What Hillary Clinton’s email, Benghazi troubles have in common with the living dead

March 16, 2015
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is silhouetted by a stage light as she speaks at the University of the Western Cape about the U.S.-South Africa partnership, in Cape Town

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton silhouetted by a stage light as she speaks at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, August 8, 2012. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email trouble has its hands around the neck of her planned presidential run. The question is whether someone can figure out how to stop it before it kills her ambitions. The answer is that it’s going to be a close call.

Nine months ago, when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives created the Select Committee on Benghazi, it looked as if the controversies surrounding the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya and Clinton’s role in the events were going to join the ranks of the political walking dead: a scandal to some, a manufactured crisis to others and — whichever it was — an issue that, because of Congress’ subpoena powers and investigative resources, would not die.

But zombies do walk. As movies and television programs have indubitably shown, the undead do a lot of damage before someone figures out how to extinguish them.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations in New York

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at a news conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

After the New York Times broke the news that Clinton had used a private email account and server for virtually all her official business, and that she had turned over to the State Department only emails that her staff deemed work-related, the uproar did not subside. So Clinton decided to hold a news conference.

Politicians in scandal trouble regularly harbor the notion that a climactic news conference can get them out of it. They convene meetings with their staff to craft their narratives, flush out all the hostile questions that journalists might ask and build watertight answers. They think they are at least as smart as the media and vastly superior in their ability to persuade the public.

Sometimes they are right. More often, however, a press conference turns out to be a wonderful device for keeping a scandal alive. The reaction to Clinton’s news conference is a case in point.

There were few surprises in the story she delivered during her news conference at the United Nations. She used a single email account, Clinton said, for the sake of convenience. She followed all applicable rules. She kept her server safe. When the State Department asked her for work-related emails, she turned over all that could plausibly be considered relevant.

This is far from the worst conduct one could expect from a public official whose family has been under microscopic public gaze for more than a quarter-century.

But.

There are the obvious problems, like Clinton’s saying that she sent emails to other U.S. officials at their .gov addresses “so that” they would be preserved, as if she had a choice. Or her describing her non-work emails as involving her daughter’s wedding and her mother’s funeral, as if there were no gray area that includes, for instance, all of politics.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations in New York

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Beyond any substantive problems, though, is the problem of the dynamics of scandal. During a news conference, the journalists in attendance are like penned-in beasts, forced to elbow and outshout each other for attention. While they snort and paw the ground, the politician decides whom to recognize, how long the answer will be and when to cut off the proceedings. After the news conference, however, comes revenge for this ritual humiliation, meaning that the journalists extract, magnify and dissect all the moments of the performance in which the politician evaded or answered incompletely or misled or lied.

More than that, apart from the getting back, a news conference punctuates a scandal with a kind of exclamation point. It guarantees that everybody will need to cover it and get his or her 2 cents in.

So, since Clinton’s news conference, we have heard these things: 1) Although she said her server was guarded by the Secret Service and she didn’t email classified information, Clinton never answered questions about the security of her email communications;

2) Clinton used weasel words. For example, her saying, “Looking back, I should have . . . ” was not really an apology. Her saying she did not save emails is not the same as admitting that she deleted emails — let alone that she destroyed what some people might consider evidence.

People are saying other things as well: 3) Clinton in effect asked her listeners to trust her, and trust is the last sentiment that the Clintons’ collective public career has inspired; 4) Clinton’s body language telegraphed discomfort, displeasure and moments of low confidence. (Come on, now: What else would you expect from a human being who has to live through that kind of 20 minutes?)

5) Clinton looked tired. She has fought in the political arena for more than 25 years, she’s been sick, her supportive mother died three years ago, and these days she spends much of her time in the homes of rich people who have less talent but more ease and luxury than she does. Maybe she doesn’t really want to run for president. (Fat chance.)

Much of this stuff is overwrought. At its best, it concerns processes and habits of conduct, not any incriminating substance in the emails that we have yet to see.

But it is more than enough to keep a scandal going. There are now calls for independent third parties to examine her server and for her geeks to come forward and justify their security procedures. The Benghazi committee is, for sure, going to subpoena something. The fight over the subpoena will make its own news.

The undead aren’t just walking: They’ve broken into a swift trot toward prey weakened by years of a bad reputation.

So how do you kill a zombie? Most authorities recommend a bullet or well-aimed hatchet straight into the brain. Though there is, of course, disagreement on the fine points. A more scientifically sober source says the job requires disrupting the zombie’s system “in a sufficient way to prevent the pathogen from utilizing the corpse.”

But what if the pathogen is a mistrust of the most profound and deep-seated sort? How do you prevent that kind of organism from continuing its march by seizing on one vehicle after another?

13 comments

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At her news conference at the UN, Ms. Clinton reminded one of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

Posted by RS22 | Report as abusive

When Hillary Clinton is in her own house, she is in the house of a rich person.

Posted by kcmoreader | Report as abusive

No, Benghazi and the supposed e-mail scandal are not issues at all for Hillary. Despite the mass medias attempts to distract with those. No, her real problem is that she is a neocon with fascist tendencies and supports the hate speach of radical feminism.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

“Clinton used weasel words…” No, she used lawyer words, and that also offends people about both Bill and Barry.

“she spends much of her time in the homes of rich people who have less talent but more ease and luxury than she does…” I’d reality check that. The C’s have plenty of money now, and she is not really all that talented.

“what if the pathogen is a mistrust of the most profound and deep-seated sort” Start by firing James Carville, and all the other very old and tired spin-mongers who are now excess baggage. How is the war on women going to reconcile ‘trolling thru Arkansas trailer-parks with $100 bills’ with ‘exploited women’.

The Clinton crew worked long and hard at digging this hole.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

If we can figure out how to kill the zombies then we might be able to unite on important issues and move forward. Instead we have divisions based on polarizing issues that won’t be reconciled ever. Possibly if we decide to shove aside things we will not ever agree on and do other things politics could get better.

Clinton doesn’t seem to be the one to know what to do to lead beyond the divisive political landscape. I keep looking for her to step up to the mic and say so.ething that leads us beyond. But she’s permanently backed into a rock wall.

Obama has a gift of oratory. I think most times he is able to lead on thru the political muck by being real and brilliant. But he still faces a crazy level of negative nagging lunacy.

I just don’t think HRC has shown us she has the skills to kill the zombies and lead. Instead of a press conference on emails I’d rather have seen her give a speech. Be a leader. Come out swinging and look strong and capable of defending herself in a way that makes everyone shut the f— up about the emails. There isn’t anything there. She compiled with the rules. No go write about something else.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written to my congressman asking him to stop with the wasteful congressional investigations and move on but he doesn’t listen. (IRS, Bengazi…)

HRC will not be successful as POTUS unless she can change the topic of discussion at will.

Posted by squiddyppl | Report as abusive

Lol. How do you stop her ambitions from killing her ambitions?

One of these days they will subpoena her server and get a clean disk overwritten with “zeroes” all over. Even that will not be incriminating evidence, mind you.

Posted by Neslihan | Report as abusive

This is actually a great test for her to see her problem solving capacity. If she can handle this, she can handle ISIL, Ukraine, Iran, and still grow the economy by leaps and bounds, For instance…

Posted by Sam-Here | Report as abusive

This needs to be put in the context of the MANY other Clinton “controversies” (formerly known as scandals) where documents or the lack thereof figured prominently. FBI files, Vince Foster’s office contents, missing billing records, ongoing fights over releasing White House papers from 14+ years ago, stolen documents from the National Archives, etc ect etc. The Clintons can’t be trusted because they refuse to play be even the lax rules of today.

Posted by Deeremeyer | Report as abusive

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