6 Missteps By Hillary Clinton, Feeding Her Critics And Frustrating Supporters
Can Hillary Clinton clear the air around her latest presidential campaign?
Even before Clinton officially announced that she was running for president on April 12, she was making news that hurt her campaign. Some of this is fair game and some not at all. But either way, what’s missing are clear statements from Hillary herself that are forthwright and memorable—and rise above the noise. Let’s review.
1. Private e-mails. First came the disclosure that Clinton used private e-mail while Secretary of State, which allowed conspiracy-minded critics to suggest she wanted to hide scandalous secrets. It hardly mattered that it was George W. Bush’s White House that was caught using and deleting 22 million private e-mails. Clinton’s response was measured and tepid, insisting she didn’t break any rules, ensuring many would become public, and joking that no one wanted to know about her yoga routines. Nonetheless, many members of her early fundraising team—who reach out to personal networks—were unnerved by the unnecessary distraction caused by a self-imposed misstep. It created uneasy feelings at a time when candidates want to instill certitude.
2. Running but inaccessable. Then Clinton announced and went to Iowa and New Hampshire to try to meet ordinary people. But she was mostly inaccessible to the curious public and party activists who expect to get up close and personal with candidates at this stage of the campaign, as AlterNet and others reported.
3. Too cautious in comments. Clinton also was oblique or too measured in comments when asked about some issues that were on the minds of party activists. In Iowa, she told democracy activists that one of her first big fights she’s take up as president was to “get unaccountable big money out of politics… even if it takes a consitutional amendment,” but offered no more details. In New Hampshire, when asked about increasing Social Security, she replied she would “figure out what works and how we build on what works and let’s not get into arguments about ideology and rhetorical attacks and claims.”
On the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, she let a campaign spokesman reply, saying she had not made up her mind—but would not support it if it hurt U.S. workers, didn’t raise wages, didn’t create domestic, and hurt national security. But reporters dug up statements where she was more forthright and supportive while Secretary of State. When visiting Australia in 2012, she said, “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.” If that’s what she believes today, she should say so—and say why. Instead, as is the case with Social Security expansion, she’s opening herself up to critics—from possible 2016 opponents to media that she is either being evasive, hypocritical or “playing progressives for fools.”
4. Enter the Clinton haters. Then came a double-whammy, what journalist Joe Conason called the “Hitler-Stalin Pact” of contemporary journalism. The New York Times and The Washington Post teamed up with Peter Schweizer, a known Republican activist and propagandist whose past attacks against Democrats have been repeatedly exposed as fabrications. Excerpts from Schweizer’s soon-to-be-published book, Clinton Cash were leaked and became the basis for lengthy reports attacking the Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and their global Foundation for a range of ethical lapses and conflicts of interest.
The Times used the leaks to write an innuendo-filled article that said Bill Clinton helped a Canadian firm run by a major donor to his foundation buy uranium mines that later were acquired by Russia—several years after that donor sold his stake in the firm—including one mine in Wyoming. The federal government had to approve the deal and the Times implied that Hillary Clinton pushed the State Department to sign off on it—even though that came after she had left the post and eight other federal agencies also approved it.
The Clinton campaign’s top spokesman, Brian Fallon, forcefully documented why the Times’ report of the uranium deal didn’t add up. But while the campaign was telling the press that they had dealt with the matter and Schweizer could not produce any proof when pressed on Sunday morning network television, the Times’ reporting discovered that the Clinton Foundation had errors in its federal tax returns—forcing them to tell reporters the same thing as with the e-mails: there were unintended mistakes, they’re being fixed, there will be transparent. So, a negative impression lingers.
5. Bill’s piles of cash. Several days later, The Washington Post, relying in part on an advance copy of the same smear-filled book, reported that Bill Clinton made $26 million in speaking fees from companies that had business before the State Departent when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.
Other media built on that storyline, such as Vox.com listing “181 Clinton Foundation donors that lobbied Hillary’s State Department,” and International Business Times listing 13 corporations and trade associations that paid Bill Clinton $2.5 million in speaking fees while also lobbying Hillary’s Department. “The Clintons have shown they can’t police themselves,” wrote Vox. “Public records alone reveal a nearly limitless supply of cozy relationships between the Clintons and companies with interests before the government.”
There are several problems here—whether they are real, imagined or a bit of both. Most Americans can only imagine what life is like at the top of the political and financial world where Bill Clinton lives—raising more than a billion for a global charity and making six-figure speeches on the side.
This allows accusations to fester that Bill used his celebrity and Hillary’s high position in unsavory if not unethical ways. In the absence of either Clinton speaking forcefully about what is real and what is not—concerning foundation fundraising and its work, and Bill’s speeches—old stereotypes are filling the opinion pages of major newspaper and airwaves, especially right-wing Fox News. Meanwhile, Common Cause, a liberal watchdog group, also called for an audit of foundation donations.
6. Drowned out by nasty noise. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton gave a major speech at Columbia University about racial injustices, generational poverty and the need to reform the criminal justice system. It was deep, sweeping and noteworthy. Clearly, she is trying to rise above the low-brow fray that is feeding the reports that question her ethics and trustworthiness. But it’s not entirely working, because, for whatever reasons, neither she nor Bill Clinton are sufficiently addressing and sweeping aside the early attacks that are casting doubts about their judgments more so than landing on specifics.
So far, it looks like Hillary Clinton is running against herself and not doing that well. She is not giving grassroots supporters what they need—access and strong statements on the issues they raise. She is not having many defenders outside her campaign, even if two if the biggest national newpapers are teaming up with Republican attack dogs and writing unfair hit pieces. She and Bill Clinton are getting sullied in the court of public opinion for their charitable work—which is not well-known domestically, even if their foundation’s practices and their speaking fees are not new or unusual in the political world, especially by former presidents and top diplomats.
There’s a negative vibe surrounding her early candidacy, where she and Bill Clinton did not take sufficient precautions to avoid predictable attacks, and her early appearances haven’t generated strident defenders and enthusiasms to brush aside the critics noise. That’s the key point, because many of these criticisms are small-minded and would be dispelled if Clinton were generating more excitement—which the cynical reporters couldn’t overlook.
Still, the 2016 campaign has just begun—and if polls are accurate, then Clinton is still the Democratic frontrunner by a gigantic margin. On Thursday, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will enter the Democratic race and others may soon follow, which could push candidate Clinton to be more forthright. On Wednesday, early reports about her racial justice speech described it as passionate and unlike anything from Republicans, whose comments focused on the need for law and order instead of underlying racial issues.
Watch and see how that speech gets covered in coming days and what the narrative surrounding her campaign is. Ask yourself, what do you want to hear from Clinton that she’s not saying or not doing. Chances are, the right-wing drum beat will continue and her efforts to break through by giving a big speech will not be sufficient.