Initially, it appeared that the theme song for the 2016 presidential election could have come from the 1981 television series Dynasty. For Republicans, Jeb Bush became the first major candidate out of the gate late last year, the son and brother of two previous presidents. Across the aisle, no major opponent has challenged Hillary Clinton’s presumed candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Americans have an affinity for brands, but the current populist trend in both parties makes dynastic politics a risk in national elections.
Now, though, the family brand for establishment politicians may matter less than the sense of entitlement that comes with it.
Clinton had hoped to put off any interaction with the press until after rolling out the formal beginning of a campaign in April, the exploration committee launch. Despite the constant drumbeat of news in her supposed expertise in foreign policy, Clinton had almost no contact with the media since her ill-advised book tour last year. Even a week after the e-mail scandal broke at The New York Times, Clinton was not pressed for answers from the curiously incurious national media.
When she arrived at Reagan National Airport last week, only TMZ sent a reporter to ask a question about the scandals, which Clinton ignored. For doing what most people assume is the job of reporters, Politico initially headlined its report on TMZ’s effort as “stalking” Clinton, a headline they changed after a deluge of derision.
The story refused to go away this time, though, and the Clintons rolled out their old playbook. They sent Lanny Davis and James Carville to TV talk shows to accuse “right wingers” of maligning Hillary Clinton. Even Howard Dean made an appearance on MSNBC to declare the story “bupkis” and accuse The New York Times of being duped by “the right wing.” Unlike the 1990s, though, this argument through attack-dog surrogates flopped. Even Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC didn’t buy Carville’s spin, while Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski ridiculed Dean’s blustering. “Are you working with the Clintons?” Brzezinski asked Dean.
The argument certainly didn’t work for the Clintons, and even reliably liberal media voices like Eugene Robinson demanded answers from the former Secretary of State. By Monday, Clinton decided to hold a “presser” after her UN speech on Tuesday - one of the toughest venues for journalists to be credentialed - to answer for herself on the email scandal.
What followed was the realization of Democratic fears over a Hillary Clinton nomination, and the exposure of a politically fatal level of hubris from the candidate herself.
From the very start of her remarks, Clinton insisted that the decision to use her own homebrew email server, located in the family home in Chappaqua, New York, put her convenience above the Federal Records Act and the need to provide adequate security for State Department communications. “I opted for convenience to use my personal email account,” Clinton said in her opening statement, “because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.”
Never mind that just two weeks earlier, Clinton had bragged about carrying multiple devices wherever she traveled. Never mind that under her direction, State had fired Ambassador Scott Gration in 2012, partly for trying to set up his own Internet connection to allow access to his private email account. And never mind that gaining access to the communications of a Secretary of State would be a Holy Grail for hackers and intelligence agencies. Compliance with the same standard that the State Department and the White House imposed on everyone else was just too inconvenient for Hillary Clinton.
Furthermore, Clinton went on to declare that she had given State about half of the 60,000 emails that had come through her server, almost two years after she left the office. The other half, Clinton assured reporters, were “not in any way related to my work,” but personal in nature. “For any government employee,” Clinton explained further, “it is that government employee’s responsibility to determine what’s personal and what’s work-related.”
Actually, that’s wrong. The Federal Records Act exists to keep the employee from making that decision in the first place. All records on business accounts are archived, and regulations require official business to take place through an official account or be archived through them immediately. Those regulations exist to prevent taxpayers from being put in the position where powerful officials get to decide what remains in the historical record, and which get conveniently shoved down the memory hole.
Hillary Clinton gave the clearest possible demonstration of her contempt for oversight and accountability when asked about the server itself. This system might still hold the emails that didn’t go to State – 30,000 or more supposedly personal emails over four years, or roughly twenty-one personal emails a day – either in preserved form or recoverable from the hard drive. When asked whether she would make it available to “an independent arbiter, Clinton refused. “I believe I have met all of my responsibilities,” she replied, “and the server will remain private.”
Clinton could have defused the issue, or at least mitigated it somewhat, by offering a self-deprecating apology for having imposed standards on others that she didn’t follow for herself, and a pledge to allow an independent authority to vet her email system. Instead, Clinton offered a haughty and imperious sneer to legitimate questions about her actions as a public figure, along with a message that might be most politely translated as pound sand.
At least for the moment, though, the Clinton playbook from the 1990s isn’t working. Her performance in the presser has been widely panned in the media, even with the attack dogs baying. The New York Daily News headline read “YOU’VE GOT FAIL,” while The New York Post’s read “DELETER OF THE FREE WORLD.” USA Today declared itself “troubled” over Clinton’s “penchant for secrecy.” The Washington Post quipped, “The circus is back in town.”
It’s not the circus. It’s a pretender to American royalty, demanding her coronation, and this is exactly what we can expect if Democrats are foolish enough to nominate her in 2016.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: