Hillary’s Real Problem

The State Department Inspector General’s report on Hillary Clinton’s establishment of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State poses a big problem for her bid to win the presidency.  That’s because the report not only contradicts some of the Clinton talking points about the whole ill-advised email escapade, but also reveals new information that accentuates why many people are leery of Clinton in the first place.

The report is, I think, a devastating rebuke for Clinton.  It can’t be reasonably depicted as a partisan hatchet job, because it was ordered by Secretary of State John Kerry and performed by the inspector general’s office during the Obama Administration.  And it recounts, in brutal detail, Clinton’s violation of State Department policies.  The report states that, according to officials, Clinton’s server was not, and would never have been, approved.  It concludes that Clinton failed to preserve federal records in conformity with the Department of State policies under the Federal Records Act.  It reveals that there was an apparent hacking attempt on the server, and that people who asked questions about the server were told not to discuss it.  In short, it confirms the worst-case scenario that Clinton and her minions have been downplaying ever since this story first broke.

David Brooks of the New York Times recently wrote an interesting piece on why he thinks Hillary Clinton is so unpopular.  He postulates that it’s because she’s presented as a kind of workaholic and never displays the human qualities that make her tick — what her hobbies are, what her interests are, and the other pieces of intimate knowledge that our nation supposedly craves in this internet age.  I think Brooks got it precisely wrong.  It’s silly to think that public perception about Clinton would change dramatically if we learned, for example, that she makes crafts in her spare time or enjoys skiing.  I think the root problem for Hillary Clinton is a combination of general “Clinton fatigue,” because she and her husband have been in the public eye, demanding our attention seemingly forever, and the fact that, in the eyes of many people, she projects a strong sense of entitlement and being above it all.

When those people watch Hillary Clinton, they get the sense that she’s annoyed at having to go through the motions, give the speeches, and pretend she’s enjoying it, when deep down she resents the fact that people just don’t bow to her paper resume and acknowledge that she is the most qualified person to serve as President and give the job to her, already.  It’s not that she’s not displaying human qualities, it’s that the human qualities she displays are the kind that many people find totally off-putting.  She’s like the kid who rolls his eyes and smirks when other kids give wrong answers during a spelling bee or a flash card contest and just wants to be reaffirmed as the smartest kid in the class.  Those kids tended not to be the most popular kids in the grade.

And that’s where, in my view, the IG report is especially troublesome for Clinton.  It reveals that Kerry and former Secretaries of State Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Madeleine Albright all cooperated and answered questions as part of the Inspector General’s investigation — but Clinton didn’t.  In fact, she not only didn’t cooperate and sit for an interview, but her chief of staff and top aides didn’t either.  Really?  They got paid salaries by the taxpayers, but they won’t participate in an investigation that deals with issues of compliance with federal records laws and potential exposure of highly confidential government documents?  Who the heck do these people think they are?

As for Hillary Clinton, she’s apparently got plenty of time to give speeches to Wall Street firms and trade groups for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and pose for grip and grin photos with high rollers, but she can’t be bothered to answer questions as part of an investigation by an official in the department she once headed?  It’s the kind of high-handed behavior that we’ve come to expect from the Clinton camp, expressing irritation and exasperation at doing the things that everyone else accepts and endures.

That’s why so many people don’t care for Hillary Clinton.  If she took up knitting or skeet-shooting, their views aren’t going to change.

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David Brooks, “The Real Romney”

David Brooks is the only New York Times columnist I always make a point of reading, even though his politics don’t accord with mine. I like his insight and the way he strives for moderation. I like how he seeks out unusual topics for his columns when every other columnist lazily picks partisan themes.

Last week, he wrote a column in which he declared his support for Romney/Ryan because he thinks they will do something to halt the growth of Medicare. Yet, in the same column, he criticizes them for being unwilling to raise taxes. In his next column, he criticized Ryan for not voting for the Simpson/Bowles deficit-reduction plan. This sort of independent-mindedness and appreciation for nuance is the most important quality of a columnist.

Brooks doesn’t usually tickle my funny bone – the tone of his columns is usually as serious as he looks in his picture – but he did with today’s column, which made me laugh out loud more than once. It is top-notch political satire worthy of The Onion or MAD Magazine in its prime, poking fun at the way both parties distort a candidate’s history to inflame their bases.

Brooks has changed his tone radically for this column. Instead of reasoning about politics, he’s lampooning it. But he’s kept his independent perspective.

My Thoughts On “The Age Of Innocence”

David Brooks’ column The Age of Innocence is interesting, both for what it says and for what it means.  What it says is that the American political system is broken.  What it means is that even a columnist at one of the most powerful newspapers in the world lacks the gumption to make his point directly.

Rather than simply reaching conclusions about America, Brooks softens his views by addressing both the European and American democratic systems.  Does anyone actually believe there are similarities between these “systems”?  America has been a representative democracy for almost 250 years; Europe still had crowned heads leading it into a bloody war less than 100 years ago.  The balkanized, multi-party, coalition-dependent parliamentary systems in most European countries bear little relation to our two-party system, where nearly every election has a clear winner and loser and a ruling majority results.  Until recently, America had stoutly resisted the European socio-economic model, with its early retirement ages and short work weeks and months of paid vacation.  And no one in their right mind would equate the European Union with our Congress.  The ponderous bureaucrats of the EU will be there forever, impossible to root out; in America, in contrast, voters can easily — as the last three election cycles have shown — toss out incumbents and install new representatives who purportedly will better reflect their views.

Still, Brooks reaches the right conclusion.  America is on the wrong track because people have stopped viewing government as a necessary evil and have come to view it instead as a kind of personal gravy train.  John Kennedy’s stirring statement in his inaugural address — “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” — has been turned completely on its head.  Many Americans now just want to get government benefits without paying taxes.  They want the government to provide them with jobs, and “loans” that will ultimately be forgiven, and “free” health care.  And our poll-driven “leaders” are perfectly happy to encourage this dependency on government and are too craven to act responsibly, whether it comes to the federal budget or eliminating programs that don’t work well — and in some cases don’t work at all.

Brooks recognizes this.  Why, then, does he create a false equivalence between America and Europe?  I think it’s because simply stating that America is on the wrong track, and our politicians have led us there, requires more guts than he possesses.  He doesn’t want to unnecessarily upset any of the powerful inside-the-beltway types that he hobnobs with, so he writes something that makes it seem as though democracies, generally, are doomed to fail through the sheer force of greedy human nature.  That conclusion makes the bitter pill a lot easier to swallow:  it’s no one’s fault, really.

I strongly disagree with that.  America has been, is, can be, and should be different from Europe.  Our failure is the failure of political leaders — Democrats and Republicans alike — who want to hold on to the reins of power and have pandered to the worst instincts of people and corporations and interest groups rather than saying “no” and even requiring sacrifice.

Europe is probably doomed; with America, though, there is still hope.  We just need some leaders who will fight to get us back on the right track, rather than throwing up their hands and concluding that we and Europe are on the road to hell together.  It would help, too, if we had journalists who were willing to state that conclusion, sharply and plainly, as journalists are supposed to do.  One of the reasons our politicians have gotten away with their behavior is that the news media has for the most part failed to call them out for their irresponsibility.

Answering Andrew’s Request

Our bright and gifted nephew and godson, Andrew, put up a Facebook post stating that the David Brooks’ column The Age of Innocence in the New York Times was “great fodder for Webner House.”  I agree.

In fact, I’d like to try a kind of experiment with Andrew’s suggestion that we really haven’t done before — at least, not intentionally.  Anyone who reads our blog knows that the Webner House posters approach issues from very different parts of the political spectrum.  We frequently disagree on things, but try to do so reasonably and respectfully.  Therefore, I’d like to invite Richard, Russell, UJ, and Uncle Mack to post their own views on the David Brooks column, and then see what Andrew’s thoughts are in response.

As we move closer to the election, there undoubtedly will be other issues where we might want to take the temperature of our contributors, just to see how the far-flung branches of the Webner clan are reacting.  I think everyone, regardless of their political inclination, believes that this election will be a very important one.  Our little discussions can be like family talks at the kitchen table after dinner — except that our table will be the Webner House blog, accessible to anyone who is interested.  I’ll post my thoughts on the David Brooks column later tonight.