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January 08, 2013 2:55 PM Hillary Clinton’s Ego Trips

By Michael Kinsley

The world is a better place because of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. That’s not the question. 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?

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? That may be a lot to ask. Still, as they say, if you can’t measure output, measure input. Every secretary of state since 1947 has taken a crack at solving the puzzle of the Israeli-Arab dispute. None has succeeded, but they’ve all run up impressive mileage trying.

Clinton often flew overnight and, the Times says, “after landing, went straight into a 12- or 16-hour day.” She once “spent three consecutive nights on her plane.” She has visited 112 countries as secretary of state, which is the record, but in terms of air miles (956,733) she trails her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice (1.06 million). (Rice, the Times notes meanly, is seven years younger and “an exercise enthusiast.”)

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.

And what for? 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?

In 1899, the economist Thorstein Veblen wrote a book, “The Theory of the Leisure Classa>,” which asserted that you prove your status or rank in society by displaying “conspicuous leisure” — that is, how little you appear to work. That may have been true in Veblen’s day, but it surely is not true of the generation of which Mrs. Clinton and her husband are by now the undisputed leaders. (Who else? Nobody is nominating George W. Bush.) For us, the highest form of ritual obeisance is to tell someone, “You must be very busy.”

Travel is an especially good way to stay — and appear — busy. Otherwise, you are at risk of actually being at your desk when someone calls. What could be more embarrassing? I don’t mean to suggest that all or even most business travel, let alone diplomatic travel, is for show. Just that much of it is.

You would think that modern technology would obviate some of this time-consuming travel. According to the Times, Clinton thought so, but discovered that showing up in person was “paradoxically” more important if you could much more easily take part in a teleconference.

This is an insight worthy of Veblen himself. Call it “conspicuous travel”: The less important the trip, the more prestige you gain by taking it.

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Comments

  • aimai on January 09, 2013 12:49 PM:

    This entire post takes the thread for self indulgent bitchery and concern trolling masquerading as political commentary. I'm nauseated by it. Literally, not figuratively. Kinsley and this site should be ashamed, one for writing it and the other for publishing it.

    aimai

  • Theda Skocpol on January 09, 2013 2:19 PM:

    What utter nonsense -- and obviously sexist. No senior male leader would be discussed in this way.

    Get a grip, Kinsley, and deal with important issues.

  • Russell Sadler on January 09, 2013 2:21 PM:

    Ah, Michael. That's why she's Secretary of State and you're a has-been newspaper columnist.

  • Caitlyn on January 09, 2013 2:21 PM:

    I had to return to the article just to confirm that Michael Kinsley really did include a critique of Hillary Clinton's appearance. That and other parts of this article give me a whole new take on Michael Kinsley, one much lower than I had before. The woman is the United States Secretary of State, and Kinsley thinks his view of her appearance is significant? A reality check is needed, and here it is - Kinsley's scoring of the appearance of women his senior in age, responsibility and experience isn't important and he should, for his own reputation, lay off putting such opinions in print.

    Caitlyn

  • Woodrow L. Goode, IV on January 09, 2013 2:21 PM:

    How appropriate that Michael Kinsley-- a retromingent putz of long standing-- should drag out Thorstein Veblen to chastise Hillary Clinton for... something or other.

    Veblen's prolix, overwritten essays are best read with a machete and flamethrower, so the reader can clear away the mountains of verbiage to get to the grains of intellectual content. It's very like reading Kinsley, where one has to strip away the breezy contrarian fluff, searching (usually in vain) for a point.

    Is Kinsley saying that Clinton's lengthy workweek resulted in diplomatic gaffes that hurt the United States? No.

    Is he saying that her attempts to seem important caused her to overlook the less glamorous-- but no less important-- details (such as security at embassies and consulates)? No.

    Is he saying that she used her position to indulge her penchant for sightseeing? That she ran up millions of taxpayer dollars in expenses exacerbating the debt crisis? That her consistent attention-grabbing drew attention away from Barack Obama, making him a less effective president? That the trips were a transparent device intended to help her win the 2016 presidential election. No, no, no and no.

    So what, exactly, IS Kinsley criticizing her for? To the best of my comprehension, it seems to be that she worked hard and then became ill.

    I hadn't been aware that extensive travel could lead to the development of a blood clot. But this is the sort of non-sequitorial insight one often finds in Kinsley's ouevre. (One normally has to read Camille Paglia for this sort of insight.)

    It's an odd complaint, given that Kinsley has also worked hard and battled health problems. Perhaps he should begin practicing what he preaches?

  • Doug on January 09, 2013 4:00 PM:

    I agree with the posters, what's the point of this story? I disagree with aimee in that Mr. Kinsley's references to SoS Clinton's were NOT sexist, the same remarks could just as easily have been made about the President, or any male in the Secretary Clinton's for that matter.
    One point that Mr. Kinsley missed is that the SoS is considered, next to the President, the BE the United States when it comes to foreign policy and our engagement with other countries of the world. So perhaps a better question for Mr. Kinsley would have been: "How much has all SoS Clinton's traveling improved our diplomacy and helped the US attain its' goals?"
    Or is that too "wonky"?

  • Keith G on January 09, 2013 4:11 PM:

    I donít mean to suggest that all or even most of Kinsley's writing is contrarian blather. Just that much of it is.
    i

  • LAC on January 09, 2013 4:40 PM:

    I can't think of anything more delicate to say: You, Sir, are an asshat.

  • LaFollette Progressive on January 09, 2013 5:17 PM:

    You know, in the contrarian spirit of Michael Kinsley, I'll point out that much of what he writes here is reasonable and true. There's no good reason why top people in government work such ridiculously long hours and spend so much taxpayer money jetting around to various conferences and face-to-face conversations that could easily take place by phone. It's primarily about prestige and reputation.

    That said, this was a dickish article with sexist overtones. He could have made his point without being a douche, yet failed to do so. This is probably because Kinsley feels the need for attention. Sad, really.

  • Jeanne Bedwell on January 09, 2013 9:46 PM:

    Spiteful.

  • bloodypitchfork on January 10, 2013 2:41 PM:

    note to self...file negative comments under

    http://wemeantwell.com/blog/2013/01/09/happy-staff-welcome-dear-leader-back-to-work/#comments

    ...then extend middle finger to the authors.

    ps. Sec. of State Pond Scum deserves worse and some people would if they could. If you are male, are unhappily married with children, I'd recommend divorcing your spouse and enter Hillary's Hall of Horror's child support system for a nice ride to hell and back. There you will gain first hand introduction to our dear Sec of State's GOLDEN GOOSE-R-US program. Pol Pot notwithstanding, if lying tyrants were weather, Clinton would make a Class V hurricane squared.
    Travel indeed. You are waaaaaaaaaay too generous.

  • David in NYC on January 10, 2013 2:48 PM:

    "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?"

    Does Kingsley have any idea, or facts, to answer that question? None whatsoever. He's simply extending a 20-years Washington tradition, use his platform to make snide and baseless insinuations about the Clintons. This isn't Hillary's ego trip; it's the ego trip of someone who is unworthy of wiping her shoes.

  • gelfling545 on January 11, 2013 12:59 PM:

    I am inclined to think that Sec. Clinton understands what her position requires better than random bloggers.

  • aimai on January 12, 2013 2:19 PM:

    I think we can all rest assured that Kinsley has the rabid Men's Rights Advocate and Angry Divorced Dad readership sewn up, given the post upthread from bloodypitchfork.

    I considered the original post definitionally sexist since, of course, Kinsley never said anything about the originator of the travelling SOS position but he's more than old enough to remember "shuttle diplomacy."

    Also: yes, deep vein thrombosis is associated with long plane flights and the immobilization that many passengers face. We can presume that SOS Clinton can get up and walk about the cabin to avoid it in a way that ordinary travellers can't.

    aimai

  • John on January 15, 2013 9:49 AM:

    I'm confused as to how Hillary Clinton is responsible for the various states' child support regimes.

  • matt on January 25, 2013 10:06 AM:

    Too bad Washington Monthly is giving yet another podium to the tedious, predictable and empty hack Michael Kinsley.

  • Rob on January 26, 2013 10:23 AM:

    I blame journalism. A thoughtful article on how hard she works versus what she accomplished and what other secretaries of State accomplished would have been appreciated. But sarcasm and snark get you published. We call it irreverence, but it is really irrelevance.

  • beejeez on January 29, 2013 9:23 AM:


    Right idea, wrong example, MK. Yeah, people who flaunt their overworking credentials are really, really annoying. On the other hand, the Secretary of State office is no place for slackers, and I happen to like the idea of a widely respected (outside the American South) Sec of State who makes a point of giving face time to the rest of the world.