The Shadow Over the Clintons - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Shadow Over the Clintons

The portrait of Bill Clinton that hangs at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington contains a curious shadow. The meaning of that shadow was explained to the press this week by the artist of the portrait, Nelson Shanks. He told reporters that he used a blue dress, a reference to Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, as the object of the shadow. No president is a hero to his valet or portraitist, apparently.

“The reality is [Clinton’s] probably the most famous liar of all time. He and his administration did some very good things, of course, but I could never get this Monica thing completely out of my mind and it is subtly incorporated in the painting,” Shanks said.

The Clintons may discover, as they prepare for an attempted return to the White House, that the public is no less ambivalent than Shanks. Despite generally glowing coverage, the Clintons remain a source of unease for many Americans. The shadows of the 1990s still hang over them, a problem that Hillary Clinton made more noticeable this week after it came out that she had used her private e-mail account to conduct public business as secretary of state, a clear violation of transparency and security standards.

Not even her allies are bothering to defend this law-skirting practice. They find it “stunning,” “unusual,” and “stupid.”

The revelation comes from the House Republican Benghazi committee investigation, which Hillary had dismissed as an irrelevant and pointlessly partisan exercise. She assured the public that it wouldn’t expose any improper State Department practices. It has now established at least one.

Hillary often brags about the tens of thousands of miles she flew during her tenure as secretary of state. She is evidently less proud of the thousands of e-mails she wrote in that capacity. She must have known her practice would come to light at some point and must have concluded that the benefits of avoiding transparency outweighed the eventual political costs of discovery. She had made similar calculations as first lady and survived them. So why not this time too?

Feelings of entitlement no doubt also explain the practice. It fits with her conception of government as the private preserve of superior liberals who, since they pursue such glorious ends, shouldn’t have to follow the rules imposed on lesser people. The public, after all, doesn’t need to know the details of all the world-saving work performed by such a titan. The public should simply be content to know that that work was performed. Under this view, transparency is an impediment to progress.

Hillary’s apology, if it comes, won’t include an admission of that patronizing attitude. But it explains why she absolves herself of standards of transparency that she demands of Republicans. She thinks their deception hurts the people but her deception helps them.

So far her camp hasn’t apologized at all but adopted a familiar “what difference does it make?” defense. Hillary Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said that Hillary’s e-mails indirectly ended up in the public records, so all is well: “Like secretaries of state before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any Department officials. For government business, she emailed them on their Department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained.”

This response ignores all the emails she sent to non-State Department officials. Any of those that she wished to hide will never see the light of day.

Short on tangible accomplishments, Hillary has made much of her years at the State Department. But this email scandal will complicate that pitch to voters. How can she ask them to vote for her based on that service when she took steps to prevent them from evaluating it? She has given Republicans another chance to turn that asset into a liability. They can now raise endless questions about the exact nature of her “public service.” This scandal, coupled with the earlier report that the Clinton foundation took donations from foreign governments while she was still secretary of state, will make those questions plausible, not partisan.

The story is a reminder that old habits die hard. Hillary’s recourse to Machiavellian maneuvers is no different today than it was in the 1990s. Voters will be entitled to conclude that she is not a shadow of her former self.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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