Monday, July 06, 2015

Politix Update: Why Hillary Clinton's Emails Are Much Ado About Little

It is said that the cover-up is always worse than the crime, but in the case of Hillary Clinton's State Department emails, what is the crime?  And beyond the partisan ankle biting, is the cover-up -- such as it is -- over something any different than what other government bigs, not the least of whom were Bush administration officials, have done?
Perhaps I'm like the last guy in the room to get the joke, but I don't think so, which makes the fevered, Republican-driven dissection of Clinton's personal emails in the mainsteam media, especially as they pertain to the exhaustively investigated September 2012 attack by Islamic militants in Benghazi, Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other people, so much small beer.  Less than meets the eye.  Much ado about very little. 
So far, the best any of the Republican junkyard dogs or the media has come up with is that Clinton, as secretary of state, appeared to have contempt for government transparency and violated a National Archives regulation that government emails sent from personal accounts be preserved for the historical record.  Not exactly Watergate or any other -gates of consequence, and reflective of a woman who has been under the microscope for a quarter century, sometimes unfairly.
At first glance, allegations that Clinton withheld some emails from the State Department are troubling, but the contents of these emails are contextual yawns: For example, her knowledge of the scramble for oil contracts in Libya and the shortcomings of the NATO-led military intervention against the regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi.  And the emails involving former aide Sidney Blumenthal that conservative commentators have compared to kryptonite are not indicative of wrongdoing.  It was Blumenthal, a longtime confidante of Clinton and her husband, who reached out to Madame Secretary and not the other way around. 
(Meanwhile, some of the emails pertaining to career diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who was a hero in my book, are wince-worthy in confirming the view held by many people at State and the White House that he tried to steal others' thunder.  As a consequence, he was marginalized.)
Beyond Clinton not having been particularly smart about how it might look if she used a private email account and some tortured reasoning about what she did or did not do, including the deletion of thousands of emails she said were personal, what the brouhaha does do is confirm your worst suspicions if you view Clinton negatively to begin with: That she's shady and even when she honors the letter of a law, she doesn't necessarily honor the spirit.  That she raises more questions than she answers.  And that she has things to hide. 

Then there is my only concern of consequence: the Clinton family foundation, which although apparently not the subject of any emails while she was secretary of state about which we know so far, has raised some of its money from foreign donors with dodgy reputations
Never mind that Bush administration bigs also used personal email accounts for official business, among them another secretary of state, Colin Powell, and Karl Rove when he was deputy White House chief of staff.  Then there is the mother of all email controversies, the deletion of over 5 million emails from a non-government server regarding the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys for refusing to do Bush administration political dirtywork after congressional committees asked for them, which were violations of the Presidential Records and Hatch acts.
The email controversy is not going to go away, but then neither is it going to amount to a show stopper when the presidential campaign gets serious after Labor Day 2016.  
This is why the controversy is not going to go away: It's a great modus for attacking Clinton because she has not been candid at every turn.  And while the State Department wanted to release all 55,000 pages of emails in a fell swoop, a judge ordered their release on a monthly basis.
The batch released last week -- the second of the monthly dumps -- covered 3,000 pages from 2009 emails, and except for two dozen that had "classified" status despite apparently innocuous content, the bulk were banal and reflective of a newly-minted Cabinet member trying to settle into a very big job.  And as several emails shockingly reveal, learning how to use her office fax machine.
More typical of the emails is this one from a friend, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland after Clinton fell and fractured her right elbow in June 2009:
Am so glad to hear frm you//// knew this was painful combined with logistics of being a woman--know.  How streddful this must be--the other night the. Senate. The women had dinner anyway--all sent good words.  And encouragement.  To a woman theb all said.  Just my getting dressed and the. Hair thing. Get your therapy.  Get better.  The senate is slogging along----  health care is starting to sag-- some days it feels we are doing the public option off of backof envelope. Call when you can. X.
It is obvious that Clinton was cognizant that what she wrote might be read later by a wider audience, but expect revelations from future email dumps.  About office carpet colors, travel arrangements, meetings and policy priorities, staffers sucking up to their boss, planning for daughter Chelsea's engagement announcement and future nuptials, and who knows?  Perhaps some red meat, as well.  But the Benghazi tragedy has been so thoroughly investigated that it long ago was bled dry of anything remotely interesting.  And while the email controversy has been a convenient way for Clinton's foes to attack her, it may well have an unintended consequence that will help her in the longer run: Humanize a sometimes polarizing public figure who has been notoriously circumspect. 
We have seen from the emails already released that Clinton has a sense of humor, replying to an aide who had complimented her on a coat she had been photographed wearing on a trip to Afghanistan:
Thx! I bought the coat in Kabul in 03 and thought it should get a chance to go home for a visit!!
The emails also show her trying hard to do a good job.  To find her place at the head of the Cabinet table.  And to interact effectively with a boss who had defeated her for the Democratic Party nomination.
Yes, Hillary Clinton may have been stupid in some respects, but she's not dumb.
At some point when hardly anyone was looking (I know I wasn't), the notion of electing a woman president stopped being such a huge deal. 
When Hillary Clinton conceded to Barack Obama in 2008 and again last month when she spoke on Roosevelt Island in New York City, she declared that she wanted America to be a place "where a father can tell his daughter yes, you can be anything you want to be, even president of the United States." Now, nearly 100 years after women were given the right to vote, America has become such a place. 
In 1937, the year Gallup began asking people (equally divided between men and women) if they would vote for a woman for president, only 33 percent said they would.  That number hovered at around 50 percent by 1970, while 95 percent now say they would vote for a woman if she were qualified. 
As I noted above, Hillary Clinton has been notoriously circumspect, and that was a big problem in her 2008 primary run.  She allowed husband Bill and chief strategist Mark Penn to run her campaign, and not surprisingly -- and to her detriment -- it was a man's campaign that forced her to walk, talk and act like a man and not whoever she was. 
I wrote this in June 2008: "Like radio waves reaching earth from some cosmic calamity millennia ago, the yarbling of Hillary Clinton sycophants who believe that her candidacy was gang banged into extinction by the mainstream media, right-wing bloggers and Barack Obama acolytes can be faintly heard, although it is so much background noise . . . Clinton never seemed comfortable with her role as the first serious woman presidential candidate and used her gender more as a cudgel than a talking point. More curious still, the feminist notion of liberation -- one of Obama's memes -- was AWOL from a campaign that was run like a patriarchy."
But seven years on, Clinton appeared to have connected with herself. 
"For the first time," writes Gail Sheehy, "Hillary seems comfortable in her own skin—not just with her age but also with her gender.
"And here's another thing: She's passionate about equal rights for women, but at her stage of post-menopausal feminism, she does not threaten or alienate men. Rather, she co-opts them, turning them into allies. This is old-fashioned feminine wiles at its most mature. It is also why two of the most powerful men in America -- Bill and Barack -- will be among Clinton’s most avid supporters in her second run for president."
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

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