So the New York Times is beginning its exploitation of “leads” developed by anti-Clinton book-writer Peter Schweizer with a self-consciously “big story” about foreign contributors to the Clinton Foundation who might have thought, rationally or not, that they were winning favors with the current Obama administration or a future Clinton administration. We’re going to see a lot more of this sort of thing, and the odds are extremely high that there will be no “smoking gun” or any proven “quid pro quo” that will rise above the level of making us wonder why HRC or her husband did not go further out of their way to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
That sort of question is always easier to ask in retrospect, of course. Maybe HRC should have avoided any involvement with the Clinton Foundation not only while serving as Secretary of State but while mulling a presidential campaign. But you might as well just ask why the Clintons took the risk of setting up the Foundation and pursuing its undoubted charitable objects altogether, or why they didn’t just retire from politics, or why they ever left Arkansas to enter national politics knowing the kind of hatreds and suspicions that would pursue them. Once you are dealing with behavior based not on any legal or ethical standard, but on the “appearances” standard, the opportunities for second-guessing are endless, and their direction will, of course, be dictated by partisan and personal agendas.
The timing of this particular “wave” is unfortunate for HRC in that it will be promoted not just by Republicans who are trying to take her down a notch or two but by Democrats who may think this is the last best chance for an explosion that will blow her right out of the race and bring in Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown or some other “true progressive.” And beyond political calculations, one of the things about violating “appearances” standards is that it confirms the prejudices of those who are already convinced the Clintons are either (a) corrupt secular-socialists engaged in a global betrayal of America, or (b) corrupt pseudo-liberals in thrall to moneyed interest everywhere.
So buckle down for a long bumpy ride, political animals. Like everyone else who hasn’t made up his or her mind in advance of any evidence, I’m going to be winging it in deciding which of these “stories” to follow, highlight, explain, distinguish or ignore. In the end, perhaps the public interest will be served, probably less in exposing any real improprieties than in warning people away from grey areas. But this is one area in which I definitely agree with George Packer’s judgment that Election ’16 isn’t going to be any fun.