The Inevitable Post-Election Tell-Alls

It’s been six months since the last presidential election, which means it’s time for those tell-all books about the campaign to start coming out.  The first one that I’ve read about is called Shattered:  Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.

hillary_abcAs if often the case, the publishers of the books try to gin up interest by releasing supposedly tantalizing details about incidents that occurred during the campaign.  In the case of Shattered, the incidents involve a phone call in which Hillary and Bill Clinton both unloaded on the campaign staff, and the prep sessions for one of the debates with Bernie Sanders in which Hillary Clinton got mad and made one of her preparers stand up and answer questions while she critiqued him.  The underlying message of both incidents was:  Hillary Clinton was angry that she wasn’t doing better and just couldn’t recognize that the problem was due to her personal failures, rather than failures by her staff.

I enjoyed the Theodore White Making of the President books way back when, and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing:  On the Campaign Trail ’72 remains one of my all-time favorite books, but I’ve long since stopped reading the “insider” accounts that now come out after every election.  I haven’t read one in decades because the lack of loyalty inherent in the form of the book makes me sick to my stomach.  Professional staffers provide juicy tidbits as part of an overall information campaign to cover their own butts, make themselves look good, and position themselves to get hired and do it all over again in the next campaign cycle.  The losing candidate always gets torn down, while the wise, far-sighted staff that the candidate was supposedly stubbornly ignoring get elevated.

So, Hillary Clinton was frustrated that she wasn’t doing better, and from time to time lashed out at her staff when voting results or polling weren’t favorable?  Gee . . . is anybody really surprised that a person who is seeking the presidency — and who saw her election as an historic opportunity to shatter a very visible “glass ceiling” for American women — from time to time had that reaction?  When you’re on the griddle for months, 24/7, as presidential candidates are, of course there are going to be times when fatigue and frustration leave you not at your finest, and when the results aren’t going as you hoped, the effects of that fatigue and frustration will inevitably be compounded.

So Hillary Clinton lost her temper, and she and Bill Clinton administered an occasional tongue-lashing.  So what?  She lost.  Can’t we just let it be, without having rat-like staffers heaping scorn on the losing candidate with anecdotes carefully pitched to make themselves look good?  If I were a potential presidential candidate, I would never hire somebody whom I suspected was the source of leaks in one of these tell-alls.  Loyalty is an important quality when you are working for a politician, and people who leak stories to promote themselves are finks who simply can’t be trusted.

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Another Email Fail

You’ve no doubt heard people lecture that you shouldn’t put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see published on the front page of the New York Times.  Colin Powell is the newest living proof of that statement.

rtr237zj-1024x682As, indeed, the New York Times and others have reported, Powell has confirmed that his emails were hacked and have been released to the world.  They’re pretty sensational reading, too, as a chatty Powell candidly expresses his opinions about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and others.  Powell thinks Trump is a racist, an international pariah, and a national disgrace, he thinks Hillary Clinton is greedy, sleazy, possessed by unbridled ambition, and unfairly dragged him into her own email scandal, he thinks Bill Clinton is cheating on his wife with “bimbos,” and he thinks Cheney is an “idiot.”  Colin Powell apparently is something like “Mikey” in the old TV commercial for Life cereal:  he has disdain for everybody.

Powell’s comments are so pointed that the Washington Post has a story just about the “juiciest” comments in his hacked emails, and USA Today has a piece about the “top insults” in Powell’s emails.  I’m sure dinner parties inside the Beltway are buzzing with talk about Powell’s unvarnished views about the high and mighty.

I feel sorry for Powell, that his personal email was hacked, but I’m also amazed that he would share such candid views in emails, without appreciating that once you send an email, you totally lose control over it and have no way to prevent it from being shared, far and wide — or hacked.  I guess he’s not as sophisticated as I thought he would be.  And there’s no doubt, too, that the leaked emails will affect people’s perception of Powell, who has projected the image of being an above-the-fray, statesman-like national figure.  Now we see that he’s as gossipy as a high school kid and not above throwing around crude words for sexual relations.  The emails certainly contradict his carefully cultivated public image and suggest that under that placid demeanor seen on news shows there lurks a brimming volcano of acidic opinions about other national figures.

It’s a good lesson, though, for those of us whose emails aren’t going to make headlines like Powell’s did:  Think about whether you really want to have that email out in the world at large before you hit “send”!

Bush Fatigue, Clinton Fatigue

They say you can get “chicken fatigue.”  It happens when you’ve eaten a lot of chicken, and suddenly you just can’t bear the thought of choking down another bite of it.

Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton must feel like the last drumstick right about now.

hillary-and-jeb-bushToday is a big day for Bush and Clinton.  For Bush, it’s the South Carolina primary; for Clinton, it’s the Nevada caucuses.  Both started out the 2016 race as apparent lock-cinch winners, dubbed by pundits and Beltway insiders as the presumptive nominees.  As designated front-runners, they raised huge sums of money and seemed to have every advantage.  But it hasn’t quite worked out.

Bush has been knocked down into the single digits, eclipsed by the bizarre Trump phenomenon, and just doesn’t seem able to take off.  If he does poorly in South Carolina, where he’s spent lots of money and brought in his brother and mother to campaign, he’s probably finished.  As for Clinton, she’s struggling to break through against a surprising challenge by Bernie Sanders.  Who would have thought that Hillary Clinton would be getting a run for her money from a septuagenarian socialist?

Why has this happened?  Obviously, part of it is that Bush and Clinton just aren’t great candidates.  Bush doesn’t seem to be able to identify a good, compelling reason why he should be President, and Clinton is weighted down by baggage, like the ongoing email investigation, and bad decisions, like the continuing inability to deal with being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at Goldman Sachs, where one attendee said she gave “pretty glowing” remarks about that Wall Street firm.

I think part of the reason, too, is that a lot of Americans have come to realize that they are tired of the Bushes and the Clintons.  We feel like they’ve had their moments in the sun, and now it’s time for somebody else to have a turn at the wheel.  We groan inwardly when we see people like Bill Clinton giving another speech, or think of the possibility that the Bush crowd or the Clinton crowd could be back in the White House.  Enough already!

This has been a weird and astonishing presidential election so far, but the struggles of the Bush campaign and the Clinton campaign really shouldn’t be surprising.  It’s just a case of chicken fatigue writ large.

 

Is Bill Clinton’s Sex History Fair Game?

Bill Clinton’s sex life has moved to the forefront of the news again.

Thanks to Donald Trump — who wrote a tweet stating “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!” — there’s a lot of chatter about Bill Clinton’s affairs and alleged predatory behavior and unwanted advances against women.  The Washington Post has even done a “fact check” that separates “Bill Clinton’s womanizing” into five “consensual affairs” (one of which was a “consensual affair” with a 22-year-old intern, Monica Lewinsky, when Clinton was the President) and other “allegations of an unwanted sexual encounter.”  And some are asking:  is it fair to delve into Bill Clinton’s sexual history?

article-2624332-1d9ec7da00000578-278_638x517Fair?  Seriously?  Since when does “fairness” enter the equation in presidential politics, particularly when Donald Trump is involved?  The lack of “fairness,” and the harsh spotlight that tends to shine on the families and friends of candidates for the Oval Office, is one big reason why some people decide never to throw their hat in the ring in the first place.  Every candidate — and every member of their families — has to know that.  It would be absurd to think that Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, who have spent a lifetime in politics, don’t understand that reality.

I guess the better question is, is Bill Clinton’s “sordid sexual history” — as an opinion piece by Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post described itrelevant to deciding whether Hillary Clinton should be president?  Marcus says it is, reasoning that if Hillary Clinton is going to send her husband out as a campaign surrogate and play the sexism card against Trump and others, it’s fair to point out that, in Marcus’ words, Bill Clinton’s “predatory behavior toward women or his inexcusable relationship with a 22-year-old intern,” in “the larger scheme of things,” is “far worse than any of the offensive things that Trump has said.”

The Wall Street Journal goes farther, contending that there was a “Clinton war on women” during Bill Clinton’s presidency and arguing that “Mr. Clinton was a genuine sexual harasser in the classic definition of exploiting his power as a workplace superior, and the Clinton entourage worked hard to smear and discredit his many women accusers.”  The WSJ opinion piece adds:  “This September Mrs. Clinton declared that “every survivor of sexual assault” has “the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed.” But when her own access to political power was at stake, she dismissed the women and defended her husband.”

There are many of us, I think, who would prefer not to revisit these topics. We don’t want to hear about Bill Clinton’s lechery or think about what kind of marriage could survive so many affairs and allegations of sexual misconduct.  But if Bill Clinton is going to be out on the campaign trail, and if Hillary Clinton is going to play gender politics in her bid for the White House, Bill Clinton’s personal record inevitably is going to come up.

And the Clintons had better be ready for it, because it can’t really be fully dismissed as old news.  One thing is true:  American culture has changed a lot since the ’90s, and the notion of what constitutes appropriate behavior in the sexual arena has perhaps changed most of all.  In an era where California has enacted a “yes means yes” statute to define what constitutes sexual consent, where workplace sexual harassment allegations are much more prevalent, and people’s careers can be effectively quashed simply by using language that is deemed not politically correct, how are people going to react to detailed information about a President having an “affair” with a 22-year-old White House intern, his initial lies about it, and the humiliation the intern endured at the hands of minions seeking to excuse or explain the President’s egregious behavior?  I may be wrong about this, but I doubt that a modern politician who admitted to Bill Clinton’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky — to say nothing of the other allegations about what Bill Clinton has done — would be able to survive it.

If a new generation of voters, steeped in our current culture, are hearing about that conduct in detail for the first time, how will they look at Hillary Clinton?  And how will revisiting Bill Clinton’s “sordid sexual history” in the light of current social mores affect his historical reputation and his status as a kind of avuncular figure on the American political scene?

Joe Or No Joe

With the calendar turning to August, it’s officially the silly season in American politics.  On the Republican side, a loudmouthed, self-promoting, angry anti-politician is leading in the polls, and 10 of 17 declared presidential candidates will crowd onto the stage to have a “debate” on Thursday.  And on the Democratic side, politicos and pundits are talking seriously about drafting Joe Biden to throw his hat in the ring.

Wait a second . . . Joe Biden?  72-year-old, two-time also-ran, vice president Joe Biden?

Evidently so.  There’s apparently concern in some Democratic quarters about Hillary Clinton being damaged goods.  Her trustworthiness numbers aren’t good — whether it is because of her State Department email server fiasco, or because everything she does and says seems so carefully scripted and calibrated, or for some other reason — and she hasn’t exactly been lighting it up on the campaign trail.  In fact, there seems to be a lot more excitement about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist who has been drawing big crowds in the early decision states.  So while Hillary has raised tons of money and signed up legions of heavyweight staffers and fundraisers, people are beginning to wonder whether her nomination is as inevitable and certain as, say, Ed Muskie in 1972.

But if you think Hillary Clinton may not be the best candidate to carry the Democratic banner, where do you turn?  America isn’t likely to elect a 70-something socialist, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley doesn’t exactly have people buzzing.  Most of the leading Democratic politicians on the national scene don’t seem especially keen to take on the Clinton political machine.  That leaves good old Joe.  He’s been on the national Democratic scene forever, he’s a known commodity, and although he’s been a gaffe machine in his prior races he’s one of those pols who seems to love being on the campaign trail — whereas Hillary Clinton seems to consider it to be a painful hassle.

I have no idea whether Joe Biden will end up running — he’s just lost his son to cancer, but once the presidential bug bites it’s hard to shake the obsessive lure of the Oval Office.  What’s more interesting to me is that the national Democratic bench seems so shallow — and, with the exception of O’Malley, so long in the tooth.  Why aren’t the party bigwigs talking about Democratic governors (other than California’s Jerry Brown, who is 77), or Senators like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown?  Why aren’t more up-and-coming Ds willing to risk a long-shot run, like Bill Clinton did in 1992?

Non-Emailers

The fallout from Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a personal email address and server rather than an official U.S. government one when she was Secretary of State continues.  Most recently, she announced that she should have used a government email address — no kidding! — but also says she’s deleted emails from that personal server that were private and that the server itself will never be produced if she has anything to say about it. I guess we’ll just have to trust her and her staff to make a complete and thoughtful production.

But enough about Hillary; we’ll no doubt be hearing more from her in the future.  One of the more interesting elements of her email tale is that it has provoked some politicians to step forward and declare that they don’t use email.  South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham says he has never sent an email — which is a bit strange because he is a member of the Senate Internet Policy subcommittee.  Other Senators similarly don’t use email.

Bill Clinton also is a non-emailer.  His spokesman says he’s only sent two emails in his entire life, both while he was President, which means he hasn’t used email for about 15 years.  That’s kind of weird, too, because Hillary Clinton says that one reason she’s not producing the email server she used is that it includes “personal communications from my husband and me.”  How personal communications from a confessed non-emailer made it onto an email server is anybody’s guess, but I’m sure the Clintons will promptly clear up that little inconsistency, too.

It’s hard to imagine not using email at all in the modern world.  I can understand wanting to have some important conversations face to face, where the people involved can react to each other, or concluding that a nice handwritten note about an important occasion is a more meaningful, personal touch than sending a message that ends up in typeface on a glowing computer screen.  But email is now so ubiquitous that complete non-use makes you wonder:  why?  Is it really plausible that these folks never tried to use a new form of technology even once?  Do the non-users think they’re just too important to use a handy communication tool that the rest of us use on a daily basis?  Are they afraid that they are going to say something stupid or intemperate and that it will be preserved for all time?  Are they so clumsy and incapable in their typing — or thumbing — skills that they just refuse out of frustration?

It’s like still using pony express when you could make a telephone call.  It immediately suggests that you are out of touch and out of step with the modern world and the daily lives of most Americans.  Politicians who aren’t using email aren’t violating federal law, but they are violating societal norms.

When Art And Politics Intersect

Bill Clinton’s portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.  Today the artist who painted the portrait, which depicts Clinton with hand on hip standing in front of a fireplace, said that he specifically painted a shadow of a blue dress on the fireplace in the portrait as a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  The artist, Nelson Shanks, said the shadow was a metaphor because the scandal cast a shadow on both the man and his presidency.

I don’t think the portrait of Clinton is a particularly good likeness, but I don’t have a problem with the artist including a reference to the Lewinsky incident in it.  For as long as artists have painted portraits, they have tried to reveal something about the character of their subjects.  Historical portraits often included symbols, messages, and other information.  Sometimes the depiction and symbolism is flattering, sometimes it isn’t.

When an artist is asked to paint a significant political figure, whether it’s a king, a pope, or a president, the artist inevitably will bring some of his views about the subject to bear.  In really good portraits, the artist’s perspective comes through loud and clear and helps to capture and define the figure and put him into some meaningful context.  Shanks’ portrait doesn’t meet that standard, in part because the reference to the Lewinsky scandal in the painting is so obscure that the artist has to explain it and most people who look at the portrait won’t catch the reference, anyway.  They’ll just see an awkwardly posed guy in front of a fireplace.