I noted recently in my RealClearPolitics newsletter that Hillary Clinton’s departure as Secretary of State prompted a wave of flattering profiles or her in the press—which has little to do with her term as Secretary of State and a lot more to do with her potential for a future term in a higher office.
But I think they’re all missing the boat. Hillary Clinton and her husband deserve to be remembered, not for their contributions to politics, but for their contributions to philosophy. They are responsible for two timeless statements of metaphysical significance.
Bill Clinton, of course, is remembered for his distinctive contribution, apparently inspired by the school of Linguistic Analysis: “It all depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” And now Hillary Clinton has made her own contribution, which is along more Existentialist lines. In answer to Senator Ron Johnson’s questions about how the administration spread a misleading story about the Benghazi terrorist attack that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens, she snapped:
With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. If it was because of a protest or if it was because guys out for a walk decided to go kill some Americans—what difference, at this point, does it make?
Secretary Clinton’s critics responded by answering this rhetorical question, describing exactly what difference it makes. But I think they are missing the point. This wasn’t meant as an answer merely to this particular case. It was a general philosophical statement about the fallibility of man, the futility of life, and the passing of all things.
I was sitting in on Joe Thomas’s radio show, The Afternoon Constitutional, just after Clinton’s testimony, and we got fully into the spirit of her remarks. Joe programmed her sound bite so it was available at the push of a button, and every time we were discussing a thorny political issue, and especially when we confronted the messy consequences of bad decisions by our leaders, I would stop Joe and tell him to keep a little perspective and stop worrying so much about everything. “After all,” I would say—and he would recognize his cue, and on would come Hillary Clinton to remind us: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
It’s really an answer to everything in life.
What difference, at this point, does it make? All we are is dust in the wind. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.
It’s quite profound. It’s also very useful for any leader looking to dismiss criticism of his or her failures in office. Forget “hakuna matata.” This is the real problem-free philosophy.
In all seriousness, the Clinton’s have made a contribution to philosophy—by providing concretizations of the real-world meaning and uses of philosophical notions that are usually kept safely abstract.