The AP is breathlessly reporting that 85 out of 154 people coming from private interests (as opposed to governmental functionaries) who met with Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State were also donors to the Clinton Foundation. The headline: “Many Donors To Clinton Foundation Met With Her At State.”
Perhaps you are wondering why this is news. Big donors to the Clinton Foundation are generally major players in world affairs, and those are precisely the kind of people the Secretary of State will naturally meet with. Were the people in question unworthy of a meeting with the Secretary? Was there any sort of quid pro quo? Were there worthy non-donors who sought a meeting but were rebuffed for not having made a donation? The AP story does not even allege any such thing.
But if you think anyone in the chattering classes cares about such things, then you are unfamiliar with the Clinton rules in journalism. Everyone just knows that Hillary is thoroughly corrupt, which means it is permissible to give the tiniest thing a sinister interpretation. And since the pundits cannot talk substance here, because there is no substance, they instead prattle endlessly about the “optics” of the situation. They all know how to say “drip, drip, drip.” They cluck about the appearance of impropriety.
Matt Yglesias helpfully explains just how little the AP, or anyone else, has actually found here:
Except it turns out not to be true. The nut fact that the AP uses to lead its coverage is wrong, and Braun and Sullivan’s reporting reveals absolutely no unethical conduct. In fact, they found so little unethical conduct that an enormous amount of space is taken up by a detailed recounting of the time Clinton tried to help a former Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s also the recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Here’s the bottom line: Serving as secretary of state while your husband raises millions of dollars for a charitable foundation that is also a vehicle for your family’s political ambitions really does create a lot of space for potential conflicts of interest. Journalists have, rightly, scrutinized the situation closely. And however many times they take a run at it, they don’t come up with anything more scandalous than the revelation that maybe billionaire philanthropists have an easier time getting the State Department to look into their visa problems than an ordinary person would.
Indeed. In this case, even the sinister interpretation is actually not so sinister. Do wealthy donors find it easier to have politicians answer their phone calls? You’re kidding, right? Usually everything is far more crass than anything Clinton is accused of. Politicians all but say flat out that if you do not contribute to their personal campaigns then they will show no interest in your issues. Clinton, at least, is only accused of making people donate to charity.
Kevin Drum has also been a blessed beacon of sanity on these issues:
I’ve been genuinely confused about the whole Foundationgate thing. Did big donors to the Clinton Foundation get extra special access to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State? By all the evidence, no. They may have tried to get access, but for the most part they didn’t. So far I haven’t seen any emails that even remotely suggest otherwise. If anything, Hillary seems to have been unusually careful to avoid entanglements with the Foundation.
If the beef with Hillary is that she’s an ordinary politician who’s more likely to see you if you’re (a) important, (b) a party wheelhorse, and (c) an important donor, then I have no argument. I also have no argument that this is unseemly.
But it’s also something I can’t get too upset about. It’s not just that everyone does this. It’s not just that everyone in American politics does this. It’s the fact that everyone, everywhere, throughout all of human history has done this. It’s just the way human societies work. I’m all in favor of trying to reduce the influence of money on politics, but I doubt there’s any way to truly make much of a dent in it. And as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider it one of our nation’s biggest problems anyway.
So here are several possible takes on Hillary:
- Powerful people all run in the same circles. They all know each other. They all ask favors from one another. Hillary is part of this circle.
- People who are big party donors and big policy influencers have more access to politicians than, say, you or me. On this score, Hillary is a garden variety politician.
- Donating to the Clinton Foundation was a well-known requirement for getting a meeting with Hillary.
I’ve simply seen no evidence of #3, and that includes the AP’s strained effort yesterday. Besides, if this were truly well known, by now someone would have come forward to spill the beans.
As for #1 and #2, I don’t doubt that they’re as true of Hillary as they are of every other politician in the country. This might be an unfortunate state of affairs, but it’s certainly no scandal. So I remain confused. If you want to criticize the role of money in politics, that’s fine. If you want to criticize the outsize influence of the connected and powerful, that’s fine. If you want to criticize Hillary Clinton for being an ordinary part of this system—as Bernie Sanders did—that’s fine. (As long as you’re not also part of that same system, of course.) But is there some kind of special scandal associated with Hillary in the State Department? I sure don’t see it.
For me the bottom line is this: I don’t have to think the Clintons are saintly or perfect to find them admirable, and to believe that, unlike so many politicians, they are in public service for the right reasons. I just look at what they have done over the course of their careers. Hillary Clinton could easily have cashed in as a young lawyer. Instead she went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, and by all accounts did excellent and effective work. Bill Clinton spent a decade as the lowest paid governor in the country, and during that decade he was able to leave Arkansas much better than he found it. As President, Bill Clinton got it right a whole lot more often than he got it wrong, and Hillary was able to get the Children’s Health Insurance Program passed. When she ran for Senate in 2000, Hillary won by twelve points and won only a few, very populous, counties in New York. In 2006, she won by thirty-six points and won almost every county in the state. That’s a mighty big jump, and it is largely explained by the fact that New Yorkers liked what they saw when she actually did the job. When Bill Clinton left office he did not run and hide, like, say, George W. Bush. Instead he used his power and connections to establish a large, effective, charitable foundation, one that every charitable watchdog group in the country says is the real deal. I could go on.
Do you have a list of accomplishments like that? Do any of the preening pipsqueaks coming after her from the punditocracy or the blogosphere have anything to put against it?
Of course not. All they have is a bunch of small ball BS pseudoscandals. Hillary gave paid speeches to Wall Street? Good for her! She deserved every penny. She used a private e-mail server as Secretary of State? Oh, the horror of it all. So did the previous two Secretaries of State. (Spare me the Jesuitical distinctions between a private e-mail account and a private server). Both Bill and Hillary have sometimes flip-flopped, made decisions based on political expediency, or maybe even flat-out lied about this or that? Grow up.
Hillary has been in the fight for decades. She has accomplished way more good than most people ever do. She has also gotten some mud on her, and has at times made poor decisions. I’m far more impressed with that than I am with someone like Bernie Sanders, who hides in Congress doing nothing for thirty years beyond protect his ideological purity. And I am definitely more impressed with her than I am with most of the Republican Presidential candidates, who used their campaigns strictly to enrich themselves.
I’ll be voting for her happily in November. The critics can go to hell.