What’s happening to Hillary Clinton with this continuing e-mail scandal of hers is pitiful, indeed.
It’s heartbreaking, like that story we read in high school, “Flowers for Algernon” about the laboratory mouse and the kindly and simple janitor in a bakery.
The janitor becomes brilliant through scientific means, only to lose his newfound intelligence forever.
I’m certain many of you read it, and stayed up late and wondered about it. I did.
And now, sadly, years after high school and Mr. Judycki’s English class, we have Flowers for Hillary.
It is equally depressing. But she’s not a simple janitor. She’s reaching for the presidency of the United States.
And she’s playing dumb, for the entire world to see.
Mrs. Clinton has been reduced to this as a political survival exercise, with the New York Times reporting that her private e-mail server contained “Top Secret” information, including information about North Korea.
Asked if she wiped her private e-mail server, the one she used as secretary of state for her public and private e-mail, she said: “Like with a cloth or something?”
And late last week — before her likely Democratic presidential challenger Vice President Joe Biden ran, literally ran down the street in a Labor Day parade — Clinton said this:
“I was not thinking a lot when I got in. There was so much work to be done,” she told NBC. “We had so many problems around the world. I didn’t really stop and think what kind of e-mail system will there be.”
Wiping with a cloth? And she really didn’t stop and think?
She didn’t consider that carrying secret government e-mail on a private server could compromise not only her presidential ambitions but her country’s national security?
Oh, Hillary, Hillary, Hillary. What have you done to that steely mind of yours?
When I was a boy, the most terrifying story I’d ever read was that short story — and subsequent novel — by Daniel Keyes about Algernon, the intelligent white laboratory mouse. The janitor was played in the movie “Charly” by Cliff Robertson.
Yeah, you remember now. The mouse becomes a brilliant mouse. And the janitor becomes a brilliant man through the same scientific experiment.
Then it all goes sour. Algernon dies. And Charly knows what is happening and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.
He doesn’t exactly get to be president, does he?
And now, it looks as if neither will she.
But watching Hillary play dumb isn’t compelling. It is depressing and pathetic, because it’s an act.
She is no mouse or simpleton. She’s acutely self-aware, and certainly she must see this happening to her, too, and there’s nothing she can do about it, either. (On Tuesday, in a taped interview with ABC News, Clinton apologized, saying that the e-mail setup was a “mistake” and that she “should have done a better job answering questions earlier.”)
It was all supposed to be quite different.
She was Madam Ruthless, tempered by the crucible of Bill Clinton, his promise and his wicked appetites and his bimbo eruptions.
She told us she wasn’t about to endure all that pain just to play Tammy Wynette and stand by her man, though that’s exactly what she did. And still, she was a serious woman of accomplishment in the dangerous craft of politics and intrigue.
And if we put her in a room alone to have a quiet tea with Vladimir Putin, this is what America was led to expect:
That she’d emerge with a butter-knife and half his heart in her hand, wrapped neatly in a linen napkin. The other half would have been served on white bread — buttered, rolled in chives, not a drop of blood upon her lips.
What frightened many of the Hillary haters wasn’t her irritating, cackling laugh, or her eagerness to use Southern accents.
Nor was it those ridiculous stories she’d tell about the “vast right-wing conspiracies” that put turtles on the tops of fence posts. I just loved her turtles-on-fence-posts bit. Yes, that was an act, too, but well done, devilish, with just the hint of Arkansas sass from that mouth from Park Ridge, Ill., and Yale Law School.
And what frightened the Hillary haters wasn’t even that Bill would lurk about in her White House as First Laddie, like some oafish country squire in a Fielding novel, jumping the milkmaids.
It wasn’t even her profound ability to lie.
What bothered her opponents was her intelligence.
That’s what allowed her to lie so well and get away with it, with just the hint of a smirk so that her legions would know there was nothing her enemies could do about it.
That was Hillary Indomitable, the Hillary who would roll to the Democratic presidential nomination without a pause.
But now Biden, crazy as he is, flirts with a run, and Democrats, panicked as they are, seek his protection as Hillary plummets in the polls.
And what’s next for Hillary, now playing dumb?
She’ll try a reboot with soft appearances on Ellen DeGeneres’ show. “Oh, men!!” you can almost hear her giggling with her new girlfriend. And later on with Jimmy Fallon, she’ll give him an “Oh, Jimmy!!” and laugh some more.
But eventually she’ll have to appear before Congress to address that server, the one she wiped clean, destroying 30,000 e-mails she didn’t want Congress to see.
And when they remind her of her “Like with a cloth or something?” remark listen carefully.
You’ll hear the echoes of Algernon, the little white mouse, scratching and scratching, trapped in the maze with no way out.
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His e-mail address is email@example.com, and his Twitter handle is @john_kass.