Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Two divas recognized around the world by first name only appeared in Washington this week. Both stirred up questions about truth and transparency.
During her performance at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Beyonce Knowles likely lip-synched the national anthem. The U.S. Marine Corps band first confirmed it, then backed away.
The pop star ducked inquiries, allowing the New York Daily News to declare her the “Star Spangled Scammer.” But with more at stake than pride, Hillary Clinton faced the music.
On Wednesday, the secretary of state finally addressed events leading up to the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Questions about Clinton’s role in the run-up to the attack, which ended with the deaths of four Americans, cast a cloud on her tenure. They also could complicate a presidential run if Republicans have anything to say about it.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton again took responsibility for the security breakdown in Benghazi. Making things right is personal, she said, not just policy. Her voice cracked as she talked about watching the flag-draped caskets of the dead Americans return home. She said she moved quickly to improve security after the attack and insisted she never knew about security requests from Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died during the terrorist assault.
She also said she played no part in developing those infamous “talking points” that were repeated on Sunday talk shows by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and cost Rice the nomination as Clinton’s successor.
For Clinton, it was a strong, confident and occasionally testy performance. But it didn’t stop Republican committee members from challenging her credibility and leadership.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin suggested the State Department failed to give straight answers about what was happening in Benghazi as the tragedy unfolded. To that, Clinton responded angrily: “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?” she asked, at one point banging her hand on the hearing table. “It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this. But the fact is that people were trying, in real time, to get to the best information.”
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona kept the heat on by telling Clinton he rejected her answer to Johnson regarding the need to give citizens the truest picture of events. “The American people deserve answers. They certainly don’t deserve false answers,” McCain said.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was even harsher, telling Clinton, “Had I been president and found you did not read the cables from Benghazi and from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it’s inexcusable,” he said, referring to Clinton’s comments that she hadn’t read those communications.
This was a moment of high political theater, akin to Beyonce’s ripping out her earpiece as if she were singing without being able to hear the background music, instead of mouthing words to a soundtrack. As Paul lectured, Clinton looked like she was holding back from a Michelle Obama-style eye roll. She told Paul she asked for an independent review, which criticized the State Department for “grossly inadequate” security, because she wanted to take it out of “the heat of politics and partisanship.”
That’s exactly where Republicans hope to keep it. How much it hurts Clinton is debatable. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 67 percent of Americans have a favorable view of her as she leaves the Obama administration. During Wednesday’s testimony, senators praised her performance as secretary of state, noting, among other things, her outreach to women and children around the world.
Clinton’s a star, as big as it gets in the political world, just as Beyonce is a star in her world.
Beyonce will survive any bad publicity, even if her failure to take the risk of a live inaugural performance disappointed fans. Pretense, after all, is an accepted part of the entertainment world.
As for Clinton, she can teach Beyonce something about survival and risk-taking. For decades, she has been the master of both.
Joan Vennochi writes for the Boston Globe.