Column: What the WikiLeaks emails tell us about Hillary Clinton
Take a deep dive into the more than 10,000 Clinton campaign emails published by WikiLeaks, and here’s what you’ll learn: Hillary Clinton is a careful, methodical, tightly-controlled politician. Her jokes, her tweets and even her purported ad libs are often scripted by aides. She hates to apologize, even when she admits she’s done something wrong, like keeping emails on a home server. She’s a progressive, but not an ideologue; she yearns for “rational, moderate voices” on both sides. Above all, she’s a pragmatist who’s willing to compromise — and to have “both a public and a private position” if that’s what it takes to make a deal.
“Politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way,” she told a housing group in 2014. “But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the backroom discussions and the deals … then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So you need both a public and a private position.”
In other words, she’s a Clinton — a Democrat who believes in progressive goals, but who’s willing to trim them, postpone them, even throw them under a bus (temporarily, anyway) when practical politics requires.
The Hillary Clinton depicted in these many, many pages is the same Hillary Clinton you already know — and either love, tolerate or loathe.
This is a finding that will surprise no one who has watched the Clintons since, say, 1982, when Hilary Rodham abandoned her maiden name to help her husband win a tough race for governor of Arkansas. Or since 1996, when she supported the welfare reform law her husband passed with the help of Newt Gingrich, even though her progressive friends hated the plan.
It certainly won’t surprise Bernie Sanders voters. Clinton’s pragmatism — and her chumminess with Wall Street, the source of millions of dollars in campaign donations — were their main complaints all along.
The Hillary Clinton depicted in these many, many pages is the same Hillary Clinton you already know — and either love, tolerate or loathe. If you were paying attention before last week, WikiLeaks won’t change your mind.
What’s most remarkable about this megaleak is that it’s yielded no real smoking gun. Even the most newsworthy quotes from her closed-door speeches to Wall Street firms often aren’t as damning in context as they may seem at first.
Yes, she sounded distinctly chummy in her sessions with investment bankers. She didn’t excoriate the firms that were paying her hundreds of thousands of dollars; she soothingly told them they weren’t the only ones responsible for the financial crash.
But she still gave them a warning. “Even if it may not be 100% true, if the perception is that somehow the game is rigged, that should be a problem for all of us,” she said in a closed-door speech in 2014. “If there’s wrongdoing, people have to be held accountable, and we have to try to deter future bad behavior.”
Yes, she suggested the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill wasn’t perfect, and said Congress passed it “for political purposes,” because members couldn’t ignore the public’s anger. But she also told the bankers more reforms were needed, and in her campaign she has called for tougher regulations, not easier ones.
Yes, she initially supported President Obama’s trade deal with Asia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and changed her stance only reluctantly when Sanders had her on the ropes in the primary campaign.
“This is indeed a hard balance to strike, since we don’t want to invite mockery for being too enthusiastically opposed to a deal she once championed,” her speechwriter noted as he was drafting the announcement of her new position.
Since then, Clinton has claimed that she never really “championed” the trade deal, but her own aides knew otherwise.
And yes, as Donald Trump has charged, she once used the phrase “open borders” — but it was in a speech about free trade in the Western Hemisphere, not immigration policy. Clinton has an immigration proposal, and “open borders” aren’t in it — not even close.
Trump and his lieutenants have complained that the news media — sorry, the “corrupt news media” — haven’t reported enough about the Clinton leaks.
Actually, newspapers and television networks have put hundreds of reporters to work combing through her campaign’s emails, searching desperately for bombshells.
None of those purportedly Clinton-loving organizations has hesitated to publish documents that were obtained illegally, by hacking, and whose release was clearly intended to sway the election in Trump’s direction. Our natural instinct is to publish first and worry about the implications later.
In this case, though, there are long-term consequences that mean the controversy will continue long after election day.
If U.S. intelligence officials conclude, as they say they believe, that those emails were hacked by someone working for the Russian government, that’s no small thing. It means Vladimir Putin or his aides have deliberately intervened in a U.S. presidential election.
Should Clinton win, we’ll be on a frigid Cold War footing from the start. In the increasingly unlikely scenario that Trump wins, the consequence could be worse: Putin will believe the president of the United States owes him one.
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