I thought of that phrase when the news came out - not unexpectedly - that Senator Hillary was quitting her historic (some have said,"histrionic") quest for the presidency. Not only has her drive to be the ("inevitable") first female president of the United States failed, but the entire Clinton machine has crashed along with it - including the he-can-do-no-wrong, media-polished reputation of Bill Clinton. Bill is kaput as a force in the Democratic Party. And so, perhaps, is Hillary. Oh, yes, there will be lots of kissy moments, sweet words of unity, and hands raised together on stage, but the party is definitely over.
The metaphor of the house built on sand is apt because Mrs. Clinton's quest for the nation's highest office lacked any foundation except notoriety. There was no substance to it - "no there there", in Gertrude Stein's words. Even Mrs. Clinton's highly touted "career" has been an illusion, sustained by copious media non-curiosity and amnesia by the public. In an earlier analysis I said that Mrs. Clinton was a weak candidate for president - made to look strong by running against an equally weak opponent. I stand by that view.
As to Mrs. Clinton's career, let's start at the beginning. Her 1974 work for the House Judiciary Committee is often mentioned - sometimes in glowing terms. Most references simply say she was one of only two women lawyers on the House Judiciary Committee staff when impeachment charges were being drafted against Richard Nixon. Yet the Judiciary Committee's former general counsel and chief of staff, Jerry Zeifman, says Mrs. Clinton (then Hillary Rodham) was dismissed from that job for ethical breaches - namely, for concealing key files related to the 1970 impeachment attempt against Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
Miss Rodham wanted to deny Mr. Nixon counsel, and Mr. Zeifman says she hid files to conceal the fact that Justice Douglas did have counsel. (The old Hidden Files trick - Part I.) Mr. Zeifman also cites other irregularities connected to the Kennedy family that led to Miss Rodham's dismissal. A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Zeifman called Mrs. Clinton "a dishonest lawyer". (Damned with faint praise, as it were.)
In 1992 I argued with two female colleagues about what a smart lawyer Mrs. Clinton was reputed to be - particularly about her title as one of the nation's "100 most influential lawyers" (1988 and 1991). I suggested that Mrs. Clinton was "influential" because she was practicing law in Little Rock, Arkansas, while her husband governed the state. Naturally, she attracted top-level clients who sought an "in" with state government - particularly with her husband.
In other words, she built her law-practice the old-fashioned way - with pillow talk. (This infuriated my colleagues, but a child could see the conflict of interest.) Mrs. Clinton was made a Rose Law Partner in 1979, after her husband was elected governor of Arkansas for the first time. Not bad for a 32-year-old woman who got fired from her first law-job.
As First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Clinton was appointed by her husband in 1993 to chair the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. Her assignment was to draft a plan for a national health care system. The effort became controversial as the committee's secret deliberations drew litigation from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. After Mrs. Clinton's plan was sent to the Congress, it languished in committee and was never voted on by either house. As more and more details of the clumsy, coercive plan came out, it crashed under its own weight. Even congressional Democrats wouldn't touch it. The "smartest woman in America" had botched one of the key promises of her husband's 1992 campaign.
The apparent suicide of White House Counsel Vince Foster (July 1993) was a controversial event that involved Mrs. Clinton indirectly. Her staff searched Mr. Foster's office, after his death but before FBI agents were allowed access to it. No determination was ever made of exactly what materials were removed, but records from Mrs. Clinton's representation of Madison Guaranty S&L, while she was a partner at the Rose Law Firm, were suspected to be among them.
Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr requested those records in 1994, during his investigation into the Whitewater land deal and the related failure of Madison Guaranty. (The Madison bailout cost taxpayers $73 million.) Mrs. Clinton claimed the missing documents were misplaced when she moved to the White House. (The old Hidden Files trick - Part II.) In 1996 those records were found at the White House. Their discovery in the Clintons' bookroom resulted in Mrs. Clinton's subpoena by grand jury - the first such event for a First Lady. No charges were brought against her, however.
Mrs. Clinton's signature moment as First Lady occurred when she publicly blamed a "vast right-wing conspiracy" for her husband's difficulties with Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp. (The latter being the government employee who disclosed the affair between Miss Lewinsky and the president.) Mrs. Clinton never retracted her specious charge - which has been much lampooned since - even after President Clinton admitted on national TV that he had indeed had an "improper" relationship with the young White House page.
To emphasize her international experience, Mrs. Clinton claimed that she dodged sniper fire at the airport in Tuzla, Bosnia, during a 1996 visit as First Lady. She said she made the trip because it was "too dangerous" for the president. Bloggers quickly debunked the Bosnian sniper-fire claim. TV clips show a smiling First Lady striding confidently on the tarmac and giving kissy greetings to a little girl who spoke a brief welcome - with nary a sign of either friendly or unfriendly fire.
Mrs. Clinton stubbornly clung to her story for several days before finally admitting that she had "misremembered". Wags suggested that either she had never heard of the Internet (where no gaffe is ever forgotten), or she had confused this visit with other foreign visits when she packed a piece and exchanged fire with insurgents.
Try to imagine the flap, had George Bush claimed taking fire from southern white-supremacist militia units while landing a plane during his National Guard service. His candidacy would never have recovered from such a whopper. Yet Mrs. Clinton's campaign cruised onward, undaunted. It is a metaphor for her career - one crash after another, but still moving steadily ahead.
As her husband's second term was ending, Mrs. Clinton bought a house in Chappaqua - a tony suburb of New York City - and established residence there so she could run for the Senate seat vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. She certainly had name-recognition, but otherwise her qualifications for the Senate were...exactly what? That she had been an "influential lawyer"? That she was the "smartest woman in America", who drafted a national health care plan? That she was an international figure who saw armed combat in Bosnia? This was never clear, but liberal New Yorkers were glad to give a Clinton a forum for ongoing national exposure.
In the Senate, Mrs. Clinton has been undistinguished, except to bring home the bacon for her adopted state. One can point to no notable legislation she has sponsored. During the early militant reaction to the 9/11/2001 attacks, she jumped on the bandwagon to support our pre-emptive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But opposition from the far-left anti-war faction of her party caused her to regret that later - provoking her to tell a respected, decorated General of the Army (Petraeus) that she didn't believe his testimony. (The general promised to be "real good" from now on.)
Some political observers argue that Mrs. Clinton's early war-support lost her the nomination. I concur. In my opinion, Mr. Obama squeaked in against the Democrats' own "Eva Peron" because he solidly opposed the war, while she didn't - not originally, at least. One suspects that Mrs. Clinton's comprehension of main-street Americans' fear of terrorism and dislike of defeat kept her from going completely anti-war. But this doomed her with lefty Democrats. For once, a Clinton was not able to get on both sides of an issue.
Mrs. Clinton's presidential platform differed little from Mr. Obama's. They are both very liberal senators committed to more big-government programs, with Mr. Obama only narrowly ahead on the liberal score-sheet. He was rated "most liberal", with Mrs. Clinton trailing him slightly. Their votes differed only 10 times out of 267. Both she and Mr. Obama voted against confirmation of Justices Roberts and Alito. Both favor a high-tax retrogression to the New Deal or Great Society.
The lengthy campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was Mrs. Clinton's ultimate house-built-on-sand act. But it was never expected to be a protracted battle against a serious opponent, in which she would have to show all of her cards. A long, preparatory PR-phase, capped by a blitzkrieg leading to a triumphant Super Tuesday, when she would basically sew up the nomination, was the plan. Indeed, her inner circle foresaw no serious primary campaigning beyond Super Tuesday. Most commentators agreed that it would be "settled" by then.
As insurance, Mrs. Clinton had lined up her husband, the much-traveled ex-president, to do the hand-to-hand combat in the campaign, if needed. As things turned out, this was needed, after Mr. Obama won Iowa and ran strongly in other early states. But Bill's attack strategy bombed. His youth and vitality long-gone, Mr. Clinton was no longer the Greatest Lance in Christendom. He seemed to have lost his bright armor, and the media mercilessly panned his red-faced efforts. He never quite recovered from the drubbing he got for comparing Barak Obama to Jesse Jackson - a black presidential candidate whose 1988 candidacy went nowhere after he won primaries in some southern states. Mr. Clinton might have thought he was just pointing out the "obvious" about Mr. Obama, but reporters accused him of playing the "race card".
After this and other fiascos, Mrs. Clinton had to pick up the ball, herself, and ease Bubba out. She spent a lot of effort and dollars advertising herself as a strong prospective commander-in-chief - more experienced, shrewder and more decisive than any man. (Millions of Americans have the "3 o'clock phone call" ad memorized.)
Later, when the tougher-than-a-man strategy flagged, she reverted to the Authentic Woman tack, responding with a catch in her voice to an apparently random question about how she found the strength to go on in such a tough race. The exchange was widely promoted by the media, and Mrs. Clinton pulled out a narrow win in New Hampshire.
In retrospect, the questioner really seemed to be asking how Mrs. Clinton was coping with a race that wasn't the cakewalk she had expected. Nevertheless, analysts said it had pulled crucial female voters her way. Suddenly she was the Woman's Candidate again.
By the end, Mrs. Clinton had morphed, again, into a street-brawler that would have made Huey Long proud. When it was clear that she could not win enough delegates to gain the nomination, Mrs. Clinton still declined to withdraw - citing Robert Kennedy as evidence that "anything can happen". It was a thinly veiled suggestion that Mr. Kennedy's fate might befall Mr. Obama. (RFK was assassinated in the midst of a promising 1968 primary campaign.) Should that happen, Mrs. Clinton would be waiting to seize the torch.
This was a new low in down-and-dirty political brawling - "yes, I'm whipped, but some guy with a gun might reverse the result". The political and media communities recoiled from her words and apparent meaning. For the first time in history a serious presidential candidate had openly raised the specter of assassination to legitimate his/her path to an office. The only thing missing from this race was disclosure of a secret love-child by one of the candidates. (Stay tuned.)
In her run for the gold, Mrs. Clinton put on more masks than Anyface, Master of a Thousand Disguises. But it was no use. Democrats decided that they just couldn't take another round of the Clintons - even if the alternative was a young, inexperienced black man who has done little in his political career except make speeches about "change". Mrs. Clinton's house was built entirely on sand. And, as Sunday School kids like to sing, it finally went "ker-splat..."