We've come to accept occasional surliness from our leaders. After all, they are under immense pressure and reside in the glare of 24/7 media scrutiny. Even the best of them can't be counted on to be pleasant all of the time. But what about our Secretary of State? Should he or she be above the fray, an office-holder who practices diplomacy like it is second nature? Condoleeza Rice and Madeleine Albright, different as they were, impressed even their detractors as being level-headed. Which is all the more reason that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's lapse of cool during a Q&A with students in the Democratic Republic of Congo this week is so notable.
In response to a question about what former President Clinton thought about the burgeoning influence of China in Africa, the Secretary hurled back: "You ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I'm not going to channel my husband." The stunned youth later approached the dais to explain that he wasn't actually inquiring about the opinion of President Bill Clinton, but that of her boss, President Obama. Consensus? Either the questioner got all mixed up and nervous or the translator made a whopper of a boo-boo.
But the biggest boo-boo by far was made by Secretary Clinton. After all, the question was not posed by a needling (or seasoned) member of the Washington press corps; it came from a student. There was simply no excuse for her shouting him down—and pointing at him—in such agitated fashion. As is very evident from the video, the man was not trying to be rude; he was simply being curious. Even if he was truly inquiring about the opinion of Bill Clinton (which again, he maintains he was not), his question would not have been beyond the pale.
"Wait, you want to know what my husband thinks?" Madame Secretary blurted out. "My husband is not the Secretary of State—I am." In some ways, it may be a good thing that her husband is not Secretary of State. As Bill Clinton demonstrated during his wife's campaign last year, he, too, has a testy side.
Perhaps it's time for both Clintons to take a lesson from their daughter. Despite the fact that she has never held elected office, Chelsea was firm but polite when confronted with a prickly question about Monica Lewinksy last year, saying simply: "Wow, you're the first person actually that's ever asked me that question in the, I don't know, maybe, seventy college campuses I've now been to, and I do not think that is any of your business."
Grace under fire. A lesson for Hillary, Bill and the rest of us, too.