Where's Hillary? Avoiding the issues, again

How forthcoming Hillary Clinton will be, and on what timetable, depends on how big a mess she's in

The drumbeat for Hillary Rodham Clinton to exit her bunker and answer questions about her “home-brewed” email system has been growing louder by the day, prompting people to ask, “Where's Hillary?”

But if you think about it (or search the Internet or Lexis-Nexis), you'll realize that “Where's Hillary?” is one of the most frequently asked questions of her long career in public life.

Sometimes it's asked figuratively. Clinton has a tendency to sit out many public controversies, refusing to take a stand. Last December, for instance, as the issues of race and police conduct were tearing apart the country over killings in Missouri and New York, CNN's Jason Johnson asked, “Where's Hillary Clinton?”

According to Johnson, a political science professor and political consultant, the “most serious problem for Hillary 2016 is the perception that she's an overly cautious politician who is afraid to take tough stances on anything, especially those issues the Democratic base might be passionate about. And nowhere is this more evident than in her almost utter silence on the recent protest marches across the nation.”

That same month, ran a piece by Alex Seitz-Wald headlined, "Where is Hillary on Torture?" Just last week, asked, "Where's Hillary?" with regard to the controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress.

She's been similarly coy about gay marriage and countless other issues. For one of America's most knowledgeable and controversial political leaders, she sure stays on the sidelines a lot.

At this point, it's fair to say this is simply who she is. She and Bill Clinton have law degrees, but only Hillary was ever a real, practicing lawyer. And though she made the transition to full-time politician long ago, she never lost her lawyerly persona or worldview. Bill works by the seat of his pants (well, usually it's the seat). He's probably the greatest extemporaneous political talker in America, with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich.

Clinton, meanwhile, does her homework. She puts together huge, sprawling task forces. That's how she crafted her failed “HillaryCare” proposal in the early 1990s, and it's how she's setting up her presidential campaign (she reportedly has 200 policy advisors already).

Perhaps because the first advice lawyers give their clients is to clam up, one of Clinton's preferred tactics is to slow-walk her response to investigators. To pick just the most famous example, in 1994, special counsel Robert Fiske subpoenaed all papers related to an allegedly shady land deal, to be delivered within 30 days. The Clintons claimed the billing records from her law firm were lost. Almost two years later, they magically appeared in the White House residence.

Just because she's served as her own lawyer doesn't mean Clinton has a fool for a client. Her passive-aggressive approach to politics often serves her well. By waiting long stretches of time, she encourages her political enemies to get ever more shrill or conspiratorial, even as the mainstream media grow weary of the story, particularly if it lends aid and comfort to GOP critics.

When she finally talks to a congressional committee, special prosecutor or friendly interviewer, she deftly turns herself into the brave woman standing up to her (allegedly sexist) tormentors. When she blurted out to Sen. Ron Johnson, “What difference does it make?” during the Senate's Benghazi hearings, her fans loved it on emotional grounds, even though on the merits it was a pretty ridiculous reply.

Eventually, Clinton will emerge to answer questions about her private email system and her alleged failure to provide relevant documents to Congress. How forthcoming she'll be, and on what timetable, depends on how big a mess she's in.

But let's assume there are no damning emails lurking anyplace where they can still be found. Or even give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she did nothing wrong. Her utterly typical response so far still raises questions that are more interesting than “Where's Hillary?”

Is this how she would run her presidency? Do we want a president whose first response to trouble is to retreat to her bunker?

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