When Character Matters: Why Hillary Clinton is Unfit to Serve

The beauty of democracy is also its tragedy: the citizenry gets what it deserves (with rare exceptions). Unengaged, undemanding publics almost without fail get political leaders who exploit the system for personal gain. Conversely, engaged publics whom enforce high standards for political offices tend to elect leaders worthy of the title. Admittedly, some sycophants sneak through, but they are the exception, not the rule.

When political leaders abuse the system, it is not because the citizenry deserved more but because it demanded too little. Voters who downplay the ethical requirements of high office deserve little sympathy when a snake oil salesman takes power. Ultimately, voters need to determine whether candidates are ethically and morally fit to serve before even considering whether their policy platforms are wise. Being worthy of the office is, or at least should be, a pre-requisite.

This theoretical digression is intended to ground the following commentary on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the Presidency. Whatever one’s view of her policy positions, it is becoming eminently clear that she is unfit to serve the office she seeks. These words are not uttered carelessly, for it is a serious charge. One must also be cognizant not to be the partisan hack whose first arrow in the quiver is the personal attack. Calling into question a candidate’s ethical grounding and motives is serious and requires overwhelming facts not idle speculation.

At every turn, Secretary Clinton’s decision-making seems motivated by a singular question: what decision will further my political career? She is a political opportunist, happy to pander to the nearest constituency, and more than willing to push laws (or at least the public’s trust) to their breaking point, if not beyond. Of course should she be caught in a contradiction or ethical quandary, Clinton steadfastly refuses to issue a sincere apology, at best she offers an apology at the behest of the donor class, which is quickly walked back in subsequent news stories (see NY Times in re her email apology). An ethically dubious political opportunist incapable of apologizing? Upon closer inspection, it is difficult to decipher any distinction from Donald Trump.

The charge she is unfit to serve also goes beyond a handful of flip-flops, for while they are unpleasant, a couple of policy changes has become so commonplace it would disqualify just about everyone (this is perhaps a sad statement on our political reality). For instance, Clinton’s opposition to the Keystone Pipeline was a clear example of political pandering, why after all did she wait until polls showed some softness before opposing it when she had countless opportunities to do so over the years? Unpalatable? Yes. Disqualifying? No.

Clinton’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal was more egregious. After all as President Obama’s Secretary of State, she played a key role negotiating it. In her memoir, she described TPP as “important for American workers” and a key aspect of America’s pivot to Asia. In fairness, she retired prior to the completion of the deal, so perhaps our negotiating prowess collapsed without her watchful supervision. Perhaps…Of course, her opposition to TPP—citing the lack of credible safeguards and enforcement mechanisms—is on its face ludicrous given her support for the exceptionally lax Iran Deal.

On Friday October 23rd, the pandering reached a new zenith of absurdity when Clinton told Rachel Maddow the following on the Defense of Marriage Act:

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One’s view on whether DOMA was a good law is essentially irrelevant. Its intent, until now, has been beyond dispute: to keep the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Republicans wrote the law, so Clinton is essentially arguing that the 1996 republican majority was secretly trying to protect gay rights in a defensive fashion. Does anyone believe that? Plus, her husband signed the bill into law and subsequently used his support to shore up votes in the Christian community, erasing any (miniscule) chance Senator Dole had in the election. Either Bill Clinton lied in 1996 about his motives or Hillary Clinton is lying today. Why the senseless pandering that any rational person can see through? Public sentiment on this issue has changed so rapidly that voters would accept a mea culpa with little hesitation and move on, yet Clinton again shows herself incapable of apologizing. Why apologize when you can lie after all? Even Bernie Sanders, who refused to take her on over her “damn emails,” took this on at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner and in subsequent Sunday show appearances. Such bald-faced lying demeans what should be a serious campaign (both sides often come up woefully short on this aspiration I concede).

Speaking of those emails, that really is a far graver offense. Hillary Clinton opted not to have a computer in her office, yet for convenience used a personal server for her email? If you buy that, I have a bridge to sell you. The only reasonable explanation for this decision is that she wanted control over her emails and the ability to decide which ones to hand over to taxpayers. If not illegal, this decision certainly undermines the public trust, for something nefarious does seem afoot. It distorts the natural order that public servants work for the public in favor of officials determining what the public is fortunate enough to have access to. Deleting 30,000 emails is clearly wrong. Once work and personal emails are co-mingled, the only acceptable solution is to turn over all emails to an independent commission and let them determine what it is in the public domain. Work emails are the public’s property; to delete just one mistakenly is theft. A public official cannot flout protocol and common sense and be rewarded by determining herself what to turn over. We may as well start handing out “get out of jail free” cards.

In her quest for control, Clinton also recklessly risked national security—the idea a private server is more secure against a foreign hacking is laughable if it weren’t so troubling. Plus, she received and sent classified information over the server, dozens if not hundreds of times. In the eyes of the law, whether a document was actually marked classified is entirely irrelevant, and as Secretary of State, Clinton was made aware of that fact. Her blatant disregard for protocol is alarming and shows a willingness to put personal interest (i.e. the ability to interact beyond the reach of her employer, taxpayers) ahead of the nation’s interest (i.e. keeping classified interest, you know, classified).

Together, these actions, her server the most egregious, showcase a politician with a troubling ethical compass (and we aren’t even discussing the 1990’s!), but on Thursday, we received the capstone. In a Benghazi committee hearing where the media narrative was already written before the first word was spoken, we learned that Clinton knew the Benghazi attack was indeed a terrorist attack that very night, telling Chelsea as much. However, in the following days, she went along with the Administration story that a video led to a spontaneous demonstration gone awry, telling the victims’ families as much.

What is more heartless than looking in the eyes of a grieving family and spinning a lie to protect poll numbers? Don’t we demand our political leaders to be honest, particularly during a moment of crisis? By bringing forth this new email, Rep. Jim Jordan provided the smoking gun to a crime almost all fair-minded knew was committed. Did Clinton break the law by backing a story she knew was wrong? No (in the world of intelligence, one can always find some legal wiggle-room), but don’t we demand more of our leaders than merely following the law? Shouldn’t we hold them to a higher standard of actually doing the right thing? What a novel concept.

Pandering on every controversial issue, leaving us unsure what she actually believes. Patently lying about the intentions of a key law her husband signed. Endangering national security to keep her communication away from taxpayers. And now, clearly deceiving the nation and families about a terrorist attack. Is such a person worthy of the office of the Presidency? If someone is willing to commit such acts to attain political power, what will that person do to retain it? Is that the sort of person you entrust the nation to, even if you think she’s right on tax policy?

Paul Ryan, Unlike Hillary Clinton, Is the Kind of Leader We Need

In the weeks after Speaker John Boehner’s announced his resignation, two facts have become clear if not irrefutable:

  1. Paul Ryan is the only person capable of getting the required 218 votes to become Speaker of the House
  2. Paul Ryan has absolutely no interest in being Speaker of the House

Now for the past two weeks, national Republicans have subjected Ryan to a full court press to become Speaker. Eventually, I suspect Ryan will capitulate because he can see as clearly as anyone else that no one else can actually do the job (reports suggest he is getting closer to “yes”). Ultimately, the country (and the Republican Party) needs someone to be Speaker of the House to keep the House from descending into total dysfunction. That said the very reason why Ryan would be such a great Speaker is the only reason why he may not be Speaker: he doesn’t want the job.

Democracy demands leaders who seek power not for personal gain but for the betterment of the nation. Voters should run, not walk, from self-aggrandizing candidates, seeking power just for the sake of wielding it. As an aside, this is a fundamental flaw in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Presidency. She seems to run only because she wants to be President to have her name etched in the History books rather than because she feels compelled to fix serious problems (of which we have numerous, thanks in large part to the current President). Heck when asked to explain how her Presidency would be different from Obama’s at the debate, all she could muster as an answer was that she’s a woman. If the underlying rationale for seeking the most important job on the planet is your gender, one really has to wonder if you are running to better the nation or merely to stroke your ego and wield power you have felt entitled to for years.

Politicians who seek power for power’s sake will lie, cheat and steal to attain power; they will do the same to keep it. Nixon’s Watergate and Hillary’s private server are examples of this. Unfortunately, we also see individuals who begin their careers seeking to better the country gradually succumb to the allure of power over time, trading their principles for political self-preservation; hence, the often widespread support of term limits among voters to counteract this reality.

As voters, we should not only avoid politicians who seek power for their own sake; we should also seek out politicians seeking to better the country. We are better off with leaders whom we agree with 80% of the time (or even less) but have clear guiding principles than leaders whom pander to us 100% of the time for the sake of jumping in opinion polls. If a leader can’t be trusted to be honest, that individual is unfit to serve.             That brings us back to Paul Ryan, the anti-Hillary. So much of the distrust felt towards House Leadership by the Freedom Caucus and grassroots base was the (often unfair) belief Boehner et al focused on staying in the good graces of K Street than fighting for conservative principles. Tactical disagreements quickly became a referendum on the personal character of leadership. In Ryan, we’d have a leader who doesn’t even want the job but is serving for the sake of the country. That fact gives him, and the deals he strikes, more credibility, making it easier for him to govern and lead a fractious GOP majority. Ryan can’t change the reality that Obama is still the President, but he has been offering specific, conservative solutions for longer than anyone else in the House.             Ryan leaving the Ways and Means chairmanship he so loves to assume the Speakership would be one of the clearest example of a politician putting the needs of the country ahead of personal ambitions in years. After all, he already chairs the most powerful committee in the House, which is also suited for his wonky tendencies, and is currently positioned to be the critical player in the next President’s efforts to reform our inefficient tax code. He’d be taking a thankless job where he is basically a glorified psychologist for 246 bloated egos, herding cats, and dealing with a President who has no interest in doing anything other than score political points for the next 15 months. It’s no surprise he doesn’t want the job. If anything, his path to the Presidency over the next 15 years would be complicated by becoming speaker.             We need a Congress that works for the public, prioritizing the needs of the country, and that starts with selfless congressional leadership. Ryan would fundamentally alter the paradigm of long-serving Washington insiders taking power. Instead, we would have a Speaker primarily interested in policy and in governing who has spent a decade explaining a hopeful, conservative vision for the country.

What a powerful contrast to a Democratic Presidential frontrunner who has spent years adding job titles to her resume without accomplishing much, except for finding new ways to break the laws and violate the public’s trust. In Ryan, we’d have a People’s Speaker in the People’s House.