Perhaps Hillary Rodham Clinton shouldn't run for president.
Maybe she should stay at the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, where the former secretary of State could continue her life's work of building stronger economies, health care systems, and families. Give paid speeches. Write best-selling books. Spend time with Charlotte, her beloved granddaughter.
Because she doesn't seem ready for 2016. Like a blast of wintry air in July, the worst of 1990s-style politics is intruding on what needs to be a new millennium campaign: Transparent, inspirational, innovative, and beyond ethical reproach.
Two weeks ago, we learned that the Clinton Foundation accepted contributions from foreign countries. Assurances from the Obama administration and Clinton aides that no donations were made during her tenure as secretary of State were proven false.
I called the actions sleazy and stupid. Sleazy because any fair-minded person would suspect the foreign countries of trying to buy Clinton's influence. Stupid because the affair plays into a decades-old knock on the Clintons: They'll cut any corner for campaign cash. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton and his top aides used the White House as a tool to court and reward big donors.
Now The New York Times is reporting that Clinton used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of State, an apparent violation of federal requirements that her records be retained.
Exposed by a House committee investigating the Benghazi Consulate attack, Clinton brazenly dug in her heels. Advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal email and decided which ones to release: Just 55,000 emails were given to the State Department.
Those are our emails, not hers. What is she hiding?
Transparency isn't the only issue. Clinton exposed confidential and potentially dangerous information to a nonsecure, commercial email system. She gave Chinese spies a better shot at reading her emails than U.S. taxpayers.
The Times quoted a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration who said there is only one scenario under which it's proper for Cabinet-level officials to use private rather than government email: "nuclear winter."
The rest of us are required to play by the rules. Why does Clinton think she's above them?
Clinton aides quickly funneled through friendly media channels examples of Republicans who used private emails, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Powell operated under a different set of federal rules than Clinton. Bush was not a federal employee (yes, he should release all of his Florida emails, and not just self-selected documents).
This is another Clinton trope: Deflect attention from their wrongdoing by pointing fingers at others—as if two wrongs make a right and they had never promised to set a higher standard.
Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told The Times that she has been complying with the "letter and spirit of the rules." No, she hasn't. But here again is a reminder of the 1990s: When cornered, the Clintons denied facts and demonized detractors.
The most obvious example is Bill Clinton's lying about his affair with a White House intern. "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is," he said. Less remembered is an independent counsel's finding of "substantial evidence" that then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton lied under oath about her role in the 1993 White House travel office firings.
Many senior Democrats are angry, though not yet mad enough to publicly confront the Clintons. "This story has legs as long as the election," said a Democrat who has worked on Capitol Hill and as a presidential campaign manager. "She will be tripping over this crap until the cows come home."
Another presidential campaign veteran who held a Cabinet-level post in Bill Clinton's White House fretted out loud about the fact that the former first lady is breezing toward the Democratic nomination.
"We can't have a coronation when she's handing Republicans an inquisition," the Democrat said.
Put me in the same category. Like these two Democrats, I've known both Clintons for years. I admire their intelligence and passion and empathy. They've been good to my family. I've actually long thought that she has the potential to be a better president than he was.
But now I wonder whether there is a part of her that doesn't want to be president. She seems to be placing obstacles in her lane before the race begins. Is this sabotage or something else?
We've had sleazy and stupid—and, now, with these emails, suspicious. If she runs, are we going to have a full Seven Dwarfs?
My concern is that Clinton does not see this controversy as a personal failing. Rather, she sees it as a political problem that can be fixed with more polls, more money, and more attacks. In a Politico story about the push to assemble a presidential campaign staff, a former senior Clinton aide said, "We have had our head up our ass. This stuff isn't going to kill us, but it puts us behind the eight ball."
Due respect, Clinton's problem isn't a lack of staff. It's a lack of shame about money, personal accountability, and transparency.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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