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Hillary's Real Problem: The Emails Are a Symptom, Not the Issue

Retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, right, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton grill steaks during Harkin’s annual fundraising Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa, on Sunday. (Photo: Associated Press)

There’s been a lot of talk about Hillary’s private email system. Most of it has centered on whether she used it to send classified information. A few have noted that it exposes an hubris that is toxic politically.  And even fewer have noted that—whether or not there was classified material sent over it--it gave foreign intelligence easy access to the intimate details of how decisions are made at the highest level of the Obama Administration. This kind of insight is far more valuable than an individual bit of classified information, as it allows foreign governments to predict our reactions to various provocations.

All of this is true, and—at best—it suggests very poor judgment on her part, but there’s a more fundamental issue for her from a strictly political standpoint and it has profound consequences for the country as well.

Those who point out that by insisting on having her own email, she played into a narrative that has plagued her throughout her career are getting at the real problem for her – and us. It highlights the fact that she is secretive, distrustful, entitled, and politically opaque.

As I’ve watched Ms. Clinton through her career, I’ve been hit with a sense of déjà vu.  The way her eyes dart when she’s under pressure, the way she struggles for sincerity and faux spontaneity while regurgitating canned and overly rehearsed homilies, the way she hides from the press, the way she avoids taking clear, concrete stands on issues—it all dredged up a sense of familiarity, but the specifics of it remained elusive until this campaign, where her palpable ambition and desperate desire laid bare her worst tendencies. 

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The real problem with these emails is that they expose a singular ambition tinged with a hint of paranoia that hasn’t been seen in presidential politics since Richard Nixon. 

Now, apologists will point out that Ms. Clinton has good reason to be paranoid.  Certainly, few public figures have been stalked and vilified to the degree Ms Clinton has been.  But when she reacts by playing into their narrative, she not only reinforces it, she shows us she hasn’t got the judgment or temperament to be president. 

Speaking of apologists, there’s been a lot of folks trying to justify Ms. Clinton’s use of private emails for public functions, most of it laughable.  For a taste of how ludicrous, check out this one, titled, Hillary Just Wanted to Send Emails from her Phone Like a Normal Person ....  Well, if you’re Secretary of State, you’re not a "normal person."  Ms. Clinton is far too smart to believe mere convenience justifies the security and political risks a private email account entailed, even if her supporters are not.  No, for her to make such a choice means she’s plagued with a toxic brew of ambition, paranoia and hubris that we’ve seen before in US politics … in Dick Nixon.

That didn’t end well, as we all remember.  

In her now infamous sniper fire in Bosnia story, Clinton showed a Nixonian willingness to play fast and loose with the truth. When tapes of the incident showed officials and smiling children at the tarmac greeting Clinton and her daughter Chelsea with nary a sniper in sight, she doubled down on her story several times before finally admitting that she’d "misspoke." Or lied.   

Ms. Clinton’s pursuit of the presidency is like a Shakespearian tragedy which has been defined as a story "… which has a noble protagonist, who is flawed in some way, placed in a stressful heightened situation and ends with a fatal conclusion."

There is much that is noble about Ms. Clinton.  There is an undeniable strength, a keen intellect, and a Spartan work ethic – but she also brings many of the same fatal flaws to the presidency that Richard Nixon did, and voters are sensing it.

This accounts for her plummeting favorability numbers, her skyrocketing distrust ratings, and her shaky performance on the campaign trail.

The Democratic Party has to come to grips with this reality.  With Bernie Sanders, it has a chance to become a Party of the People – the first our nation has seen in more than 40 years.  Actually, the Party won’t deal with the issue.  It’s owned by fat cats and vested interests and it long ago discarded the will of the people in its selection of candidates or policies.

But we, the people can take over the Party if we have the courage, the conviction, and the passion to do so.

It’s time to quit listening to pundits and Party apparatchiks who continue to say "Bernie hasn’t got a chance" or "he won’t be the nominee."  The fact is that Sanders is actually leading Clinton in New Hampshire, and he polls better than she does against Republican candidates in swing states.  His candidacy is not only possible, it makes sense.  Our job is to take back the Democratic Party and make it inevitable.

The Republican clown car seems destined to self-destruct. The progressive majority  has a choice between an unfolding tragedy or a new beginning.  It’s up to us to define the future we want to inhabit.

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John Atcheson

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections titled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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