Hillary Clinton might be off the hook after the FBI email probe but Americans still distrust her as a result of her defensiveness and the lack of transparency around her, says Bette Browne
HILLARY Clinton might be off the hook after the FBI email probe, but Americans still distrust the woman who could be their next president. That perception has bedevilled her career and hangs like a political millstone around her neck in her quest for the White House.
But how and why has the ‘trust issue’ developed? Is it a body blow dealt by her political opponents, or has the wound been self-inflicted?
The answer lies somewhere in between, mired in an industrial-strength machine of right-wing American politics that for decades has been spinning her story into a stew of innuendos, half-truths, and falsehoods mixed with Clinton’s flaws and injudicioAmericanus actions.
“My opponents,” she frequently says, “have accused me of every crime in the book.”
Take, for example, the ‘Clinton body count’, a bizarre list compiled by an Indianapolis lawyer, which includes the charge that she killed JFK junior in case he’d snatch the New York senate seat from her in the 1999 race. Kennedy died in a plane crash that year.
Similarly bizarre allegations were levelled against her husband, Bill Clinton, during his two terms as US president, allegations that, by association, tarnished her.
But America’s most-investigated political couple haven’t helped themselves. Their obfuscations or denials (“I never had sex with that woman,” said Bill Clinton of Monica Lewinsky, while Hillary said the scandal was all “a vast, right-wing conspiracy”) have merely fuelled the notion they were hiding something or being economical with the truth.
Because of their defensiveness, and wariness of the media, especially Hillary’s, they have only themselves to blame for the half-truths that have become part of their story dating back 40 years to their days in Arkansas.
Indeed, when they reached the White House, in the 1990s, their political enemies went into overdrive, launching the Arkansas Project, a $2.4m dirt-digging enterprise financed by the right-wing billionaire, Richard Mellon Scaife.
It promulgated questionable stories and conspiracy theories about the Clintons, and the murkier the better. One suggested that the Clintons benefitted from a cocaine-smuggling operation run out of an Arkansas airport.
Much of the work of the ‘project’ was ignored in the mainstream political world, but it nevertheless created an atmosphere of suspicion around the Clintons that some Republicans were happy to nurture.
Hillary said in a CNN interview earlier this year that the conspiracy she spoke about decades ago still exists.
The only difference is that now it’s out in the open and “even better-funded,” she said, referencing Republican party billionaire financiers, like Charles and David Koch, who “want to rig the economy so they can get richer and richer.”
All of which may be true, but that’s politics and she herself is no slouch when funding Democratic campaigns, including her own.
Some Republicans dislike Clinton because of her role, as a young lawyer, in the presidential impeachment inquiry during the Watergate scandal that sparked President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
At least 100 books have been written about Hillary. The breakdown is telling — about 10 are pro-Clinton, about 30 are neutral, and the rest are virulently anti-Clinton.
“Once you kindle public suspicion about your opponent,” The Atlantic writer, Peter Beinart, says, “it’s easy to keep throwing logs on the fire.”
From the Whitewater real-estate venture to the Benghazi tragedy to the email controversy, Clinton has faced serious questions about her honesty and judgment, but nothing has halted her in her tracks. The untrustworthy narrative, however, has gained more credence.
On July 3, for example, just days before the FBI email probe concluded, she repeated on ABC her year-old assertion that “I never received, nor sent, any material that was marked classified.” She’d also earlier said that any emails deemed ‘classified’ were upgraded to that status after the fact.
But the FBI report concluded differently: “From the group of 30,000 emails returned to the State Department, 110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to have contained classified information at the time they were sent or received.”
In a recent CBS poll, 62% of Americans said Clinton was not honest and not trustworthy. Her ratings were similar to her Republican rival, Donald Trump’s 63%, but being one per cent better than Trump in the trust stakes will hardly impress voters.
Experience will only get Hillary so far. Voters want to trust her to make the right decisions, and if she is to win them over she will have to confront her flaws and develop better people skills.
Where Bill Clinton is famous for his charm and empathy, Hillary is reserved and cerebral — he feels people’s pain, but she analyses it.
Her husband says she is smarter than him and this is probably true, but her smarts are more policy-based than people-driven.
On the occasions I’ve met her, I have found her to be gracious and charming, but little of that comes across in her public persona.
“I get things done,” she says on the campaign trail. And she has certainly achieved much as a senator and secretary of state. But when it comes to their president, Americans crave the human touch, the feeling that you’re the kind of person with whom they’d like to relax over a drink.
Former New York Times executive editor, Jill Abramson, who has investigated Clinton for decades, says the candidate likes a “zone of privacy” around her, adding: “This lack of transparency, rather than any actual corruption, is her greatest flaw.”
Clinton herself recently addressed the issue: “I think there’s an underlying question that maybe is really in the back of people’s minds and that is: ‘Is she in it for us or is she in it for herself’?”
She added: “I know trust has to be earned.” But the danger for her, now, is that she might have dodged the issue for too long and, in the wake of the FBI report that described her actions as “extremely careless”, she could find herself in an uphill battle to counter her trust deficit.
She has succeeded in earning the trust of voters before, however, when she ran as senator for New York in 2000 and in 2006, and for president in 2008, against Barack Obama, the man who is now campaigning at her side and touting her integrity.
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