Opinion

Clinton’s Personal Scandal

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

J.T. Young Former Treasury Department and OMB Official

Ironically, while Obama’s tech-savvy campaign helped elect him, Hillary’s tech problems threaten hers.  The one-two punches of an outside group’s release of more emails and the FBI’s release of notes from its year-long investigation of Clinton’s State Department private emails confirm this issue is not going away before the election.  It remains so dangerous to her candidacy because it is so publicly understandable and so damningly revealing.

In 2008, Obama’s team wrote the book on presidential campaigning in today’s technological age, rivaling the sophisticated abilities of major corporations. Not satisfied to rest on success, his 2012 campaign improved on it – essentially rewriting their book.

For Hillary Clinton and her campaign, technology has become a book they cannot close.

It began with the revelation of Clinton’s use of prohibited personal communications equipment during her tenure as Secretary of State.  Then it was the FBI’s investigation of this blatant circumvention.  Next, it was her explanations of why she did what she should never have done.

When FBI Director Comey gave his tortured explanation why he thought Clinton should not be prosecuted – in the process undermining all her earlier explanations – he opened another chapter.  The public then learned there were thousands of additional emails, which they had been told had not existed.

Now, we have the prospect those emails may be released.  And with them would come a host of questions that Clinton would try to answer without further implicating herself.

Beyond its newsworthy specifics, the book on Clinton’s inability to safely navigate simple emailing threatens her more because of what it says about her than its details.

The public at large has long distrusted the Clintons.  Hillary’s advantage though has been twofold: Bill has usually been the particular target and the episodes’ extreme complexity make them unapproachable to the average person.

The email scandal makes it absurdly easy for the average person to grasp.  This scandal is all Hillary’s and every major point of her explanation of it – to the public and the FBI – has been untrue.

To bridge the gulf between a life in political positions and recently accumulated enormous wealth, she has cast herself as part of Middle America.  The email scandal reeks not only of privilege – doing what no one else was allowed to – but entitled privilege: that she somehow deserved her own set of rules.

As part of her Middle America persona, Clinton has emphasized she is both one of them and looking out for them.  Hillary’s email scandal, particularly the latest disclosures, confirms this was all too frequently about selling access for large sums of cash, from those wealthy enough to buy it.  Nothing could be more “Washington Insider” or less American Main Street.

Clinton’s campaign has focused on her experience.  This goes all the way back to 2008’s run against Obama.  However, her email scandal undercuts that assertion.  Either she was somehow uninformed about something everyone else knew, or her experience was insufficient to overcome her proclivity for doing as she pleased.

Finally, Clinton’s campaign focuses on competence: Hillary has been there and proved herself capable.  Her email scandal says the opposite.  It screams incompetence.  At its very core, it was a grossly poor decision of the highest order – so great that no one but Hillary Clinton could have survived its revelation.  Anyone else would never work in government service again – at any level.  If you doubt that, then ask the simple question: Could she be confirmed as Secretary of State again?

The damage from Hillary’s email scandal is hers alone.  It is immediate, understandable, and undercuts personally her candidacy’s principle points.  Whether it is fatal depends on America’s judgment… and how much more of it America will get to judge before the election.

What is clear however is that while it makes her much less like Obama as a candidate, it makes her much more dependent on him.

The ironic gap between the two campaigns when it comes to technology’s role is comical.  The serious gap between the two is personal.  Obama successfully projected an image of hope and change.  Clinton’s email scandal underscores exactly the opposite.

Instead of replicating Obama, Clinton needs him more than ever.  She needs him to lend her some of his residual magic if she is to overcome her email scandal — and more importantly, herself.