Politics & Media
Mar 10, 2015, 10:08AM

A Troubling President Hillary Clinton

The email scandal reminds me why I'm ambivalent.

Hillary clinton.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Hillary Clinton, Jonathan Chait reminds us, is paranoid, insular, and ran a fairly crappy and, moreover, losing campaign in 2008.

The recent Clinton email scandals are, pretty much everyone agrees, a non-issue as far as the public is concerned. Democratic voters aren't going to turn on Clinton in 2016 because the press revealed in 2015 that she violated arcane administration rules. I'm not sure what short of a sex scandal could torpedo Clinton's nomination at this point. Maybe massive financial improprieties of some sort? But in any case, you can tell that this email scandal isn't it because Elizabeth Warren isn't on television loudly reconsidering her decision not to run.

Chait is worried that Clinton's weaknesses—in particular her fear of the press, her reliance on insular and paranoid advisors, and her general crappy judgment—will damage her run for the presidency in 2016. At least at this stage, that seems overblown. Clinton's run a very competent campaign up to this point; she's wrapped up Democratic support, has plenty of money, and seems in a very strong position for the general election. Stumbles and bumps don't matter a lot in national campaigns anyway. If Obama's approval ratings continue to rise and the economy flourishes, Clinton has a very good chance of beating Scott Walker or Jeb Bush or whoever the Republicans select. And that's the case whether or not she runs a great campaign or a middling, paranoid, insular one.

The more chilling question, at least to me, is what happens if she gets elected? The email scandal doesn't necessarily demonstrate administrative incompetence. But it certainly suggests a worrisome distaste for transparency and the chain of command. There's a gratuitous disregard of rules there that's unsettling, and that's only made worse by the revelation that her aides apparently found out that she wasn't following administration email policy, and didn't do anything about it. Does Clinton routinely surround herself with people who are afraid to tell her when she's making an error?

Not that groupthink would be unprecedented in the White House. Clinton's apparent weaknesses are scary in part because they're familiar. They evoke Bush/Cheney's casual disregard of the Geneva Conventions, or Nixon's lawlessness, or, for that matter, Bill Clinton's incompetent transition and stupid, pointless, unnecessary scandals. Arrogant bumbling presidents who fear scrutiny and surround themselves with yay-sayers—we've seen that before.

I don't know for sure that Clinton would be a bad president—whereas I feel fairly certain that Scott Walker would be awful. But contemplating her, and Bush II, and Clinton I, and Nixon is a reminder that, in this respect at least, Barack Obama is surprisingly good at his job. Six years in, and despite the rather desperate hooting and hollering of the right-wing media, there hasn't been a single serious scandal of any note during his presidency. The administration has perpetrated its share of blunders, like the healthcare website rollout. But such missteps have for the most part been acknowledged, apologized for, and dealt with in a forthright and competent manner.

There's been paranoia around national security policy—Obama's treatment of whistleblowers in general, and of Chelsea Manning in particular, has been despicable. But, unlike many of his predecessors, Obama hasn't treated the office of the president as a fortress to be defended from the news cycle. There’s reason to think that Clinton will. I'll be voting for her anyway, I suspect, but without much joy.

—Follow Noah Berlatsky on Twitter: @hoodedu

  • Noah, is there ANY Republican candidate that you'd vote for over Hillary?

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  • Noah, is the best measure of a competent president whether he/she has been able to avoid major scandals? I don't think that's the metric I would select, but if it were, Obama would still fail. He's avoided scandals only because the MSM protects him to such an extent. If we'd had anything like the IRS scandal during a Republican administration, it would have rocked the world!

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  • Table, like most people, I tend to vote on partisan grounds. People think independence is better, but I don't think it is. The parties are very distinct at the moment, and they have a lot of power — the broad goals of the Democratic party are more in line with my views than those of the Republican party, and that's going to be more important in terms of policy than any particular individual.//Having said that, I don't always vote Democratic. I didn't vote for Obama this last time out. If the Republicans selected Rand Paul, it would be a tough choice for me...but they won't select him, because partisan priorities are too strong, and they won't pick somebody who isn't a hawk.// Dantar, scandals aren't necessarily the most important thing; there are a lot of things I don't like about Obama's presidency. However, the reason he hasn't had any scandals is because he hasn't had any important scandals; you right-wing paranoia is just right-wing paranoia, and the fact that it's so mainstream in the Republican party is, again, why it's hard for me to vote for Republican candidates.

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  • Somebody needs to talk to Billy Dale.

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  • Noah, It's very easy to throw out phrases like "right wing paranoia". But sometimes paranoia is a good thing. After all, even paranoids have enemies. And the IRS is an enemy to all of us. They have too much power, and clearly have demonstrated they don't feel they're accountable to anyone. It's not partisan to me, and I don't think you have to be a right-winger to be concerned. In this case, it's the conservatives who were damaged, but the axe can swing both ways.

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  • Dantar, Noah is convinced his sort of people will forever be in charge of the IRS and other agencies. So there's no problem...for him. For the rest of us....

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  • What to many people don't realize is that the reputation of the IRS "targeting" individuals is what makes it successful. If people did not fear being "targeted" there would be much more cheating on taxes.

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  • Texan. How does targeting people for their political views reduce cheating on taxes?

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  • Some healthy fear might be a good thing - many would not pay their taxes without it. It just goes with the territory. But it is not healthy for a citizen to fear their government because of their political views. And it's also not healthy that such a powerful agency is not accountable to anyone. The best thing we could do is simplify our tax system to such an extent that the IRS (as it exists today) would become unnecessary. They have too much power and it clearly is not being used responsibly.

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  • Dantar. Some years ago--now obsolete due to inflation, I imagine--a proposal for flat tax went like this: For a family of four, an exemption of $36k. Fifteen percent on everything above that. No exclusions or deductions. According to the author, this would be roughly revenue neutral and leave most people about where they were, except for the H&R Block folks. I used to mess around on the fringes of estate planning--my actual last name is CLU--and the amount of legal action now and in the past, the cases brought to higher courts and won or lost, the schemes and scams, all reduce economic efficiency and probably net zero revenue. Tax planning is basically, "yes, you can make 7% there, but after taxes, you'd do better to go into the vehicle paying 5% because....loophole." IOW, tax law forces people to do the less than most efficient and socially useful thing with their money.

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