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Posted by on Aug 11, 2009 in International, Media, Politics | 18 comments

Why DID Hillary Clinton Snap “My Husband Is Not The Secretary Of State”?

The new and old media like nothing better than a You Tube moment that seemingly reveals the “real” public figure — not the one who’s scripted or the one who’s answering policy questions, but shows you a bit how he or she really is “offstage” and what he or she may really think. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton provided one that will be re-run for a long time to come.

A translator yesterday mistranslated a question in Africa asking her what her HUSBAND thought. She is clearly stunned and angry about being asked (though incorrectly) what her husband thinks on a policy that she now manages. Watch the moment yourself:


MSNBC’s First Read describes it this way:

It raised our eyebrows when we first read about Secretary of State Clinton’s reaction yesterday in Africa to a question she thought she was getting about her husband. But the video of it is definitely something to see. Here was the question: “We have all heard about Chinese contracts in this country, the interferences from the World Bank about this contract. What does Mr. Clinton think through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton…?” Hillary shot back: “You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state, I am. You ask my opinion I will tell you my opinion, I’m not going to be channeling my husband.” (As it turns out, the translator apparently screwed up; the questioner meant President Obama, not President Clinton.) Was the reaction a product of jet lag or a sign of tension with some of the attention her husband is receiving of late? On TODAY, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that it was probably both. Mitchell said it came during the halfway point of a 12-day trip through Africa. But: “She was doing serious stuff, and here she thought she was receiving a question about her husband.” Of course, only a Clinton gets psychoanalyzed the way she’s being analyzed this morning; it’s the burden of the last name.

To those who weren’t big Hillary fans to begin with, this was deja vu. Jules Crittenden writes in a post titled “She’s BAAAAAAACK!”:

It’s the Hill we all know and love from the campaign. Upstaged by Bill, with Obama and Biden out there on the road, doing her job, the last straw was in Kinshasha today when some hapless Congolese university student asked her, “What Mr. Clinton think, through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton …” …She looks around, a little stunned, then commences operations on Joe College, with big scary eyes.

But, at the risk of doing what MSNBC’s crew wanted to avoid doing, here is my own take on it — and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell’s comments confirm part of my own analysis:

1. It’s no secret that Hillary Clinton put her own ambitions on hold to help Bill Clinton in his career.

2. Her attempt to carve out a major policy makers’ role as first lady flopped due to the health care debacle, and when it became clear that she was a political liability due to successful GOP attacks, Bill Clinton in effect deep sixed the “two for the price of one” idea and she resumed a more traditional first lady’s role.

3. She lived through the humiliation of the Monica Lewinsky affair and rose again, this time by not just being elected New York Senator but by most accounts being one highly responsive to her constituent’s needs when they contacted her office. She worked hard in the Senate and earned the respect of colleagues on both sides of the aisle (one of them is named John McCain).

4. Her husband became a major presence — and some believe in some ways a liability due to this heart-on-his-sleeve passion to get her in office and his festering, often showing, red-fraced resentment to that usurper Barack Obama who was blocking the restoration. Towards the end of the campaign, her side managed to shut Bill up enough without having to use duct tape so that the campaign again became about her and her ideas, rather than about Bill talking about her or dissing Obama or offending African American voters who originally balked at Obama.

5. She accepted the Secretary of State job and again published accounts suggest she is a hard-working, top notch cabinet member.

6. It’s true Biden and Bill Clinton got lots of publicity recently and some stories wondered whether Hillary Clinton was having her wings clipped. Later stories said that’s not true. But those stories claiming she was edging towards becoming a figurehead most assuredly irked her.

7. So when she was asked the mistranslated question it WAS an insult to her: here she had put her own hopes on hold to work for Bill, Bill became a presence during the campaign, she had worked so hard as Senator, candidate and Secretary of State, he got all the publicity for the release of the hostages from North Korea….and she thought someone was asking her to comment on what her husband thought.

The Bottom Line:
the days when Hillary Clinton is “just” Mrs. Bill Clinton or former First Lady Hillary Clinton are long gone. And that question suggested the questioner was more interested in her as the wife of Bill Clinton than as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who handles policies.

Seen in that light, coupled with jet lag 9if the “ego is soluble in alcohol” than it also is in jet lag) her answer and the way she answered it is not only logical but perfectly understandable, even if that is not as honestly as most politicians would answer a question like that.

UPDATE: ABC News’ Jake Trapper:

Regardless of the [translation] error, the notion of Secretary Clinton’s deference to her husband clearly touched a nerve with America’s top diplomat. Just a week ago the former President stole his wife’s thunder when he appeared in North Korea to rescue two American journalists detained there. His trip came just as Secretary Clinton embarked on a swing through Africa she hoped would shine light on the plight of the continent.

Still, imagine what the students thought when her response was translated back and they heard Clinton call President Obama her husband….

Also: Two reactions from bloggers who were high profile Hillary Clinton supporters during the campaign.

The Democratic Daily’s Pamela Levey:

The poor kid probably didn’t know what hit him. Political Punch reports that the young man, who asked the question says he was misquoted by the translator and he wanted to know what “Mr Obama” thought of the deal.

Oops… As a woman who blazes her own path, I think Hillary’s response was natural.

Taylor Marsh:

It’s the You talkin’ to me?, secretary of state edition….As you can see in the video, Clinton was ticked off at being asked what a male leader thought, especially when her purpose in this region is to draw a bull’s eye on the rape and torture of women in the Congo.

The United States Secretary of State obviously didn’t appreciate the misogyny, which is rampant in the Congo and other African nations, born out by the questioner expecting her to “channel” a male.

…..There can be no doubt that Clinton came off harsh in this setting. A little righteous indignation from the most powerful female persona on the planet was in order, especially considering women in the Congo are in danger most of the hours of their waking and sleeping lives.

CNN reports that after the event Clinton and the questioner “seemed to have reached an understanding,” according to Crowley.

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