Hill-Mails and Why-Mails
There was a lot of going postal this last week. Some old, some new, all bad.
We can start with Hillary Clinton’s private email server back in good old Chappaqua, which is apparently as secure a location as the place Dick Cheney keeps his compassion. Tens of thousands of emails from the period when she was Secretary of State didn’t run through government channels (which, as we all know, are impregnable) and instead entered the Hillary Clinton Presidential Library zone.
I have no idea what she was thinking. Her public statements are she did it for convenience, but I don’t think too many people actually believed that. Hillary (and Bill) are both very smart, and very gifted, but the wheels are always turning in Clinton-Inc., and people know it. Whether you are a Clinton fan, or a Clinton hater, you know it as well. It's simply a question of what you think the motive is, and whether you actually care about that motive.
Bill is one of the few political geniuses we’ve seen in the last 40 years. He just has the gift, as Reagan did. It’s a gift that allows people to enjoy the things they want to see in him, and ignore those they don’t care for. Hillary is a different sort. She’s not the acrobat Bill is, but she’s a worker. When she first ran for Senate in New York she went everywhere, including counties that had not voted for a Democrat since time immemorial. People who think of New York as Manhattan don’t realize that much of the state is actually rural and quite conservative—even beyond Staten Island. Hillary talked crops, she talked milk, she talked cows, she talked open space, trees, apples, etc. It worked—while she never completely shrugged off the carpetbagger label, more people began to think she was one of them.
In the Senate, she continued the hard work—even Republicans agreed. She could have been President, and maybe would have, except for the once-in-a-generation talent of Barack Obama. I always thought it was interesting that she agreed to be Secretary of State. While six former Presidents (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren and Buchannan) had the post prior to being President, it’s not been considered a stepping-stone to the Presidency by anyone in modern memory. Perhaps she had an itch that couldn’t be scratched, or perhaps she made the same mistake William Seward made when he became Lincoln’s Secretary of State (and assumed he would run the government.)
If her accession to Secretary of State was a curious one, I think the Hill-Mail controversy more bizarre, especially for someone so bright and so able. She couldn’t possibly have expected them to remain secret. The number of people working day and night on Hillary-opposition research is probably enough to move the weekly unemployment data. And, the Hillary-haters have the advantage of taxpayer subsidies as well—Trey Gowdy, who is heading up the 842nd Benghazi investigation, is already in denounce and demand mode. That investigation (and others) will be sure to continue until…well, hope springs eternal, so why not the committees?
Yet, and I realize this is counterintuitive, I think this can be a serendipitous thing for the Democrats. First, it’s inoculation, if Hillary is the candidate. Emails aside, Gowdy and every other Republican in Congress with access to an unlimited checkbook and subpoena power were going to have at her the next couple of years anyway. There is a point of diminishing returns on persistent partisanship, and having watched the GOP unbound when it comes to Mr. Obama, it wouldn’t surprise me if Hillary takes on a certain stature similar to Bill (“yes, he was a womanizer—that’s the best you can do?”)
Second, if there really are “incriminating” communications, and those are so bad that they really endanger Hillary’s legitimate chances to win, then she will withdraw, and likely sooner rather than later. That will give other Democrats an opportunity to step up, away from her substantial shadow. And, it will also reveal some imperfections in some of the Republican candidates. Jeb Bush, for example, harshly criticized Hillary, but then had to try to explain the rather embarrassing fact that he did everything possible to keep his emails as Governor secret. Naturally, he insists it’s different (it's always different when you do it) but I doubt that will meet with universal asset.
My best guess about the Hill-Mails is that there will be some unvarnished, unattractively critical comments about both some of her adversaries (and possibly even some of her allies) and some unflattering evaluations of foreign governments.
This last part, the country doesn’t need, particularly because of the second mail problem we had last week—freshly minted Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton’s remarkable letter to the Iranians, as merrily signed by 46 of his co-religionists. The letter, in my opinion, is far more embarrassing than any private snideness Mrs. Clinton might have shared with an aide. It is the ultimate “Why-Mail”.
Let’s start at the beginning; “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.”
Who writes stuff like that? Did they hire someone whose last experience was working on 50’s B-movie script? At least they got to it quickly—no wasting time with “we come in peace” nonsense, just get to the arrogance and condescension quickly.
Then, it went on to discuss the differences between treaties and “executive agreements” and, my personal favorite, showed the Iranians an acute knowledge of the eternal life of a Republican Senator from a Red State, as opposed to the firefly existence of a mere President; “As applied today, for example, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond that, perhaps decades.”
From there, it points out that whatever is signed now by President Obama will be quickly reversed when they are in charge. The next President could end it “with the stroke of a pen” and “future Congresses could modify the terms at any time.”
Finally, (the letter is mercifully brief) it signs off with hope that the letter “enriches your (the Iranians) knowledge of our constitutional system…”
I don’t want to fall into the easy trap that the New York Daily News (an otherwise persistent critic of Mr. Obama on foreign policy) did, and call the signers “traitors” because I think that is an unwise and unfortunate use of the dirtiest word in the English language.
Stupid, is what I would say, and no matter how many giggles emanate from the summer-camp bunk that appears to house the nine-year olds who signed this letter, it remains an appalling act of peevish childishness. Boehner bringing Bibi in at least had a point. This letter does nothing good at all besides giving us an opportunity to see Cotton smirk—and he has a formidable smirk. The Iranians laughed it off, the Germans, who are participating in the talks, were furious, and, not entirely surprisingly, so were a lot of conservative commentators.
How come people like Kathleen Parker, Michael Gerson, and the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal excoriated it? Two critical reasons: the first is that Republicans have a deep faith in Executive Power—when they are the Executives. Presidents have entered into literally thousands of executive agreements, and future Republican Presidents will do the same, and they are not going to tolerate any pesky liberal Senators from interfering. The second is something that practical conservatives have understood for some time: a stunt like this by a few wayward Senators is just a little bad press. 47 Senators? That shows that the party just isn't ready to govern.
That freaks out the Establishment Right. If it's a choice between some unflattering Hill-Mails, and some destructive Why-Mails, the public might just choose the veteran warrior princess. Or, worst-case scenario, they might choose someone younger, and scarier, maybe with a slight Massachusetts accent.
There are mailrooms, and executive suites, that think that could be almost as bad as the Iranians getting the bomb.
March 16, 2015
Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)
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