So the familiar pattern asserts itself again. A Clinton scandal story hits. Everybody says, a la Fred Sanford, “Uh-oh, this is the big one!” Glands explode at cable news headquarters. Liberals sweat bullets and wring their hands. Conservatives sharpen their blades. It looks terrible.
Then a day passes—actually in this case, not even a full day—and we start to see doubt cast on the article. Turns out the whole story isn’t exactly what its originator—in this case, the Associated Press, which reported that Hillary Clinton as secretary of state met with 85 donors to the Clinton family foundation—claimed. The Clinton Rules are invoked. Conservatives stay at it, but liberals can exhale. It’s not as bad as it looked.
And it isn’t. Yes, the perception of access gained via donations is disturbing; but I already had that perception, not just of the Clintons but of every politician on earth, indeed nearly every human being on earth who receives funding of any kind. If the worst they can get on Hillary Clinton is that she may have helped a Nobel Prize winner who was being harassed by a jealous prime minister, and who was also her friend for 25-plus years, then there isn’t much there there (the whole Muhammad Yunus passage in that AP story was very odd tonally, almost as if the writers barely knew who this world-famous man was).
I know all about the Clinton Rules, and I believe they exist. I have been a participant in previous iterations of the pattern I describe above. In March 2015, when the Times first reported the news of Clinton’s email server and suggested she may have broken the law, I was among the first to write that there was nothing close to evidence of lawbreaking since the law she supposedly broke didn’t exist when she was secretary. I was credited by the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, for raising “nuanced concerns.” So yeah, I bear a few blood stains from having been in these trenches, and I’d anticipate if she wins that I’ll hunker down in them again.
But I think I can hold this basic view—that the Clintons are uniquely targeted and the media are uniquely credulous when it comes to allegations against them—while also not defending every single thing they do. I took a fair amount of stick for my previous column calling on the Clintons to shutter the foundation and parcel its good works out to other groups that do similar deeds around the world. I expected that (although it’s still kinda depressing how many people read only a headline and then fire off the most abusive tweets). But I want to address a point many anger-tweeters made, because it gets right to the heart of the matter—of what the point of all this political strife is, at the end of the day.
The angry tweets said: If they close down the foundation, the right will just find another target, and this will never stop. Undoubtedly true. But it will never stop if they don’t close down the foundation. In fact it will continue all the more luridly, will it not?
And it will make governing that much harder.
That’s the point of all this. If Clinton wins, she’s going to want to govern. She’s going to want to enact an agenda. And her agenda is pretty damn good. A higher minimum wage indexed to inflation; paid family and medical leave; universal pre-kindergarten; equal pay for women; vastly more affordable higher education; expanded Social Security for the poor; a much greener economy; a liberal Supreme Court for the next generation or two; and on and on.
Now, I’m not naive. She’s not going to get much of that enacted, with a GOP-controlled House, which most people imagine we’ll still have. She may not get any of it passed, since she’d need Republican votes to do so. So if that’s the reality, then the question becomes, how might she get a few Republican votes? Not out of the kindness of their hearts. There’s only one way—that she, and her proposals, are popular enough in their states and districts that they conclude they’ll pay a higher price for voting against those proposals than they will for supporting them.
And the only way for that to happen, in turn, is for President Clinton to have the support and trust of a critical mass of swing voters in those states and districts. And for that to happen, she has to improve her standing among them. It’s low.
It’s not nearly as low as Trump’s, but that’s not the issue here. The issue if she’s president will be this. One-third will permanently oppose her, and another third will be I’m With Her 24-7; then there’s that middle third, who hold mixed views. Can she trounce Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell among that middle third? She has a lot she wants to do. She’ll need about 60 percent of that 33 percent to have a chance of doing them.
A lot of factors will go into that, but surely a big one will be whether she’s proving herself to be an honest and trustworthy president as they see things (not as liberals see things). So she needs to do that. That means taking every club out of the opposition’s hands she can.
Yeah, my angry tweeters are correct when they say Judicial Watch will never stop looking for clubs. But that’s just all the more reason that Clinton sure doesn’t need to hand them any. So yes, she is attacked unfairly, and I’ll respond to those attacks whenever it’s appropriate to do so. But she has a responsibility too, to the 60 or so million who are going to place the nation in her hands, to not make unforced errors like the private server. And to keep the big point in mind.