Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hillary's Hostage Crisis

The hostage episode at Hillary Clinton's campaign office in New Hampshire was a made-for-television news story (I saw it unfolding in real time yesterday). The Los Angeles Times has the background:

A man who claimed to be wearing an explosive device surrendered this evening to police, peacefully ending a more than five-hour standoff at the campaign headquarters of Hillary Rodham Clinton in Rochester, N.H.

The man stood in the street as he slowly removed what he had told police was an explosive device strapped to his waist. Appearing to be in his 40s, the man wore a tie as heavily armed police watched him lie on the ground.

There was no motive given for the incident. The man had demanded to speak with Clinton, who was in Washington.

At least five people were released from the red-brick building during the day, according to television footage from the scene.

The incident came less than six weeks before the hotly contested New Hampshire presidential primary, the first in the nation. The storefront campaign office, usually open to all comers, is a staple of the meet-and-greet politics of the state.

At an afternoon news conference, Rochester Police Capt. Paul Callaghan would only say that there was a hostage situation.

"We are very confident that we have the resources available to us to handle this situation effectively and safely," Callaghan said.

With police refusing to officially comment, details were murky.

However, television footage showed a woman and a youngish man being released after dark. A woman in a green sweater fled the building about two hours after the confrontation began about 1 p.m. Eastern time.

Earlier, an adult and an infant were freed just after the takeover began. The woman told reporters that the man entered and forced people to the floor before she and the child were allowed to leave.

The woman was carrying the child and was crying, witness Lettie Tzizik told television station WMUR of Manchester.

"She said: 'You need to call 911. A man has just walked into the Clinton office, opened his coat and showed us a bomb strapped to his chest with duct tape,' " Tzizik said.

There have been various reports giving different names for the man. People who said they were relatives described him as emotionally disturbed.

Law enforcement sources told the Associated Press that the man was named Leeland Eisenberg.

Police would not discuss whether the man had a bomb or some sort of flares. But they confirmed that they had contacted state police bomb experts.

More than 50 state and local officers were at the campaign office, located on what appears to be a typical small-town street in this community of about 30,000 near the Maine border. Campaign headquarters for fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John Edwards are nearby.

Police spokesmen said the area, which includes a school and a courthouse, had been evacuated.

"The area has been secured," said Callaghan of the Rochester Police Department. A local SWAT had taken up positions, he said.

Clinton was not at the facility and had been scheduled to campaign at the Democratic National Committee meeting in Vienna, Va. She canceled the speech she was to give to Democratic Party officials.

"There is an ongoing situation in our Rochester, N.H., office," the Clinton campaign said in a statement. "We are in close contact with state and local authorities and are acting at their direction. We will release additional details as appropriate."
Ann Althouse weighs-in on Clinton's "leadership" during the standoff, asking "Did yesterday's hostage crisis teach us anything about Hillary Clinton?"

You might think we got a chance to see how she deals with a crisis, but that's not really so. She had no executive authority in the matter. The local police had to handle the situation. We did get to see how she looks upon a crisis from a distance — or, at least, how she allows us to look upon her looking upon a crisis from a distance:

When the hostages had been released and their alleged captor arrested, a regal-looking Hillary Rodham Clinton strolled out of her Washington home, the picture of calm in the face of crisis.
Well, once the hostages were released, it wasn't even a crisis anymore, but what does it mean that she looks held-together when she strolls out for a photo-op?

The image, broadcast just as the network news began, conveyed the message a thousand town hall meetings and campaign commercials strive for - namely, that the Democratic presidential contender can face disorder in a most orderly manner.
Oh, good lord, she was not facing disorder. The hostage-taking was over, and even when it was going on, she was not facing it. She was waiting for law enforcement authorities to deal with a troubled man, which they did, without anyone suffering a physical injury.

Did she do anything? Other than canceling her appearances — which she had to do to show decent sensitivity — she made a lot of ineffectual phone calls. For 5 hours, we're told, she "continued to call up and down the law enforcement food chain, from local to county to state to federal officials." She says, "I knew I was bugging a lot of these people."

Afterwards, she used the occasion to make a show of her emotions (or did you think she was cold and mechanical?). She said:

"It affected me not only because they were my staff members and volunteers, but as a mother, it was just a horrible sense of bewilderment, confusion, outrage, frustration, anger, everything at the same time."
Is that what you want in a President? Someone who feels extra confusion because she's a mother?
But I don't believe that for one minute. I think that was just what was considered a good script. I don't happen to think it is a good script, because I don't want a President to roil into a mommyesque ball of emotion when a few people are in danger. Yet that's not Hillary. The only question is why she thought a statement like that was a good one. She probably wanted to make sure not to confirm the widely held belief that she's unemotional, and, while she was at it, delight all the ladies out there who lap up emotional drivel.

It was a vintage example of a candidate taking a negative and turning it into a positive. And coming just six weeks before the presidential voting begins, the timing could hardly have been more beneficial to someone hoping to stave off a loss in the Iowa caucuses and secure a win in the New Hampshire primary.
Oh, great. Let's just hope there aren't copycats out there ready to turn their despondent drinking binges into a day of fame that helps their favorite political candidate.
As Clinton was not in any personal danger herself, and the matter was essentially a local law enforcement problem, the story doesn't tell us much about leadership, but perhaps more about grandstanding.