Parting Ways with Bernie

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As much as it pains me to say it, I’m afraid Hillary Clinton wrapped up the Democratic Presidential nomination this week, roughly nine months ahead of schedule, at the CNN-Facebook debate in Las Vegas. Not because she had a particularly strong performance, because she didn’t. Not because she ritually sacrificed a donkey wearing a tousled white wig and drank its blood backstage, though she probably did. But because Bernie Sanders, the rival she never saw coming, whose fundraising and poll numbers improbably grew to challenge her own without the 15-year head start, name recognition, war chest, or flexible moral compass inexplicably handed it to her for no apparent reason.

Asked by moderator Anderson Cooper about her use of a private e-mail server, Clinton gave a long, rambling answer about how it was allowed by the State Department, but it was still a mistake, and anyway it’s nothing but a political witch hunt, and anyway she’s cooperating and wouldn’t we all rather be talking about something else, like what a great president she’s going to be?!

It wasn’t a great answer, and it did little to convince anyone that their misgivings about the secret email server were overblown, but in the middle of it Sanders raised his hand to indicate he wanted to respond. When Clinton finished, Cooper called on Sanders, who bafflingly didn’t just throw her a life preserver, he pulled up alongside her in a 50-foot yacht, helped her aboard, and handed her a chilled prosecco.

“Let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.”

In her quarter-century of national public life, Hillary Clinton has never smiled bigger than she did at that moment. She looked like a cartoon dog presented with a roast turkey, or her husband at an audition for a shampoo commercial.

It took a moment to sink in, but when she realized that her only real competition on the stage had just handed her a pass on the only issue that made her truly vulnerable in the primary, she loosened up enormously. When the truly hapless Lincoln Chafee, who HD viewers may have noticed still had some gum in his hair from substitute-teaching at a middle school earlier that afternoon, tried to score some points on the subject a few moments later, and Cooper asked Clinton if she wanted to respond, she declined in the same smug, gentle tone you’d decline to climb into a child’s pillow fort. And when the crowd began applauding that, she started straight-up cackling like she had just found Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road, secure in the knowledge that she will soon be back in the President’s Bedroom (and that Bill will soon be back in Lincoln’s). By the end of the debate, she was lighting a cigar off the end of Martin O’Malley’s necktie.

This was disappointing, because while I appreciate Sanders’ respectful approach to campaigning — he stuck to his pledge not to attack Clinton or any other candidate personally, focusing instead on the issues, and the lack of hot soup at the backstage buffet — I would also like to see him win the primary, or at least keep it interesting into the spring. He doesn’t necessarily have to go after her on the email thing to do that, but he didn’t have to inoculate her with his large and growing base on it, either.

This is not pure cynical gamesmanship on my part, because I am in the minority of left-leaning voters who does not believe the email is the total non-scandal that Clinton’s defenders insist.

I’m not saying she did it maliciously, or that she is purposely hiding anything. I’m not not saying that, either; I really don’t know. But it was a really dumb thing to do, whatever her reasons. I wrote about this when the story first broke in March of this year, and my opinion hasn’t changed:

Even if it wasn’t illegal, even if it wasn’t unethical, even if she had this server set up to be more secure than anything the government would have provided her — a scenario I find perfectly plausible considering the shit she has been through — the simple fact is that using a private email server makes it look like she has something to hide, and this news guarantees another year of Benghazi hearings, just when it looked like we could finally get past that non-scandal.

Sometimes the appearance of impropriety is just as bad as actual impropriety, and this is one of those times. Mrs. Clinton has been around long enough to know better than to make a rookie mistake like this. She’s opened herself up to the attacks that are now raining down on her, and she deserves them, even if she’s not hiding anything.

Because let’s face it: building your own email server in the basement of your home, out of the reach of the Freedom Of Information Act or anything else, is some straight up Cheney shit, and the fact that a Democrat did it this time, or that someone else did it before, should not change that.

There are really only two explanations for the secret email server: either Clinton purposely wanted to evade Federal recordkeeping, or she’s too dumb to know better: Too dumb to know that this would come out, that her enemies would seize on it, that it would look bad no matter how innocuous the truth behind it. Neither explanation is particularly comforting.

I am not someone who has it in for Hillary Clinton. I think the Republican effort to pin the lost lives in Benghazi on her personally is ridiculous, I think history has totally vindicated her universally mocked remarks in the late ’90s about the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” and it’s telling that of the countless scandals the GOP has tried to tar her with over the last 20-odd years, none has ever stuck or even been supported by a shred of compelling evidence.

But this does bring to mind the famous incident, when her husband was president, that the long-sought billing records from her time at the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas, which were under subpoena as part of the Whitewater investigation, mysteriously showed up on a coffee table in the White House, and Clinton herself, who had repeatedly told investigators that such records no longer existed, had no explanation for how they got there. Does it prove wrongdoing on her part? No. Is it incredibly fucking fishy? Yes it is.

The last seven years in Washington have been defined by Republicans’ all-consuming hatred of President Obama, despite the fact that he’s much closer to Barry Goldwater than Karl Marx on policy, and the incredible fact that unlike any other president of my lifetime, he has had zero (0) scandals. His administration has been squeaky clean from soup to nuts. Can you even imagine the field day the GOP would have had if there had been any kind of ethical lapse on his part? They would have made the Whitewater investigation look like a foot massage, and the current gridlock would have gotten even worse.

There is only one person on this Earth they hate more than Obama, and her name rhymes with “Schmillary.” For all her claims that she “knows how to get things done,” she is going to face even stiffer opposition than Obama has even without any scandals; her decision to build her own email server, followed by her eight-month effort to stonewall on the matter, strongly suggests that UNBELIEVEABLY, INEXCUSABLY, she still hasn’t figured that out, and if (when, sigh) she wins, we’ll be in for an even grimmer term than either of Obama’s. And if anyone thinks the FBI (or the GOP) is going to stop investigating the email thing just because Bernie Sanders of all fucking people said so, I have some investment property on the West Bank you might be interested in.

I like Bernie Sanders. Apart from handing Hillary the nomination on a silver platter, the most notable thing about his debate performance was that he didn’t have to backtrack or explain any votes or positions that history has proven wrong. The Big Bad Socialist has been right about pretty much everything for as long as he’s been in public life. His excusal of the email scandal was seen by everyone as a magnanimous gesture that showed he’s such a decent guy, so committed to calling it exactly like he sees it, he’ll even hurt his own chances in this election. Or that he’s so committed to “the real issues,” he wants to forget about a trivial distraction like Hillary’s email. As far as I can see, this is the first issue where Bernie and I disagree.

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