Hillary Clinton's insulting silence on Keystone XL

Did Hillary Clinton learn enough from 2008? She still seems to be self-defeatingly guarded.

Several recent articles have called Clinton out for refusing to say where she stands on the Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, reporters should be asking her whether she has changed her mind on the issue now that environmentalists have made it into a purity test — because she had sensible things to say about Keystone XL four years ago, before she adopted her strategic silence.

Here is Clinton in 2010, then secretary of state, speaking at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club:

We haven’t finished all of the analysis. So as I say, we’ve not yet signed off on it. But we are inclined to do so and we are for several reasons — going back to one of your original questions — we’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada. And until we can get our act together as a country and figure out that clean, renewable energy is in both our economic interests and the interests of our planet — (applause) — I mean, I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone how deeply disappointed the president and I are about our inability to get the kind of legislation through the Senate that the United States was seeking.

Now, that hasn’t stopped what we’re doing. We have moved a lot on the regulatory front through the EPA here at home and we have been working with a number of countries on adaptation and mitigation measures. But obviously, it was one of the highest priorities of the administration for us to enshrine in legislation President Obama’s commitment to reducing our emissions. So we do have a lot that still must be done. And it is a hard balancing act. It’s a very hard balancing act.

Clinton was responding to a question about the Alberta Clipper, a pipeline that began transporting tar sands oil to Wisconsin in 2010. But the State Department subsequently clarified that she was speaking about Keystone XL. Her remarks were on the right track: The Keystone XL decision will not determine the future of oil use here or abroad, and there are much more important factors that will. Policymakers should focus on those instead of trying to micromanage decisions on energy supply infrastructure, angering our allies in the process.

Does Clinton still hold to those principles? If so, why won’t she admit it? If not, what changed her mind? Clinton is not officially running yet, so she is not under the high obligation to square with the public that candidacy brings. But she isn’t free of obligation; she led the State Department when it considered the issue.

Continuing evasion only communicates one thing: insulting caution. As was often the case in her 2008 run, she gives the impression that she is unwilling to tell you what she really believes, at least not until Mark Penn or some other purveyor of political pablum has sliced it up and served it to the public in its maximally inoffensive — and least interesting — form. That’s infuriating for those who would agree with her — particularly for those who want pro-environment leaders to guide people toward issues that really matter — because she knows better and won’t stick up for their side. It’s patronizing to environmentalists because she is trying to pander to them by refusing to engage them like adults. Clinton’s political calculation is a good sign that she’s running for president — but not an indication that she will do a better job than she did in 2008.

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