The Clinton Files
In 1996, a younger me voted for John Hagelin, the Natural Law Party candidate for President. I admit, I didn’t really know or care much about the party’s views (although their advocacy of Yogic Flying sounded fun), but I couldn’t bring myself to vote for the two major candidates. Although a registered independent at the time, it was clear that the Republican candidate, Bob Dole, and I were out-of-sync policy-wise. As for Bill Clinton – well, I supported most of his policies, but I couldn’t get past how Nixonian his administration came across in its misuse of FBI files to gather information on political opponents.
Two years later, investigators cleared both Clintons of all charges in the matter. While other controversies and scandals soon emerged, the narrative leveled by Clinton’s opponents had worked on me – I had bought into a story that was far from conclusive. Of course, in my defense, the Clinton record up to that point had not exactly been one of forthrightness and moral rectitude.
I think a lot of Americans feel similarly about Hillary Clinton this election season. There’s not really evidence of any crimes having taken place – but, then again, it’s the Clintons, right? The most common questions people – especially Democrats – have posed to me this year has involved explaining the Clinton “scandals” to them. They’re torn between the feeling that Hilary Clinton is not trustworthy and the feeling that Republican accusations, often overhyped and occasionally manufactured, are even less so.
Of the “big three” scandals involving Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, and e-mails, the supposedly nefarious role of former Secretary of State during and after the Benghazi attacks is the scandal I tell people to ignore — it’s origins are entirely political.
On the evening of September 11, 2012, during his campaign against President Obama, Mitt Romney, upon hearing early reports of the attacks, disregarded the informal lets-leave-politics-out-of-things-on-9/11 ceasefire of the two camps, and immediately and somewhat awkwardly sought to tie them to President Obama’s alleged foreign policy “apologies” for “American values.”
Within several days the new narrative had become that the President couldn’t even bring himself to proclaim that the attacks were by “terrorists” – at least until debate moderator Candy Crowley embarrassed Romney on the issue soon thereafter.
After that narrative failed to stick, Republicans decided that administration officials had intentionally misled Americans in order to seem less culpable for the attacks – the Sunday “talking points” narrative that has since been thoroughly debunked as a combination of minor bureaucratic miscommunication and genuine lack of knowledge as the facts were sorted out.
In what is probably the most fascinating aspect of the greatest non-scandal in modern history, Republican politicians and right-wing media began to take cues from one another in a strange viscous cycle that somehow led to this. Republicans became so thoroughly enmeshed in their own narrative that, in the end, even relatively honorable politicians like John McCain began to believe the story spun by their own party.
Unlike, Benghazi, the controversies surrounding the Clinton Foundation and those “damn e-mails” actually merit concern. The Clinton Foundation’s primary goal has been to promote greater networking and cooperation among governments, corporations, and wealthy individuals with non-profit organizations seeking to address serious problems like global poverty and climate change. This focus differs somewhat from that of a group like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation which is more direct in providing aid to groups seeking to directly address issues associated with under-development. The Clinton Foundation’s approach is often a very personalistic one – which was and is part of the problem.
When Clinton served as Secretary of State, the Foundation agreed to restrict its donations, including a ban on donations from wealthy foreign individuals, in order to avoid the perception of interest conflicts. Many such individuals, however, simply donated to organizations that, in turn, then donated to the Clinton Foundation.
The e-mails that have come to light this year suggests that many of those who donated to the Clinton Foundation later sought personal meetings with Secretary Clinton. The problem is that, as Secretary of State, she might well have met with such prominent figures, like a Crown Prince of Bahrain, or the famous Nobel Prize winning economist, Muhammad Yunus – whether or not they had donated to the foundation. There’s no evidence of a quid pro quo, but it looks understandably questionable whether some may have “bought” influence by establishing themselves as prominent supporters – and the Clintons have not done a good job of allaying such suspicions.
Some liberals seized upon a similar dynamic during the first GW Bush administration when they accused Vice President Dick Cheney as being similarly beholden to his earlier business contacts and friends in Halliburton – with some of the more conspiratorially-minded accusing him of having started a war on their behalf. Such charges were often overblown – but it’s hard to see how any office holder could completely separate themselves from their earlier contacts and associates. The continuing question of how to institutionalize the separation of moneyed interests, foreign and domestic, from unfair influence over policy-making is a problem this country has barely tackled whether it involves Hilary Clinton, her predecessors, or much of the rest of Washington.
Finally, there’s the mishandling of the e-mails themselves – the most egregious of the blunders that Clinton made. As the final FBI report suggested, it is doubtful that Hilary Clinton had a private e-mail server installed in her house with the purpose of hiding anything conspiratorial any more than Colin Powell intended to do so with his private e-mail account. However, it’s also likely that she failed to even consider that she was potentially compromising secret information in an age when cyber-security is a pressing issue – a disturbingly out-of-touch mindset. Just as important, her decision to have lawyers delete tens of thousands of e-mails under her own terms was unbelievably high-handed, short-sighted, and invariably going to lend credibility to her critics.
The “Filegate” scandal I discussed at the top turned out not to be an example of Nixonian scheming, but, rather, a sloppily run White House that fostered an all-too-permissive culture in regard to ethical rules – a culture notably absent over the last eight years under President Obama. My fear is that under President Clinton the sloppiness and permissiveness might return – her stint as Secretary of State is not altogether encouraging in this respect. Of course, looking across the lunacy across the aisle that’s likely to rank among the worst campaigns in history, I also know the alternative could be much, much worse. This time, I won’t waste my vote this November wishing for a perfect candidate.