First they beat her up for refusing to apologize over the stupid/wrong/probably illegal way she mismanaged her emails as secretary of state.
Now they’re beating her up for apologizing. (About this “they”: I’m one of them.)
This is what happens when you get stuck between two competing public-relations imperatives.
On the one hand, as Clinton wrote in her memoir: “In our political culture, saying you made a mistake is often taken as weakness.” She’s right. On the other, it’s better to lance a boil than to let it fester. If everyone knows you messed up, admit it. The sooner you apologize, the sooner it becomes old news. Get out in front of bad news — if it’s going to get out no matter what, people would rather hear it from you than about you. (Classic case study: Johnson & Johnson was transparent and proactive in its response to the Tylenol tampering attacks.)
It’s hard to think of how Hillary could have done a worse job reacting to the news that she kept her emails as secretary of state on a private server in a closet at her home in Chappaqua.
First she tried to game the system. As a likely 2016 presidential contender, she knew there was “a vast right-wing conspiracy” out to get her. Given the heat that was going to be on her, why didn’t she tell her IT people to handle her emails in scrupulous over-compliance with government regulations?
Second, she was defensive, wondering why people didn’t trust her. Listen, Hillary, it isn’t personal: we don’t trust politicians. Especially those who seem to have something to hide. Which you did since, after all, you were hiding stuff.
Third, she dragged her feet. It took months before she turned over some of her emails to the State Department. It took more months before she coughed up the server.
Then there was August’s subject-free half-apology, in which she said that the private server “wasn’t the best choice.” Better to issue no apology at all than one measured in fractions.
This week’s apology came months too late and thousands of emails too little.
Like her vote in support of invading Iraq in 2003, this fiasco has hobbled her presidential campaign, hurt her poll numbers (especially among progressive Democrats, who are gravitating toward Bernie Sanders) and cast doubts about her judgment.
It’s hard to beat Barack Obama when it comes to getting out in front of bad news — he admitted using pot and cocaine back in 1995 (in his memoir), before he entered politics at all. His history of illegal drug use wasn’t an issue in 2008. Still, I’m sure that, if I were Hillary, I would have coughed up the server — and all the emails, including the personal yoga plans and Chelsea wedding ones — as soon as EmailGate broke. She’d have to do it sooner or later; sooner is better during a presidential campaign.
Still, I have some sympathy for Hillary’s dilemma. Because, like it or not, we do not reward the penitent.
I’ve faced a number of controversies over my cartoons. The only time a cartoon got me well and truly hosed, however, was after I apologized for it. I was wrong, I admitted it, and I thought people would appreciate my humanity. Wrong.
Like Hillary, I learned that regrets are for wimps — public regrets, anyway. It’ll be a frosty day in Hades before I make that mistake again.
I’ve been pressuring Hillary to apologize for her Iraq War vote. After all, she contributed to the deaths of at least a million people. She should have known better. She probably did know better, cynically backing an unjustifiable war in the charged right-wing nationalism following 9/11. (Though…why? She was a senator from New York, a liberal state that didn’t support the war.)
At this point, however, the political analyst in me knows that it’s too late for Hillary to come clean from her pet bloodbath. She should have admitted it years ago — before she and Obama destroyed Libya too.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
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