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Hillary, Bad Karma and the Fate of Democracy

The devil chortles as he rolls dice with American self-rule

Despite self-inflicted wounds, Hillary Clinton has the ability to become a successful centrist president while Donald Trump represents a threat to democratic values, writes Walter Shapiro. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Despite self-inflicted wounds, Hillary Clinton has the ability to become a successful centrist president while Donald Trump represents a threat to democratic values, writes Walter Shapiro. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As nervous Democrats obsess about tracking polls, Joe Biden recently offered a poignant reminder of what might have been when he told CNN, “I thought I could beat Hillary. I thought I could beat anybody who ran.”  

Of course, the putative Biden for President campaign ended in the spring of 2015 with the untimely death of his son Beau. And it remains questionable whether the vice president could ever have defeated Hillary among Democratic partisans still under the sway of Clintonism and determined to nominate a woman.

But in a presidential campaign shaped by Russian hacking and ham-handed FBI interventions, it is worth recalling the oversized role played by fate. Or, if you prefer, the devil chortling as he rolled the dice with American democracy.

Just think of the chain of circumstances that had to occur in order to set up James Comey’s bombshell letter to Congress. Or, if you prefer, it takes a village of improbabilities to reignite the email scandal:

— Unlike most baby boomers, Hillary Clinton has been blessed with enough retainers that she could get away with remaining a Luddite about technology. Uncomfortable with working online, the former secretary of State needed her Sancho Panza, Huma Abedin, to print out anything that she read. Which appears to be why so much material mysteriously ended up on the laptop that Abedin shared with her now-estranged husband, Anthony Weiner.

[FBI Reviewing More Emails Related to Clinton Case]

— Toward the end of Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, Abedin — like so many ambitious political aides before her — decided that she couldn’t afford to keep working on a government salary. Normally, this would have led to Abedin’s tearful parting with her boss. Instead, Hillary arranged for her devoted assistant to also be paid by the Clinton Foundation and Teneo Holdings, the consulting firm in charge of the fortunes of Clinton Inc.

— In a rational world, Anthony Weiner’s addiction to sexting wouldn’t have, even indirectly, affected a single undecided voter in North Carolina or Ohio. If Weiner wanted to destroy his political career and become a figure of ridicule in the New York tabloids, that was his problem.

But Weiner couldn’t limit himself to sexting with porn stars — and that became the Democrats’ problem. His alleged online involvement with a 15-year-old girl triggered an FBI investigation, which turned the Weiner family laptop into federal evidence.

— A powerful attorney general might have convinced Comey to worry more about intervening in the 2016 election than about repairing his reputation with Republicans in Congress. But Attorney General Loretta Lynch was compromised by Bill Clinton’s most heedless political act since he pardoned fugitive billionaire Marc Rich during his final hours in the White House.

[Loretta Lynch on the Hot Seat]

If there ever was a moment when Freudians might question whether the former president truly wanted his wife in the Oval Office, it came in late June when Clinton impulsively clambered aboard Lynch’s plane at the Phoenix airport. What Lynch later ruefully described as their “primarily social” conversation permanently sidelined the attorney general from the email investigation.

None of this is designed to excuse Hillary’s self-destructive secrecy or her belief that email security rules are for little people. But it is enough — even without WikiLeaks publishing her campaign chairman’s emails — to make her feel that her paranoia is justified.

[Losing an Election That a Rational Republican Might Have Won]

One of the oddities of Hillary’s career is that her critics tend to obsess about the wrong things. Whitewater was a Seinfeld scandal — a six-year sideshow over almost nothing that ultimately produced special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Half-forgotten in the furor were Hillary’s impossible-to-believe nearly $100,000 in profits from trading cattle futures.

For all the exaggerated Trump-fueled lock-her-up frenzy over the emails, it is the sleaziness of the Clinton family buck-raking that should be of more lasting concern to the voters. Doug Band, a former Bill Clinton aide who became the co-founder of Teneo, proudly explained in a 2011 memo (revealed by WikiLeaks) how he was leveraging the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and Teneo for the maximum financial payoff for the ex-president.

Yes, it was probably all legal, even when the State Department was involved. But everything about the Clintons’ finances suggests that the words “ethics investigation” could become an evergreen headline phrase with Hillary in the White House.

But, despite the self-inflicted wounds and the bad karma, Hillary retains the ability to become a successful centrist president — probably more moderate than her right-wing critics believe and more hawkish than many Democrats want.

The peculiar dynamics of the 2016 campaign have also cast her as the last bulwark against America succumbing to the authoritarian temptation.

Hillary Clinton is a traditional presidential candidate with obvious liabilities. Donald Trump — the bilious billionaire, the guttersnipe ignoramus — represents a threat to democratic values.

In the end, fate may also be what saves the nation from the former reality show host placing a huge “T” at the center of the rug in the Oval Office.

Fate has given the Republicans a nominee who disdains all aspects of campaigning that he can’t see on this TV screen — crucial things like voter targeting and getting supporters to the polls. Fate has also bequeathed the GOP a candidate who embodies the kind of Playboy Club swinger values that were considered loutish when Hugh Hefner was in his prime.

Yes, character and fate are entwined. And while Trump the Demagogue might have been elected against Hillary the Flawed, Trump the Sexual Harasser still — mercifully — seems fated to fall short on Election Day.

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