Feature Article

Why people say Hillary Clinton is corrupt

Written by Brian Coyle


I’m a pragmatist, to the left. Policy by policy, in different places. About trade: I read history, understand economics, and anti-globalization arguments leave me cold. Protectionism leads to war. But Glass-Steagall was a critical protection. If it was eroded by 1999, Clinton’s acquiescence to Robert Rubin went too far. So I’m skeptical of claims that Hillary is corrupt, but will say so if evidence shows it.

First, however, pay attention to psycho-linguistics. People call Hillary Clinton crooked because it’s a vague and visual term. Those who say she’s a criminal sound creepy. “Crooked Hillary” alliterates, and if you hear something enough it etches its way into your brain, like it or not. That’s how we learn language. Be suspicious of sentences like “From Benghazi to travel-gate, Lewinsky to Whitewater…” These are words slipping past logic’s gates.

A right-wing machine has spent $100s of your millions digging up, sifting, and inventing Clinton’s past. They do this to smear them with dirt. Lots of money to be playground bully. Take “Whitewater” … a pseudo-scandal inspiration of one L. Jean Lewis, who hoped to shackle the Clintons with a failed real estate investment. The FBI (under Bush) dismissed her case as unmerited. But a Clinton foe, no matter how sleazy, was a GOP treasure. Lewis got her own hearing to testify at, once the GOP took over Congress. When Democrats on it asked her tough questions she fainted (and would never return.) She illicitly recorded conversations, revealed classified documents, and used her publicity to market anti-Clinton t-shirts and mugs. In reporting this frenzy reporters barely mentioned that the Clintons’ Whitewater dealings did nothing illegal.

The only good lie is one that keeps getting spoken. “Whitewater scandal” was an oxymoron, but the words drained the Clintons’ reputation. A Senate committee investigated, led by one Al D’Amato, who went on to start a lobbying firm. His committee tried their best, but couldn’t even invent something bad about Whitewater. Was tax-payer money, congressional time, and stentorian effort worth it? Republicans thought so. The word Whitewater entered their lexicon, spoken, printed, and shouted ad nauseum, to make many Americans think the Clintons were guilty … of something.

Ideological conservatives call Hillary crooked because the Clintons triangulate on policy. Triangulation is a strategy to avoid the right/left divide, by taking points of both. It’s pragmatic. Bill Clinton wanted to curb bureaucracy and eliminate regulations that didn’t serve much purpose. He labelled it “cutting big government,” thereby recycling a key Reagan slogan. That offended the right-wing. Clinton wanted to expand health care, increase education spending, and he had the nerve to channel the Gipper!

When Clinton said “the era of big government is over” the right-wing went ballistic. Clinton exaggerated, but not as they said. An era of US big government never arrived. The US has weak federal domestic agencies, a domestic budget lower by percent than almost any other developed country, and a sparse distribution of federal workers per capita. Reagan was the liar. Oops, I said it.

The Clintons understood that public anti-government feeling was the result of accumulated small grievances. By limiting this friction, they threatened the hard-right’s anti-government ideology. So with Machiavellian logic the right accused Bill Clinton, and by extension Hillary, of being big government wolves in small government sheep’s garb. The GOP adheres to Orwellian slogans (Death Taxes, Death Panels, Voter Fraud) that invert reality (estate taxes are on wealthy inheritors, the ACA panels concerned living wills, and suppressed voters are the poor and minorities.) They must have felt the Clintons encroached on their turf. Yet Clinton’s administration balanced the budget, with government regulations reduced. Pragmatism was more honest than their ideology, and ideologues wanted revenge.

In 1993 the Clinton administration replaced the Whitehouse travel staff. It knew the FBI was investigating its office Director for embezzlement (he was found not guilty later.) Presidents have the right to hire whomever they want as travel staff. No questions asked. But conservatives groused it wasn’t right, because the fired staffers were hard-core right-wingers. One so hated the Clintons, she manipulated Monica Lewinsky to get her talking about her affair with the President. It seems reasonable to suppose that, had this staffer been retained by the Whitehouse, she wouldn’t have had the first couple’s interests at heart. Despite the sheer unimportance of these travel agents, the story spewed anti-Clinton smears for years. When Hillary Clinton ran for Senate in 2000, her opponent Giuliani’s former deputy (Robert Ray) decided to reopen a travel-gate investigation. Mainstream media did their “he said, she said” coverage. If a Clinton staffer pointed out problems with Ray, reporters quoted Ray in the next paragraph. A dirty trickster got equal time.

Nothing illegal happened in firing the travel agents. But in 1994, Hillary said she, personally, didn’t pull the trigger. Aha! What if she did? Then she lied. Oh boy! After many interviews, Ray found a disgruntled staffer who claimed he overheard Hillary say she wanted to get rid of them. In this playground world, bullies usually find someone to holler. Ray made a big show of saying his investigation found ‘no criminal charges’ against Ms. Clinton. Ray went on to speculate that she lied, given the one staffer’s statement.

It reminds me of a famous ad by an herbal infused spirit. It may be apocryphal, but supposedly they took out a full page in the New York Times, and printed a plain text statement to “contradict rumors meant to damage its reputation,” namely “there is no opium in Jagermeister.” Many took that as a sign there was, or it had an opiate effect.

A decade of wasted investigation, but the Clinton’s still get smeared. By constantly churning Clinton’s name with the words “travel-gate”, and by saying Hillary Clinton had lied, regardless of evidence, the words weaseled in. Orwellian propagandists said Hillary Clinton was a “habitual prevaricator,” hoping the term would stick.
But why did Republicans feel such antipathy towards Hillary Clinton? I mean Hitler and the Nazis felt humiliated by German defeat in WWI. What did the GOP lose? An election? When Bill Clinton took office, he tried to establish universal health care, two ways. Anyone who worked would get it through employers, and everyone else got public care. Then Democrats crammed all kinds of other ideas forward, which impeded the process. So Hillary Clinton headed up a health care Task Force that refined and merged plans and tried to market it to the public. Cost controls were key, which antagonized the pharmaceutical industry (America’s most profitable sector) and insurance companies (capital rich Wall St. darlings). They rolled out a huge campaign to derail the effort, centered on destroying Hillary Clinton. Never before had an administration been the focus a corporate media barrage against against a first lady.

Observers who remember have trouble swallowing Sanders supporters insisting he, not Clinton, is the one to take on big business. Well-heeled advertisements called her arrogant, uninformed, dictatorial, devious. Insurance companies were scared. Like big tobacco or gun manufacturers, they saw their position as weak, and the best defense is an offense.

Right-wing ideologues also hate health care reform. Hillary Clinton’s intelligence and professionalism scared them, because she seemed capable of making it happen. They rallied big money to attack. This is where anti-Clinton hatred gelled. Bill Kristol, a monied uber-conservative, said health care reform “will revive the reputation of … Democrats as the generous protector of middle-class interests.” In extremists’ “big picture”, protecting the middle-class is wrong. Hillary Clinton could undermine far-right influence.

Mrs. Clinton came away from this with a thicker skin. She blamed the right-wing, but criticized herself for not reaching out enough to Republicans and not finding intermediate steps to take. 15 years later, health care insurers count among her supporters, which critics call hypocritical. To those who saw them attack her in 1994, its like seeing George Wallace support Jessie Jackson (which he did.) Hillary Clinton was the most knowledgeable Senator on health issues, and industry executives recognized they couldn’t get around her leadership. Knowledge is power. Health industry types are afraid of her, but respect her. She’s not going to eliminate actuaries who know exactly who, where, and how people are getting sick. As Howard Dean explained, US health care is an aircraft carrier, and single-payer a 180 degree course change. You don’t spin it on a dime, and you need all the experts you can find.

Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State when radicals overran the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. The ambassador was killed. That summer Benghazi was destabilizing. The British ambassador escaped an assassination attempt in June, prompting UK withdraw of diplomats. Secretary Clinton and US Ambassador Stevens wanted the US to remain, to show support for Benghazi’s fledgling democratic movement. Other embassies also remained open, with staffs stretched thin. Rather than beef up extra security, which attract a lot of attention, generate local corruption, and result in blow-back, the State Department decided to keep a low profile. This was a security strategy decision, not Clinton’s.

Instead of focusing on Libya’s weak situation, the GOP congress decided to accuse Clinton of causing Steven’s death. “She’s a murderer” rolls off the tongue so pleasantly. This is an insult to Stevens, a highly respected diplomat, but he was a liberal whose liberal survivors can be dismissed. It’s bizarre how provincial politics interferes with international affairs. Clinton opponents wanted to dwell on reasons for the attack. Really? Did Republicans rip their hair out trying decide whether Al Queda attacked the Trade Towers because of Israel or US troops in Saudi Arabia? But Clinton and others initially said the Benghazi attack was a response to an anti-Islamic film, made with American support and promoted by Christian right-wing nuts, uploaded to Youtube. Republicans were insulted, because those right-wing nuts are part of their base. Who blames good people for bad things? Liars. The CIA sourced Mrs. Clinton’s information. Over time the agency found the Benghazi attack was premeditated, with Al Qaeda links. To Republicans, Clinton’s initial statement was thereby exposed as a lie. If you’re not moored to logic or decency, it’s easy to smear others.

Then, after the story died down, the radical Islamist who directed the attack gave an interview. The assault was in retaliation for the insulting movie. In the effort to defame Hillary Clinton, truth was thrown out. To tarnish her with Benghazi, the GOP twisted reality. Robert Gates, a moderate Republican who served as Defense secretary to both Bush and Obama, called it a “cartoon” reality. Like Disney’s, GOP cartoons are profitable. They got to introduce a new attack word in the anti-Clinton playbook.

In the same vein, when Obama recalled that that he’d said the attack was “an act of terrorism,” the GOP’s storm troopers pounced. Transcripts showed he’d called it “an act of terror.” Before science, we had pseudo-scholars debating how many angels fit on needle. Republicans seem pre-scientific in their logic. But they do stuff cognitive science confirms.

When conservatives say Hillary is crooked because of “Whitewater, travel-gate, Benghazi” they’re using words that lack meaning, but resonate anyway. They’re deployed quickly, without lingering. Slowing down could lead to questions and reality. Say “marshmallows are corrupt” and “Hillary eats marshmallows” 60,000 times fast, and you’ll believe she’s in the pockets of Big Marshmallow.

When Bill Clinton left office the family had more debts than assets. Their biggest expenses were lawyers hired in the Whitewater cases. A law protects public figures from fees incurred because of public status, so the Clintons applied for reimbursement. A three-judge appellate panel, conservatives appointed by Chief Justice Rehnquist, gave them a teeny-tiny 1/50th of their costs. The same panel awarded President Reagan ¾ of the fees incurred defending the Iran-Contra scandal (which involved genuine constitutional violations.) This injustice doesn’t bother right-wingers, because “the Clintons are corrupt.”

Republicans would have happily seen the Clintons go bankrupt – personally, not Trump-style. In the 1950s ex-President Truman almost went bankrupt, and Republicans responded differently, putting in place a viable Presidential pension. The GOP fought as bitterly with Democrats then as today. But they had honor. Today’s Republicans are increasingly callow, mean-spirited, Ted Cruz-like.

Explaining why Hillary Clinton is called crooked is a bit like playing whack-a-mole. One attack is exposed as false, only to find another pop up. But I’d like to address a future problem, the attacks on Mrs. Clinton once she becomes president.

After Bill Clinton’s presidency, the Clintons became rich. Historians estimate an ex-president can earn tens of millions in book payments, speaking fees, board salaries, and their government pensions. Our nation isn’t comfortable with poor Presidents. Although President Nixon had a successful law practice, his hardscrabble roots showed, and he responded to assessments of low-brow status with aggressive paranoia. On entering office, Clinton had less wealth than any president since Truman, a fact not lost on so-called elites. Like Nixon, Clinton faced impeachment. But unlike Nixon, the Clintons shrugged off personal attacks, even the most vindictive and well-oiled. You might say their motto was “don’t get mad, get even.” Since 2000, Bill Clinton’s relentless speaking tours set the record for money from that occupation. They are behind Hillary Clinton’s wealth.

Pragmatism has dilemmas. The Clinton Foundation is an unusual animal. Republicans reflexively call it corrupt. But the foundation is well run, puts its money into programs, with low overhead. The dilemmas concerns perceptions.

Presidents can use their legacies to solve global problems. Carter’s foundation set the standard. It cured African river blindness and helped young democracies get off the ground. Clinton’s foundation has similar goals, if less far-sighted. Had Hillary not run for office, the foundation would be seen as a fine example of post-presidential effort. It’s disaster relief and health care initiatives have saved millions of lives. Its good governance programs have tremendous reach.

Bill Clinton set up a pragmatic foundation, meaning it pulls together real resources to solve genuine problems. The ex-Presidency has great persuasive power, as an individual, and because of his world role. He’s a very smart man who saw politics drag good ideas down. The same thing happens elsewhere, leaving smart leaders scattered around the world. President Clinton discovered some major CEOs, top investment bankers, and leading academics, are also smart, sharp, and socially conscious. They also had global counterparts. Ex-President Clinton leverages this network of wealthy people, experts, and solution-providers, to finance projects that fix problems. Bill is the hub.

But pragmatists get things done by working with willing partners, not ideal ones. Later, the partner’s position or behavior can look bad. Right-wing books claim that when she was Secretary of State, Clinton Foundation donors influenced Hillary Clinton. There’s no evidence to suggest this, only speculation. But the Foundation has a footprint of a world-wide corporation. A CEO of GE would face questions about overseas subsidiaries if he or she ran for the Presidency. Presidents and other public leaders usually put their investments in blind trusts, to prevent others attributing self-interest to heir public policy.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t have financial investment in the Clinton Foundation, so there’s nothing to put in a blind trust. If a President Clinton approves a treaty with Russia, right-wing attacks will claim a Russian donor to the Clinton Foundation benefits. If she doesn’t approve the treaty, attacks will claim another donor benefits. The Foundation has now prohibited foreign donations, but that won’t prevent previous donors from getting scrutiny.
Like before, evidence may not matter. It’s irrelevant if a donation saved the lives of thousands; all that matters is that Clinton can be smeared. Consider Benghazi; Ambassador Stevens and the State Department recognized it was a critical time in Libya. Qaddafi, an American enemy, an African scourge (he financed the rebels in Liberia’s civil war) and a dictator at home, had been killed. A power vacuum ensued. American and European diplomacy critically helped local democrats navigate. That’s why they were extremist targets.

Diplomats like Stevens identified Libyan moderates, helped them get resources, information, and networks. These small things can have big impacts during chaos.

But Stevens’ service, and the State Department’s strategy, was ignored in the criticism directed at Clinton after the Benghazi attacks. The media was more interested in cheap political theater than a complicated Libyan situation. The administration had to retreat from its Libyan strategy, not because of facts on the ground, but because of politics in the air.

Likewise, there’s a real risk that a Hillary Clinton presidency’s foreign policy will be attacked by the GOP because of Clinton Foundation affairs. Reality be damned, its full steam ahead.

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