WASHINGTON – When Hillary Clinton walks into a room the impression she leaves with one is that she believes she is the smartest person there. While this sort of imperiousness may be a great trait for Queen Elizabeth, it isn’t so good for a politician in the world’s premier democracy.
It is a malady that is not all that uncommon among a certain class of public leaders who mistake their success as affording them the privilege of being immune from the ethical and legal standards that govern the rest of us. In other words, the “good” they do outweighs all other considerations.
The brilliant, liberal U. S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, for instance, who legitimately pictured himself the champion of the underdog obviously felt this offset the need to observe the rules expected of one in that position. It ultimately cost him not only his chance to be Chief Justice but his seat on the nation’s highest bench and left his reputation in tatters.
Clinton has walked close to this line in any number of roles from practicing law to her last as Secretary of State. And as the lone Democrat at this point with a shot at her party’s presidential nomination, she just may be her own worst enemy. Her decision to not follow the federal rules when it comes to emails is likely to haunt her throughout her coming campaign to become the first female U.S. chief executive, a post she expected to win eight years ago until along came the first African American.
Her Republican opponents can be expected to display the same tenacity in pursuing what they charge is a direct attempt to hide sensitive communications as they have over the Benghazi incident despite her efforts to calm the storm by providing tens of thousands of emails from her personal account where she did most of her official and unofficial business. The “gotcha” forces are in full sway and no matter what the State Department concludes in its investigation of the matter is going to deter them.
Finally, they believe, they have some leverage over the Clinton’s (this includes her husband) who have avoided every challenge to their transparency since Bill was elected to the White House in 1992 and who remains one of the most popular political figures in recent history despite gaffs that would have buried the career of most men in his position.
But that may not be the case for his wife whose candidacy although undeclared is nevertheless considered a given.
The aura of natural warmth Bill Clinton presents is missing in his spouse whose personality still has a residue of long suffering from the trauma of his infidelities and her seeming decision to stick with him for her own political benefit. That may be a harsh assessment but it is difficult to come to any other conclusion. She is undoubtedly tough enough for the job as she has shown in her various incarnations. On the other hand her efforts at compassion (it takes a village and so forth) lack the genuineness of his.
How easy would it have been to follow the rules and use the government provided emails for those things pertaining to the business of her job? Why would she have risked not following the requirement in the first place. How strongly did her legal counsel at State adviser her against it, if he did advise her at all? The questions are going to be asked and whether she can answer them satisfactorily will make a difference in her chances.
Clinton’s enemies believe she decided not to use government files to hide any embarrassing details of her tenure at state, namely the incident at Benghazi which has been a continuing GOP conservative target. That may or may not be true. It doesn’t matter, the damage remains.
It would be a mistake to say that this incident will blow over, that it is just another blip in presidential politics that her strong personality can overcome. After all the 2016 balloting is still a long way off until it isn’t.
No candidate, not even Clinton, seems impervious to the growth of a mountain from a molehill, a not unusual event in American politics.
Once again her own disregard for the rules based on her lack of sensitivity (her imperiousness), if that is the root cause as I believe, might ultimately have led her into seriously dangerous waters.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.