot of loop-de-loos!
1. Hillary Clinton's peripatetic travels serve only her own ego.
This is the claim advanced by the headline of Kinsley's piece, "Hillary Clinton's Ego Trips." This is, indeed, the destination that Kinsley seems to want to arrive at, but he begins by contradicting himself.
2. Hillary Clinton's peripatetic travels have served the entire world in good stead.
"The world is a better place because of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state," writes Kinsley, in his first sentence, raising the question, "Oh? So, why is this column being written, then?"
3. But is it enough that Hillary Clinton's peripatetic travels served the entire world in good stead?
"That’s not the question," Kinsley insists. "The question is whether it is a better place because of those last 20 hours of her 80-hour work week. Or because of the extra miles she flew to distant capitals?" Okay, so I gather the argument here is that Clinton could have done at least as much good for the world if she'd just used Skype, or something?
4. Hillary Clinton took a trip in 2009 that failed to immediately solve the heretofore intractable conflicts in the Middle East, so stone her!
On one trip in 2009, according to the New York Times, “she traveled from talks with Palestinian leaders in Abu Dhabi to a midnight meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, then boarded a plane for Morocco, staying up all night to work on other issues, before going straight to a meeting of Arab leaders the next morning.”
Very impressive, but did it bring us any closer to peace in the Middle East?
Okay, but doesn't that seem like a lot to ask?
5. That may be a lot to ask.
"That may be a lot to ask," says Kinsley, luxuriating in the pointlessness of his prose.
6. Hillary Clinton is a lot like all secretaries of state, in this regard.
"Every secretary of state since 1947 has taken a crack at solving the puzzle of the Israeli-Arab dispute," writes Kinsley, "None has succeeded, but they’ve all run up impressive mileage trying." Okay, so, if the fault you've just described is applicable to "every secretary of state since 1947," what is Clinton's unique problem?
7. Hillary Clinton is no longer pretty.
A point finally emerges:
Clinton looks awful and has looked worse and worse for years, since long before her recent hospitalization for a blood clot resulting from a fall. I don’t mean to be ungallant. It’s just that she clearly has been working herself to death in her current job as well as in her past two, as senator and first lady.
Ahh. Okay. We finally arrive at the problem. While every secretary since 1947 has similarly and pointlessly logged a lot of traffic miles without solving the Israel-Palestine crisis, at least Dean Acheson and Cyrus Vance were never thought of as fading flowers of natural beauty. It's difficult for Kinsley to argue against the way in which Warren Christopher and Lawrence Eagleburger were universally regarded as founts of natural animal charisma. And it's not harder for women to pull off, according to Kinsley. It's just that, you know, as "the [New York] Times notes meanly," Condoleeza Rice was "seven years younger and 'an exercise enthusiast.'” Rice was also an enthusiast of lying, but nevermind. The thing I really love is the way Kinsley implicates the New York Times article that's spawned all of his unconnected dimwit observations for meanness when he is essentially making the same mean argument.
And making it meaner, for that matter! Because we eventually get around to this:
8. The real problem is that Hillary Clinton is vain.
Despite all the admiration she deserves for her dedication and long hours, there is also a vanity of long hours and (in her current job) long miles of travel. You must be very, very important if your work requires you to be constantly flying through time zones to midnight meetings that last for hours. Of course our secretary of state is very important -- so why does she have to prove it?
So, I guess what Kinsley is saying is that only thing that separates Hillary Clinton from "every secretary of state since 1947" who have, by Kinsley's own admission, "all run up impressive mileage trying" and failing to "bring us any closer to peace in the Middle East," is the fact that -- to Kinsley's estimation -- Clinton has gradually grown more haggard looking over the time she's been going to all these lengths to serve the country. Moreover, despite the fact that Kinsley absolutely believes that "world is a better place" because of Hillary Clinton, he singles her out specifically for going to these lengths out of "vanity" -- the whole "world is a better place" part is, I guess, a fortunate and accidental byproduct.
"The less important the trip," Kinsley writes, "the more prestige you gain by taking it."
Well, then! I can totally understand the argument that sometimes people like to pretend that activity is a substitute for achievement, but I'd say that this article that Kinsley wrote is a much better example of that than Hillary Clinton's travel itinerary.
Meanwhile, I've been wondering: Doesn't Michael Kinsley look tired?
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