Let's remember what this story is about. Hillary and Bill Clinton want it to be about a "conservative author" who catalogued their conflicts of interest. They want it to be about The New York Times, The Washington Post, and any other media outlets who dare to question the couple's integrity. They want it to be about "Republican overreach."
The media mostly wants it to be about Election Day 2016. We commission polls and hire pundits to parse the winners and losers of each news cycle. We shrug:"Real voters don't care about this story." As if it's not our job to help them understand why these scandals matter.
Hillary Clinton seized all emails pertaining to her job as secretary of State and deleted an unknown number of messages from her private server. Her family charity accepted foreign and corporate donations from people doing business with the State Department—people who hoped to curry favor.
She violated government rules designed to protect against corruption and perceptions of corruption that erode the public's trust in government. She has not apologized. She has not made amends: She withholds the email server and continues to accept foreign donations.
That's what this is about.
Clinton's crisis-management team makes a big deal of the fact that Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer hasn't proved a "quid pro quo." Really? It takes a pretty desperate and cynical campaign to set the bar of acceptable behavior at anything short of bribery.
The Clinton team also points to errors made by news organizations investigating the email and foundation scandals, particularly the work around Schweizer's book. That is their right, but they're nibbling around the edges: The core ingredients of the Clintons' wrongdoing has not been misreported.
Like so many past scandals, these twin issues show the Clintons to be entitled, ethically challenged rule-breakers who believe the ends justify the means. "The best-case scenario is bad enough," writes liberal columnist Jonathan Chait. "The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy."
The media should not conflate the ethical issues with the campaign "horse race" and election results. A Clinton victory wouldn't necessarily mean voters found her behavior acceptable. They may just find it to be, sadly, standard operating procedure in Washington. They would be right.
Having lost faith in every American institution, some voters also may think modern journalists care more about clicks than conflicts of interest and potential corruption. Are they right about that?
Finally, voters may find the GOP alternatives to Clinton to be just as sleazy or unattractive. Schweizer says he's digging into questionable business practices of potential Clinton rival Jeb Bush.
In this era of zero-sum-gain politics and "negative partisanship," Hillary Clinton can always hope to be the least-lousy alternative. But that's no way to win the presidency, much less a mandate to lead and transform a nation.
Which reminds me of a nagging question: If, as the White House wants us to believe, President Obama is upset at Clinton for violating his ethics rules, why hasn't he publicly rebuked her? Perhaps he's more concerned about the 2016 elections than good government.
You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that foreign companies and countries expected something in return for donating to the Clinton foundation rather than the countless other charities not connected to the U.S. presidency.
You don't have to be a lawyer to know the Clintons violated ethics rules.
You don't have to be a historian to know their ethical blind spot has decades-old roots.
You don't have to be a political scientist to know this behavior contributes to the public's declining trust in its leaders.
But to believe this is just about the actions of a book author, the mainstream media, and the Republicans, it helps to be a Clinton.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.