Editor’s column: Where is the fix for our politics?
I wrote earlier this week, in the context of Republicans coalescing around their presumptive presidential nominee despite earlier vows to the contrary, how the desire to win can, um, trump what we profess to be our principles.
This week brought more proof of my point, on the Democratic side, after the State Department inspector general issued a harsh report on Hillary Clinton’s private email.
In the report, said the New York Times, “The inspector general found that Mrs. Clinton ‘had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business’ with department officials but that, contrary to her claims that the department ‘allowed’ the arrangement, there was ‘no evidence’ she had requested or received approval for it.”
Further, the Times account on the report said:
• “She should have surrendered all of her emails before leaving the administration. Not doing so violated department policies that comply with the Federal Records Act.”
• “When two officials in the record-keeping division raised concerns in 2010, their superior ‘instructed the staff never to speak of the secretary’s personal email system again,’ the report said.”
• “Clinton has publicly said the arrangement was a matter of convenience, but emails disclosed in the report made it clear that she worried that personal emails could be publicly released under the Freedom of Information Act. In November 2010, her deputy chief of staff for operations prodded her about ‘putting you on State email’ … Clinton declined. She replied that while she would consider a using a separate address or device, ‘I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible.’”
So we see that Clinton set up the personal server at least in part to subvert the Freedom of Information Act — much like Sarah Palin used a Yahoo account rather than her state account to avoid disclosure laws, something Democrats gleefully criticized.
The Clinton supporter line is that the report contained nothing new, that the State Department inspector general’s office is politicized and the report is a “hatchet job.”
Democrats keep arguing that, oh, it’s nothing, just more of the right-wing conspiracy to get the Clintons. That’s true in part, but the fact is that it’s not nothing.
Clinton’s use of private email was arrogant at best and put national security at risk at worst. Investigations haven’t yet turned up evidence, so far as we know, that sensitive material was hacked or leaked from the non-government account, but the potential certainly was there.
While Clinton and her defenders say other secretaries of state, notably Colin Powell, used personal email while in office, the report this week said that by the time Clinton took the job, the rules were clearer and the dangers better known.
This issue is a whole lot more real than the Swift boat smear that got us President W’s disastrous second term and may well be a big factor in electing President Trump.
Clinton admits she’s a bad campaigner, but she makes matters worse with decisions such as brushing off the 2010 urging to start using government email, not releasing some emails, refusing to talk to the inspector general for this report and refusing to release the text of her speeches to Wall Street. The latter hollows out her criticism of Trump for refusing to release his tax returns, for example. Clearly, she doesn’t want disaffected Americans to know the details of what we must assume are big wet kisses to big-money financiers, but it’s bad politics that reinforces the idea that she tries to make her own rules.
The FBI investigation of her email is an ever-growing thunderhead looming on the edge of her campaign, and it all keeps alive every overblown suspicion about her conduct, from Whitewater to Benghazi. (Benghazi was a tragedy in a dangerous world that was hardly unique to Clinton’s stewardship of foreign affairs. It’s fair to criticize our approach in Libya and the lack of security at the installation, but no one wanted it to happen or called off forces that could have interrupted the attack.)
I wrote in August that Clinton’s candidacy “strikes me as destined to be an unenthusiastic trudge to defeat and Republican control of both the White House and Congress.”
In August, as the product of more than 30 years working in the mainstream media, I totally discounted and misread Donald Trump. I couldn’t believe that an egomaniacal, flip-flopping, nativist, thin-skinned supposed billionaire would win over people struggling with the economic forces that favor him or, even if that happened, that the Republican Party would allow him to be its nominee. I don’t know how I ever had such a silly notion.
Now, the 2016 presidential campaign is mostly a race to the bottom, with both parties divided. Depending on their district or state, some candidates for Congress will actively distance themselves from their party’s standard bearer. The chances of a substantive debate of issues between Trump and Clinton is all but nil. Neither of them is going to mend the deep divisions in this country, which constitute a greater existential threat to us all than either individual candidate.
As a solid never-Trumper, I almost hope that Clinton gets indicted before the Democratic convention so the party can nominate someone else. I suspect, though, that the FBI and Justice Department will determine she committed no major crimes, keeping the conspiracy-mongering alive.
As a political junkie, I should be enjoying the theatrical high, but I’m afraid we are all in the midst of a serious overdose.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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