As a longtime Clinton watcher and (usually) defender, I hope to God she takes a key lesson away from Comeys warning shot.”>
Thinking back over Barack Obamas tenure as it winds down, trying to ponder his future legacy, Ive returned in my mind many times to one impressive but always overlooked fact. In seven and a half years, there hasnt been a single big scandal thats engulfed his administration.
Now I know that sentence is a real knee-slapper to conservatives, some of whom swear that the only reason Eric Holder and Obama arent wearing jumpsuits is the existence of the liberal media. But for the rest of us, the explanation is simpler. It seems to have beenas these things go in 21st-century Americaa surprisingly clean administration. No special prosecutors. No arms-for-hostage deals. A few distressing flares shot out of the penumbras of the executive branchthe VA, most notably. But theres been nothing directly involving the White House, and its been a great relief.
So youll forgive me if my thoughts drifted even more strongly in this direction as I watched Obama and Hillary Clinton share a stage for the first time this campaign Monday afternoon in North Carolina, when Obama came out swinging hard in her behalf. Lets say Clinton wins, and lets say she manages to serve out two terms. What are the odds that in July 2024, if God and fate still permit me to be doing this kind of work, Ill be able to write the first paragraph of this column about a Clinton administration?
My track record as a critic of the Clintons attackers goes back two decades now. I have researched a lot of these things deeply, and I came to concludeafter initially believing the hype about Whitewaterthat most of the bombs lobbed at the Clintons were duds. Whitewater was that. The Clintons lost money and concealed nothing. The attempts to paint her in particular as corrupt have always been, to me, chiefly ideological. That is, conservatives hated what she represented from day onea bossypants feminist who showed open contempt for more traditional models of womanhoodand they wanted to get her. One way to get her was to carry on about how radical she was. But that didnt really sell outside conservative circles, so they had try another route: to prove that she was corrupt.
However: To say all that is by no means to say that she, and he, never do anything wrong. They do. And as FBI Director James Comey made clear Monday morning, she did plenty wrong in her emailing habits. It was obvious that Comey wanted to communicate that very clearly.
Youve already read by now the summaries of what Comey said, so we dont need to go back over that here. I think that politically, the extremely careless bit and the 110 emails that Comey says were classified at the time will be liabilities. But I also dont know that this moves that many votesthose who think she shouldnt set foot in the Oval Office because shes untrustworthy thought that before Comey spoke. And she sure is lucky to be running against a racist con artist who wants convicted murders to speak at his convention.
But as a longtime Clinton watcher and (usually) defender, I hope to God she takes a key lesson away from this.
She used the private server in the first place because she didnt want her personal emails to be available to right-wing groups like Judicial Watch that have hounded her all her Washington life. And look at what happenedJudicial Watch got them anyway, and helped kick up a scandal to boot. Learn from this, Hillary. Judicial Watch and others will always be after you. It will never end. You cant win this, and you cant make any more ethically corner-cutting decisions with stiff-arming Judicial Watch in mind. When youre president, those decisions will be grounds, fairly or not, for impeachment proceedings.
I also would love to see, though I know we never will, a Clinton press conference later this week where she stands up and says: You know, I did wrong here, and I apologize. Believe me, Ive learned a lesson from this, and it is X. And when Im president, rest assured Im just not going to use email, okay? Just wont use it. And Bill might, but hell email in exactly the way the law demands. And, by the way, I think Bill was wrong to call on Attorney General Lynch in the way that he did and have told him so. That wont be happening in my administration, either. Things are going to be different.
Over the years, when these Clinton dust-ups have happened, Ive said to her people some version of the above. Why not just have her say publicly that this was a mistake, shes truly sorry, and shell work to see that it doesnt happen again? And it has been explained to me that, well, she doesnt have the emotional ability to do that; that she thinks it shows weakness; that it just hands her opponents and the media more material; whatever.
And all those things are true. Shed take a murderous pummeling for three days. And you know what? Then, those three days would end, and after that, whenever questions arose again, she could say I addressed that, I know I was wrong, and I laid out how Im going to behave differently in the future.
This is the only way I can see for her to do anything about her lousy trust numbers. Admit error and promise to try harder. She worries far too much about how such an admission will be heard inside the Beltway, when she ought to give more thought to how it will be heard outside of it.
So there she stood on Monday afternoon in the Charlotte convention center with the president whos run the least scandal-plagued administration in 40 years, in what was supposed to be a triumphant moment that was instead tarnished by the oxygen-stealing Comey announcement (I cant help but wonder if Comey, a Republican, timed it like that). Im here today because I believe in Hillary Clinton, Obama told the raucous crowd, for whom the whole Comey exercise might as well have never happened.
Hes had a front-row seat to her judgment, Obama said at one point. He called her a great secretary of state. And: I saw how she wont quit. And: There has never been a man or woman more qualified for this office than Hillary Clinton. Never. And thats the truth! And thats when he officially endorsed her, at 4:03 pm.
So now she has that, and no sword of indictment dangling over her head. In a few days, Trump will say something intolerableor, if theyre on their game, the Clinton oppo people will dump some of their research into some willing media handsand well be talking about something else. This email issue wont go away, but barring new revelations, I dont think it will be decisive over the next four months.
The next four, or eight, years, however, are another matter, unless Hillaryand Billfinally acknowledge two things.
One, that preemptively taking all possible steps to avoid future trouble is not capitulation to enemies; its just smart self-preservation. And two, in the event of a lapse, contrition isnt weakness; its strength, and its by far the politically smarter play than stonewalling, which Clinton did at the beginning of this scandal.
I hope on Air Force One, Obama talked with her about some of these things, and I hope she listened.