Way back in April 1994, Hillary Rodham Clinton held a press conference concerning Whitewater, the granddaddy of all phony Clinton scandals. Pressed about whether she and her husband should have known that their Ozarks real estate partnership was doing badly and paid off its loans, she responded flippantly.
"Shoulda, coulda, woulda," she said. "We didn’t."
Editorialists pronounced themselves offended. She was even dubbed a "congenital liar," although the facts eventually showed that the Clintons’ partner Jim McDougal had actively deceived them about their investment. But you never saw a straightforward account in the scandal-mongering press. That would have spoiled the fun.
From Whitewater through Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation and her accursed emails, it became a familiar pattern. Hillary Clinton was arrogant, corrupt, deceptive — essentially a brass-plated bitch. Each time the actual evidence revealed no real crime, her detractors simply moved on to the next damned thing. It was like something out of "Lord of the Flies."
"Lock her up," crowds chanted, although that was never going to happen.
Sorry to say, but among Hillary’s most ardent detractors were certain of the MSNBC All-Stars and New York Times columnists currently rending their garments over the misbegotten presidency of Donald Trump. I’ve yet to notice even one acknowledge his or her role in the ritual stoning.
In 2015, both the Times and Washington Post cut deals with Peter Schweitzer, author of "Clinton Cash," a murky expose of imagined corruption at the Clinton Foundation. Schweitzer basically proved that to raise billions for hospitals in Africa, it’s necessary to pal around with rich people. Not that Bill and Hillary ever minded. Schweitzer’s book was financed by a foundation run by one Stephen K. Bannon — a fellow recently in the news.
To summarize, a recent report from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center documented that Clinton scandals drew "sixteen times the amount of news coverage given to (Hillary’s) most heavily covered policy position." Her emails alone drew four times more negative coverage than the old P***y Grabber’s treatment of women.
On the day FBI Director James Comey released his ill-advised, ultimately withdrawn letter hinting at previously undiscovered emails, the Times’ entire front page above the fold was devoted to the story. Sample headline: "With 11 Days to Go, Trump Says Revelation Changes Everything."
As, indeed, it did. Absolutely did her in. Anybody who denies Comey’s intervention settled the election can’t have looked at the data.
Fat lot of good it did him.
So anyway, there was Hillary last week giving us the shoulda, coulda, woulda version of her 2016 election loss. Given that any baseball fan can name pitchers who never got over surrendering dramatic home runs, maybe her contrition shouldn’t be surprising.
Nevertheless, I found it so.
"Every day that I was a candidate for president," she wrote, "I knew that millions of people were counting on me, and I couldn’t bear the idea of letting them down — but I did. I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life."
But what really eats at Hillary is her failure to confront the Bully-in-Chief when she had the chance. In a recorded excerpt on "Morning Joe," she remembers thinking "This is not OK … It was the second presidential debate, and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled."
Indeed, replays show the big galoot lurching around the stage like the villain in a teen slasher film. All he lacked was a pair of overalls and a chainsaw. Hillary recalls asking herself what to do:
"Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space?" she said. "Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly: ‘Back up, you creep, get away from me! I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.’
"I chose option A. I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of difficult men trying to throw me off. I did, however, grip the microphone extra hard. I wonder, though, whether I should have chosen option B. It certainly would have been better TV. Maybe I have overlearned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world."
Better TV maybe, but Option B risked disaster. A classic New York blowhard surrounded by bodyguards all his life, Trump revels in name-calling contests. There are no depths to which he won’t sink.
But then I don’t think Hillary Clinton owes me an apology at all.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at email@example.com.