Part of me almost feels sorry for Hillary Clinton. One week you're the 45th President of the United States, the next week you're yesterday's warmed-over toast. Of course next week she'll be POTUS-in-waiting all over again -- rinse and repeat cycle until November 8, 2016. Of course, I'd gladly accept the angst that Hillary goes through if people would pay me $300,000 a speech and sort out the brown M&Ms (or is that Van Halen?....I tend to get my rock stars confused.)
This week it's the "down" week in the Clinton cycle, and for once with good reason. The revelation that the former secretary of state never used a government email address and instead set up her own personal account with a "homebrew" (I'm thinking a 60-minute IPA?) server is troubling. It's bad enough that the disclosure -- which means that thousands of emails had, until now, avoided public scrutiny -- turns up the heat on the biggest broken promise of the Obama years, that this would be the most transparent administration in history. (It's been quite the opposite.) But I have to side with the pundits who say the episode is Exhibit A of what worries voters about Clinton -- even as polls show her continuing to lead any and all comers in either party -- and that is her penchant for secrecy and excessive caution.
To be sure, the legion of Clinton defenders is right to point out that she never broke the laws of this country, and that a number of leading politicians including some top Republicans have used private email accounts. The story is hardly a campaign ender. But to be a progressive means to support openness in government, and not the too-clever-by-half deception on display here.
Maybe it would be viewed differently if Ed Snowden had exposed the emails?
It is disappointing to see Clinton stumble, though, because the rationale for her presidency stems from two powerful narratives. First, a majority of Americans don't want to see the progress that's occurred under Obama -- the rise in people with health insurance and the decline in people without a job -- rolled back under a Republican president, and a Clinton victory is the safe, if perhaps unspectacular, way to ensure that won't happen. Second, I know a lot of folks, female and male, who are energized by the idea of a woman president. I know I'll be devastated if I don't see a female in the Oval Office in my lifetime. If not now, when?
But I think the email scandal is sticking because a lot of voters -- even many inclined to vote for Clinton -- see a campaign-in-waiting that is just way too cautious, with Clinton doing her own thing and trying to glide over the hot-button issues that don't happen according to her script. While presidents 44 and 43 were in Selma this weekend, Hillary Clinton and her husband -- the so-called "first black president" -- were doing their own thing in sunny Miami with their well-endowed Clinton Global Initiative.
Sure, Clinton hasn't announced her candidacy yet, but neither have any of the Republicans and that hasn't stopped their front-runners from traveling the country and speaking their minds, as it were. The list of important events that Clinton has been slow to comment on, or flat out ignored, continues to grow. Exhibit A was the unrest in Ferguson last summer, which ripped at the soul of many of Clinton's core supporters; she waited more than two weeks before her first cautious words. Ditto the Keystone XL pipeline, and various crises overseas.
OK, so she's not yet a candidate, but she is an American, with a pulse and a voice. People want to hear from her more often, and I think her silence is the real scandal of her campaign so far. I fear that when she finally does announce her candidacy, any proposals to address anything that's happened the last couple of years will feel like just another plot point.
The nation's looking for another leader, not an actor -- we've already had one of those. That means chucking the script and doing some improv...and doing it from the heart. Hillary Clinton's White House ambitions depend on exactly that.